From Bogs to Bonitos

Even in retirement, off days are rare for Parker Mauck ’77.

Three years ago, he cofounded a saltwater fly and light tackle fishing company, Westport Fly, in Westport, Massachusetts, a small coastal town along the southern rim of Buzzard’s Bay. Sharing the captain duties with Chris Killenberg, they’re typically on the water six days a week guiding trips anywhere from Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Cape Cod from March through October.

Running a fishing business is not always easy, but it’s not exactly unrewarding. On his seaworthy, 20-foot vessel—nicknamed Hat Trick, for his three boys—Mauck follows striped bass and bluefish all season as they migrate up and down the New England coast. But it’s late in the summer and early fall, when the gamier “tunoid” fish start to come ashore, when Captain Mauck says things get really exciting.

“They go on these explosive runs where they scream your line away and you’re just holding on for dear life,” Mauck says of the false albacore and bonitos. “There are these 30-second moments of all this biology happening—bait fish in the air, false albacore or bonitos flashing through them, birds crashing down on them. You get these brief moments of chaos. It’s really, really fun.”

You can hear in his voice that Mauck is fulfilling a childhood dream. In Katonah, New York, he “grew up as a kid walking down the trout stream with a fly rod and a box of flies,” Mauck says. “I got kind of addicted to it.”

Mauck choosing a saltwater fly. ALEXANDRIA MAUCK

After graduating Hobart and William Smith Colleges, he and a friend, Terry McDonnell, flew to the other side of the planet in search of better trout fishing in New Zealand. For six months, they bummed their way across the South Island, fishing, hunting, camping, and earning money as farmhands.

When they returned to the U.S., Mauck knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to remain involved with agriculture and continue earning a living off the land.

“Not a lot of kids that go to prep school end up milking cows,” Mauck jokes. “But it was just something I was drawn to. I just loved it. It was hard work, but I didn’t mind it. I got up early in the morning really looking forward to what was going to happen that day.”

After several years working at dairy farms in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Mauck became the general manager of a small agricultural cooperative assisting local farmers to get their produce onto the shelves of big grocers. It was his first taste of office life. Surprisingly, it suited him.

He soon got hired by Decas Cranberries, a seller of fresh and dried cranberries sourced from hundreds of acres of bogs in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Canada. From 2008 until Mauck’s retirement last May, he was the director of grower relations, working with farmers to keep tabs on their products and keep the processing plants busy.

Harvesting cranberries, an agricultural sector Mauck previously worked in for two decades.

Growing cranberries is a tricky business. For those unfamiliar with the process, it’s best to forget everything you know about traditional dirt farming.

For cranberries, you start with a bog.

“You basically have to build an artificial wetland,” Mauck says. “You have to construct dikes and ditches and sand layers, underground sprinkler systems. You have to get vines from another bog somewhere and cut them into small pieces and scatter them on top of sand and they’ll hopefully take root.”

Then, you wait.

“It takes about three to five years for those little shoots to mature to the point where they’ll start producing a commercial-sized crop,” Mauck says.

This makes commercializing cranberries a delicate practice. As with most produce, demand for cranberries is cyclical—it goes through hot periods and cold periods. But the cranberry lag period makes forecasting the cycles difficult even for the most confident soothsayers. Plant too much during a hot period and you could be stuck with a surplus of berries if production exceeds demand.

“From a horticultural and farming standpoint, it’s completely different from all other agriculture that you see in the Northeast,” Mauck says. “It’s very unique. The approaches you use, the strategies you use, the tools and the machinery are all very specialized.”

Mauck started Westport Fly in 2019 as he began to plot his retirement. In May, he stepped away from Decas to put on his captain’s hat full time.

Mauck with a content client holding their catch, an “Albie.”

In the summers, he’s guiding small groups from beginners to experienced anglers. “If they’re novice, we spend a little bit of time with some coaching and teaching about casting,” Mauck says. “Experienced anglers that have those skills, our job is to know the waters and put those anglers on fish.”

In the winter, when not tying his own flies, Mauck has planned group fishing excursions to Cuba, Florida, and southern Louisiana.

There is one thing he says he will miss most about the cranberry business: the October harvest.

“They flood the bogs and use specialized machinery to thrash the berries off the vines and the berries float,” Mauck says. “They corral the cranberries and pump them in the trucks. It’s incredible visually.”

He describes a perfect harvest day—blue skies, red cranberries, resplendent foliage—and there’s a touch of wistfulness in his voice. It disappears quickly, however. Back to fishing.

“It’s been an amazing summer,” Mauck says. “Fishing’s been really consistent. We’ve been super busy, it’s been great.”

He sounds like a kid again.