21 Sep Captain Perry Romig
It is with a heavy heart I write this post. This week I have lost my mentor, my fishing buddy, my Captain, Perry Romig. A father, husband, a skilled craftsman and outdoorsman, Perry influenced everyone who he was around. “Hey Slick” he would say whenever he saw you, or me, or anyone (unless you were a girl and it was “Hey Gal”.) We all were slick, his nickname was slick. He told me it came from when he used to paint cars years ago, he would do a slick job, and I am sure it was. Still years later he was putting a slick finish on boats in his shop. He was a master at fiberglass work and thousands of boats his hand has passed over, including my own just a few months ago. In a day he designed and built a new structure to keep my engines from literally falling off. He was as good as they come in his trade.
Perry loved to fish, I think that is even an understatement. He was fishing well before I was born. I met him about 15 years ago and he was just building the “Topless” his very own 50ft sportfishing boat. He built this boat from scratch, starting with a bare Evans hull and doing every bit of work himself with the help of friends. Imagine one of us trying to take on a job like this, building your own boat? And 50ft worth of sportfishing boat at that! That type of skill is something you do not see every day. I was just getting into offshore fishing around the year 2000 and started hanging around down at the dock in Greenbackville, Virginia. A commercial fishing harbor with crabbers, monkfishermen, and one main charter boat, Perry’s. By the time I met him, he had a reputation of being the best sportfishing captain around. My friends and I would be fishing on smaller boats, having hardly a clue what we are doing and day after day Perry would come rolling in on his old boat, the “Miss Alice” with great catches of tuna and dolphin. He never had a mate on any of his boats, I can remember someone asking why and he replied “no one can do it like I want it done.” That was the truth, he had a way that he wanted things done, and his way sure worked.
The first year he built the Topless he finally got a mate to help him. The boat at this time was not even completed, but that didn’t stop Perry from fishing. Topless at the time literally had no top, but Perry was still out there. The only thing that could make Perry stop work was a fishing trip. Jamie worked for him the first year and I would hang out down at the wharf and watch him roll in with great catches of tuna. That year there was an awesome yellowfin bite 60 miles south at a place called “Waynes world” off Virginia beach. They were doing long trips every day, but loading the boat every time. I spent the summer jumping around on friends boats, picking at a few fish here and there, but Perry set the standard, not just for me but the whole harbor and all of
Chincoteague for that matter. Even the boats at Wachapreague had names for him. Captain Billy Gingell who was running the American Made at that time would always call him “Slick-ovich” after the great line of Rybovich boat builders. Captain Billy went on to run the Waterman out of Virginia beach for a few years but would always love to keep in touch with Perry. Captain George McCullough on the Janie Mac also from Wachapreague, was the top captain there for years. Perry always respected Capt. George and I am sure learned quite a few things from him. When Perry started running his own trips, and fishing in Georges holes, well, George would get a little vocal about it. “Perrrrry” He would say with the gruffest voice you have ever heard on the radio, “What are you doin’ over there Perry.” The two of them respected each other and years later I was lucky enough to to have Capt George join us on the Topless for a trip, even then he was glad to give me some tips, and Perry too.
Later that first year the Topless was commissioned, Perry had the large tower built on it. This gave the boat the real “sportfisher” look. I spent the winter in college, still riding down to the docks when I had the chance. Perry spent the winter taking parties rockfishing in the ocean. At this time it was uncharted territory fishing the giant schools of rock off the eastern shore. He was the only one doing it, and it worked out great for him, for years he had that fishery to himself and he loved it. Spring came along, Jamie moved on and picked up a ride as a mate on an Ocean city boat and that left an open spot with Perry. Perry had seen me plenty of times down at the dock, and I had fished a fun trip or two with him.
One day a mutual friend of ours, Paul, was chatting with Perry and mentioned that I would love to work for him if he need a hand. I never thought he would actually take me up on it. I knew so little about offshore fishing at the time, the only thing I had was the drive to go. Paul called me the next day and said “Perry said he will hire you if you want to be a mate this year, he’s down at the boat go talk to him.” That phone call and ride down to the boat was a big life changer for me. There was only one way to learn, and that was to be thrown right in the mix of it, and I was. Perry’s first trip was only a few days away and I was nervous. Here I am on a big time boat, hardly knowing how to rig a ballyhoo much less leader a fish well or make a good gaff shot, and there is a crew of people who are going to rely on me to help them fish? Into the fire I go.
Our first trip was supposed to be a shark trip. Guy named Mark (sharky Mark) had chartered Perry and loved to shark fish, it was May, the perfect time. Well, Perry was not too keen on shark fishing, or even stopping the boat for that matter. Our shark trip took us deep in the Norfolk canyon. I have no idea to this day why he went there, if there was a temp break, or what he knew, but that is where we went. We shark fished for about an hour, enticing two GIANT basking sharks around the boat, well over 20ft of shark just swimming around us not interesting in any bait (thank god.) We were battling the sailor gulls, who can dive to exactly 28ft according to Perry, and they kept eating our shark rigs. After about an hour Perry had enough of sitting still and we went trolling. He rigged up the baits, put them out, I stood there watching, not knowing what he really wanted me to “do.” BAM, fish on. BAM another one. We caught 15 bluefin tuna that day, all in the middle of nowhere deep in the Norfolk canyon. These were the smaller class of bluefin, about 30 lbs, perfect to practice on. Back at the dock I was helping clean some fish doing the best I could with my limited tuna cleaning experience, The charter guys said they had a great time and handed me a wad of cash. Wow, thinking to myself, I just got paid to fish.
From that day on, for the next 8 years I do not think I missed a single trip on that boat with Perry. Fishing with Perry became my life in the Summer. The next year I had passed Perry’s bait rigging school. This is back when we would fish 109lb coffee color piano wire for school bluefin tuna and king mackerel. It’s amazing these days, only 15 or so years later I feel like we have to use expensive 80lb fluorocarbon leader to catch a fish when we caught so many years ago on wire! That next year was our busiest ever. We ran 32 days in a row on one stretch and over 80 trips that summer. Perry and I became a team, he would say what he would want done from the bridge and I could hear and understand him instantly. He wanted things done a certain way and he trained me to do it, the way HE wanted. There were reasons behind his methods, some of them I would question in my mind only to see minutes, or years later that there is a good reason.
“Slick dog” he would say over the radio, talking to me from the bridge down to the cabin below “Fix me a sandwich and bring me a pear.” The Wachapreague boats always got a kick out of this and would often ask for a sandwich over the radio as well. I always tried to keep the boat stocked with food, if not, Perry would starve us! He would be fine with a pack of crackers and a can of beanie weenies all day, he loved those little cans. One day we had some potato salad but ran out of plastic spoons. I made him a plate of whatever food we had that day, and some potato salad on the plate. Well, no spoons so I had to improvise, I took two plastic butter knives and duct taped them together to make a wide sort of shovel. Both knifes had their cutting edge to the outside. I took the plate upstairs (as he would call the bridge.) About 10 minutes later I hear him hollering from up there. “Slick, i’m cuttin my mouth to pieces tryin’ to eat this potato said, ain’t we got any spoons!” The thought of him fighting with those plastic knives taped together still makes me laugh to this day.
Perry was one of the happiest people I ever knew. He always had a joke, he would always be smiling. No matter if we went out, didnt not catch a single fish all day, or I would break things or loose gaffs, he would always be the same happy Perry when he got back to the dock. Most evenings we would go into the local restaurant at the harbor and as I would be leaving he would say “If it’s any consolation, it all starts over in the morning.” Because of me, Perry had to “Kyleproof” his boat. I earned the reputation of being hard on steel, rigger bender, gaff thrower, lure looser and quite a few other things. I can’t believe he never once raised his voice at me, not a single time, (and I probably deserved it once or twice.)
On my second year we were blind trolling along in 50 fathoms, had not had a bite all day, it was after lunch and the ocean was flat as a lake. A nice blue marlin charged up on our short rigger, a squid chain with a green machine. The blue ate it before I could get to the rod. Had I done nothing we would have hooked the fish fine, but in my mind I needed to pick up that rod and set the hook hard. SNAP, broke off our only fish of the day and lost his lure. Another lesson learned for me, but Perry never said a word other than “You broke him off slick.” Damn I felt so bad, but he never got mad. He taught me to always look at every rod tip all the time, another lesson I learned the hard way after getting piled on with tuna and heard a shotgun sound go off as the line was wrapped around a rod time. “Keep an eye on your rod tips slick.”
As the summers went by we became quite a team, at least in my eyes. After every trip we would put up our catch flags, and ride through the Chincoteague Inlet, stopping at the Chincoteague Inn bar to wait for the old bridge to open. The people at the bar would cheer when we held up the fish we caught. He would sometimes book charters for the next day right there. Perry was confident, I heard him book a charter there one day and tell the guy, “If you don’t catch a fish tomorrow, the trip is free.” Now that is confidence in fishing. Fishing everyday really gives you an edge on how they are moving, Perry loved it. We could know right where to start the next day, what patterns they liked, he could anticipate where those fish would be. These are things that take years of experience to learn, and he had it. Every morning going out there was a captain from Wachapreague that would say the mornings prayer. Well, Perry started his own thing to sort of make fun of the wachapreague fleet. Perry had the “Wachapreague theme song” and the captains on the radio would always laugh.
“I worked round’ the mill but didn’t know how
Milked a billy goat instead of a cow
It was dark and I couldn’t see
The dog gone thing shit all over me”
This was always followed by laughs and “good lucks” for the day along with some chatter about the day before. He was in his element.
Perry was one of the last owner/operators of a charter boat. The boats you see now are all owned by a corporation, or a very wealthy guy who hires a captain to run it. There are few left that still do it own their own. Around 2008/9 the fuel prices started going sky high, people in our area really couldn’t afford to pay for fuel for a tuna fishing trip. He had to raise just prices and even then he would barely break even. At the same time I had the chance to take a “real” job. It was a hard choice, for years I wanted to go to Costa Rica for the winter, live the mates life.
Well, another old Captain told me once, “It’s the best job in the world, but it’s no way to make a living.” So in 2010 I took the “real” job and now I didn’t have the chance to drop what I was doing whenever the boat went out. Perry stuck with it, getting some other guys to hop on board, Brian was able to fill in most days when I couldn’t, he still loved putting people on fish. He would spend days in his shop working on boats, but if he had the chance to fish, he was gone, you can bet. In the winter we would do a little duck hunting, he loved “Gunnin.” He told me a story about duck hunting on the bay one time. He would carry a metal bucket of coals with him in the boat to keep him warm in the morning, one morning he put them in the bow, and the coal ash blew all over his face and he was black as night by the time he got hunting. The stories he had were never ending, I am sure I never heard them all, just when I think I had, he would have a new “old” adventure he would tell me about. I would love to be able to write each of those stories here, it would be enough to fill a book. I got the chance to take Perry offshore in my boat this year. I put him behind the wheel and he loved it. He was on the radio and commented “they all still know me out here.” We had a great day catching some tuna and a big wahoo, his favorite fish.
Capt Perry was one of the last true good eastern shoremen. Living all his life in Greenbackville, talking with that mix of Chincoteague and lower shore draw that we all loved. Making an impression on everyone he met. He was an artist with his hands and had a eye for making things “slick.” I hope he is spending his time right now trolling the 20 line in heaven with a black and purple seawitch out 330 yards, still after that big bite. Captain Perry, you will be missed by all.
The formal obituary can be found here http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/delmarvanow/obituary.aspx?n=perry-romig&pid=181494587&fhid=7878