Basil Caraftis has been a familiar name for us ever since we began compiling reports and writing articles for The Fisherman decades ago. Charlie Caraftis, Basil’s son, reporting from his Mattituck Fish-ing Station, inevitably prefaced a glow-ing, detailed report on flounder or scup with the remark that “Basil was here yesterday.” Fisherman outdoor writer Lorry Mangan would periodically include Basil in some item from the Port Jefferson area and say, “You’ve really got to meet that man!”
THE IN SHORE FISHERMAN. At last I walked into the Caraftis Fishing Station on Barnum Avenue in Port Jeff last month and did just that, meet Basil Caraftis. Tim and Candy Caraftis suggested that the first impression of Basil would be surprising, and they were correct. With his firm handshake, full head of white hair, strong build and the tan of a person who spends much of his life outdoors, Basil Caraftis looks like a re-cent retiree in his 60s enjoying the blessings of good health; in fact, he was born in 1903!He’d done well on porgies the day before, so we talked about his passion, inshore fishing, over coffee. “Yesterday I had 42 porgies, some mediums, and two small blues; they were in 30 feet of water,” said Caraftis. His favorite fish? “I love to eat blackfish, love to catch them. I got a 9 pounder this year, and my best ever was an 11 off Old Field Point.” Basil frequently goes out to Matti-tuck to fish at the station owned and operated since 1961 by Charlie and Char-lie’s wife, Maureen, on Mattituck Creek. Despite the relatively good fishing there, Basil pointed out the changes in recent years, saying, “Those flounder, 3 and 4 pounders, which used to be close to the Mattituck shoreline have disappeared. They (widespread commercial clamming operations a few years ago) took skimmer clams; I think that made a big difference. Before the skimmer clam beds went, there were big porgies by the motel; a lot of 3 pounders at times. No more!”
PORT JEFF, 60 YEARS AGO. Basil came to the United States in 1930, lived on Broadway at 134th Street, and took his first job at Columbia University. His life changed late in 1933 when he married Susan Plakitis, whose uncle lived in Port Jefferson. According to Caraftis, “I bought a house that’s still here (Number One Park Avenue), and I still live in it from there. There were no outboard mo-tors then, but that time was paradise. You could go our on the breakwaters with a spear and look under the rocks for blackfish and lobsters. At nighttime you’d use a Coleman lantern and pick up flounder in the hay; it was clear! There were as many eels as you wanted and stripers and small weakfish galore. To get CO the six-mile reef, we’d come out of the harbor, see the Mattituck tanks, turn left and head north. The reef was full of sea bass and porgies. Blackfish were 25 cents a pound. Now you see the draggers, and there’s nothing there!”
Here’s Basil and grandson, Tim, flounder fishing off Mattituck In-let back in May.22 with the family. ( Basil’s wife of almost 60 years, Susie, passed away a number of years ago.) We’d sell everything then, flowers and vegetables, in New York; we’d go in by truck to the markets in the Bronx. We’d sell to restaurants. “The little town was dead. Right next to the house was a big barn, and a black-smith with an anvil and a bellows. There was only the railroad and Jericho (Turn-pike) then, no Route 347. Route 25A was the closest to the house, and we bought our potatoes from a local farm. “In 1951 we started the business (now known as Caraftis Fishing Station; it’s formal name is Basil Caraftis & Sons). We bought the old place (the fishing station) that had been here since 1914. It was owned by Wally Bull. The Bulls had a house on West Meadow Beach, and I think the family is still around. John. my son, had the Port Jefferson Seafood Market. In 1968 the old building came down and we built this one.
THE FLORIDA AD-VENTURE. For about 25 years, the family has been going to Florida for the winters, first to Boyn-ton Beach, then to the Florida Keys where the Caraftis’s bought a mo-bile home on Big Pine Key around 12 years ago. They continue CO stay on Big Pine for three or four months each year. Here Basil developed a deadly technique of slow-speed trolling for grouper, us-ing wire line and large swimming plugs. Such a concept was radical for old “conch” anglers, who are accustomed to straightforward grouper action on slabs of mullet and rigged ballyhoo drifted off the coral reefs or dropped into holes. A few years back we heard a story about Basil’s Florida exploits from Lorry Mangan that sounded like a remake of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. We asked Basil to give us the details. “Seven years ago, I was trolling inshore around the bridge near Big Pine from a small 16 footer with a 30 horsepower engine. I got a strike, and the fish headed toward Cuba; I braced my feet against the seat and prayed for the fish CO let me go! When the run stopped I could see the bottom of the spool of the 4/0 Penn; I fish 14ith 300 feet of 60-pound wire, plus a length of 80-pound mono and a big Rebel Magnum. Incidentally, the huge “smoker” weighed 60 pounds and left onlookers gasping at the feat. A king mackerel that size is exceptional anywhere in the world. Because kingfish are traditionally consid-tred to be offshore species, a king that size is completely unexpected in the :hannels and shoals of the Keys, lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Caraftises are a fishing family still. Five sons ranging in age from their early 60s CO their mid-40s; Mike, Char-lie, John, Angelo and Tim – and one daughter, Maryanne, all fish, although they are busy at other things. Mike is in the paving busineis. Tim and John run Basil at the shop in Port son this past spring.
The Caraftis Fishing Station along with Candy, Tim’s wife. Charlie and his wife, Maureen, of course, run the fishing station in Mattituck. Basil, who retired from business in 1962, likes to go fishing often with the third generation, particularly grandsons Chris and Tim, Jr. If they are too busy, well, he goes himself anyway! When I first set up-the amide in April, I had hoped to join Basil for some flounder fishing, but the weather was rainy and cold, and we put it off. Fortunately, he will be on summer vacation in Greece.
In 2004 the store was sold and we moved the Caraftis Fishing Station to the waterfront next to the boat launching ramp in Port Jefferson where we always had our boat rentals. The business is now run by Candy, Tim and Tim Jr. Caraftis and Tracy Caraftis Lukas. The store carries all the supplies you need both for fishing and marine supplies as well. Over the years fishing has changed, there are many rules and regulations on the fish, which is why we now rent a variety of boats for fishing and for pleasure. We enjoy seeing people come back to the dock with their catch or just a family coming back from having a great day out on the water!