By the time he was 12, Jacob Abbisso ’22 was legally allowed to take out his family boat by himself. Several years later, he earned a Coast Guard Captain’s License.
The Marblehead, Mass. native has been fishing off the coast of New England all his life and now takes pride in teaching others the craft through his charter fishing business, Big Fish Mojo Sportfishing. Along with Jaxon Kim ’22, a fly-fishing guide from Colorado, Abbisso is the co-head of the Wesleyan Catch & Release Fishing Club.
Abbisso has a relaxed and charmingly gentle way about him, and his passion for fishing transmits in conversation. “Captain Jake” sat down with The Argus to discuss misconceptions about fishing, his learning and licensing process, sustainability, and making memories.
The Argus: When I told people about this article for the sports section, I got some pushback, because some people didn’t think fishing is a sport. What do you think?
Jacob Abbisso: It’s funny you mention that, because I would expect to get the same response. I totally consider it a sport, although it depends how you do it. Some people think fishing is basically taking a fishing rod down to a lake or a pond somewhere, throwing in a bobber with a worm maybe and waiting around. The way that I do it is much more involved. Basically, it’s about studying migration patterns, studying fish species habits, and taking that knowledge and applying it so you can put yourself in the best situation possible to catch a certain species.
A: And correct me if I’m wrong, but I mean, we’re talking about pretty big fish, right? So the actual physical exertion would make me think it’s a sport.
JA: Yeah, definitely. I target fish everywhere, from 12 inches all the way to like 1500 pounds. So they can get pretty big. Bluefin tuna, for instance, are [a] big game fish in this area. The world record, I believe, is 1496 pounds. I’ve never caught one that big, but they’re out there.
A: What got you interested in fishing?
JA: Growing up, my dad had a boat. It was a 21-foot Sea Ray (Sea Ray is the brand). That was a great family-type boat. We grew up fishing off of it a lot, although we didn’t really know what we were doing, just kind of going out for fun. We used a technique called chumming a lot, which is where you basically throw pieces of fish into the water, let it drift back and you hope to attract the fish you’re looking to target. After a certain point, I started to attend a local fishing camp actually run by professional fishing guides and charter captains in the area. That’s where I really started to learn a lot of the nitty-gritty, small details of how to actually target game fish in a more serious way. It sort of took off from there.
A: What do you love about it?
JA: Professor [Ron] Cameron talks a lot about ineffability. I don’t know. I love being on the water. It’s just a feeling of being out there in something greater than oneself. There’s also an aspect of being competitive with yourself. My biggest striped bass for a while was 46 inches, then more recently 48 inches going on 50, and you just always try to catch a bigger fish.
A: What I associate with fishing, just from movies and books, is solitude. On your perfect day out, are you by yourself and in your own head, or are you with people?
JA: I think both have their time and place. My charter business is all about bringing people out on the water and sharing my passion and sharing the knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years. Something also can be said for going out alone or with other experienced friends, just because things seem to flow a little bit more easily.
A: How did you get involved with fishing at Wes?
JA: I just saw that Wesleyan didn’t have a fishing club or a place for people who are interested in fishing. I said, “Well, why don’t I create one?” It’s kind of cool to have a place on campus to share what you’re passionate about with others.
A: How many members do you have? Where do you go?
JA: Currently the club is still pretty small, although we’re definitely always accepting new members. We bring in speakers to talk about fishing strategies and techniques and patterning fish. Sustainability is a big issue, too. During non-COVID times, we would be going on trips. Not necessarily big, long trips because everybody has academic responsibilities. [We go] for an afternoon to a local pond. I really want to schedule some trips, maybe on charters in Connecticut.
A: I want to ask you about your charter business. The website is awesome. I was so impressed by the variety of types of trips you offer. Can you talk a little about the training and classes you went to in order to build this skill set?
JA: Pretty much it’s just from being out there. Different weather conditions will yield themselves to different kinds of fishing and different species to target. So, on a really calm day, I might head way offshore to target bluefin tuna or sharks or whatever, whereas on a really windy, nasty, rough day I’ll stay in amongst the islands, where I can hide behind the wind and not necessarily get beaten up with waves. That’ll be better striped bass or flounder fishing. Some of it’s also just experiencing over the years what we have in the area.
A: Was getting licenses required to run your business difficult?
JA: Difficult in a sense. At Wesleyan, we do a lot of conceptual thinking. This is much more like memorizing hundreds of rules and regulations. It’s tough in that respect. You also have to pass a big exam. I think it’s eight hours. Plus, you have to have a total of 360 days of sea service that you can log on the Coast Guard forms. You have to do a medical examination and be part of a random drug testing program. You have to have a TWIC card, which is a Transportation Worker Identification Credential. You can actually use it to swipe yourself into high-security ports and stuff….
A: That is cool.
JA: …I have what they call the OUPV six-pack charter captain’s license.
A: Are there things that you really enjoy about taking people out or things that stress you out about it?
JA: It’s a lot of fun, because you get to take people out and make memories, you know? There are a lot of people who have never even seen a fish. I mean, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There are a lot of people who just have not ever been on the water. They’ve never gone fishing, and they’re in the area and want the “true New England experience,” and they book a fishing charter. They end up having an awesome time catching a 45-inch striped bass or whatever. Working with kids is also a lot of fun, because they always get so excited. It’s definitely also challenging because it can be a very dangerous sport…almost everything out on the water at some time or another could have the potential to hurt you or kill you.
A: You mentioned sustainability earlier, and it’s mentioned on your website, where there’s at least one trip you offer that is catch and release only. Does sustainability concern you?
JA: Yeah, totally. A lot of people come up to me kind of bad-mouthing fishing as a sport, just because they don’t necessarily understand what it is that I do or how I do it. Catch and release is a really big practice that we do. Species that I let or encourage clients to keep are generally species that are way less overfished, if not just a fully good to go population. For instance, haddock right now is a really sustainable choice to eat, just because their numbers are really good. Although striped bass, their numbers are on the decline, so I generally discourage clients choosing to keep those fish. Legally [I] can’t really tell a client, “No, you can’t keep that fish.”…They can choose to do whatever they want to, but I always try my best to really enforce, you know, making sustainable choices about which fish to keep, which fish to let go. I definitely emphasize the “catch, photo, release” program which is, you know, you pull a fish out of the water, take a really quick photo with it, and get it right back in the water, so that it can breathe, and minimal harm [is] done to the fish.
A: What do you consider your biggest fishing accomplishment?
JA: Every time you catch a bluefin tuna. It’s just crazy because the rod goes off, the rod keels over, and imagine like a broomstick, like a rod that thick just absolutely keels over. The line starts screaming. You actually have to chase the fish with the boat. This past summer was awesome too, but the summer before that there was this one day I was out with a friend named Gavin. We found this little school of probably 45 to 50 striped bass, which are all, probably in the 40 to 50 pound range…. That was absolutely crazy—between the two of us, we probably caught 17-ish big, like 45-inch super fat striped bass.
Check out Jacob’s charter business at https://bigfishmojosportfishing.com.
Will Slater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.