MARGATE — Jesse Bloomquist gripped a sharp knife and slid it beneath the belly of a three-pound flounder before making a small incision on its tail.
In a few more swift motions, he pulled back the scales and exposed the fish’s meat as the wind whipped around him at the Margate Marina and the dock swayed.
He paused briefly to take a phone call, tapping his iPhone screen with bloody fingers, then returned to the task at hand: gutting and cleaning a catch reeled in by his first customers of the season.
It’s a necessary part of fishing, but one few are eager to take on.
“There’s some guts and blood, but if you do it quickly and cleanly, it’s an art,” said Bloomquist, captain of Flat Out Fishing Charters. “It’s just a matter of doing it a few times, or for me a few thousand times, to get good at it.”
For Bloomquist, the entire (messy) job is over in about 60 seconds.
Once done, he neatly lined up four pieces of fillet on the cutting table and chucked the skeleton of the flounder into the bay, making a splash, before wiping down his knife.
Bloomquist’s charter boat, which carries six people, is mostly booked by families, usually first-time anglers, throughout the summer. But even if they’re lucky enough to catch a fish, the day still isn’t over.
The fish’s internal organs must be removed before it can be consumed, and that’s where Bloomquist and other seasoned captains step in. In Cape May, there’s an on-the-go service, called On the Fly Mobile Fish Cleaning, that novice anglers can go to. Most charter boats offer it as part of the package.
Sometimes people stick around to watch, and other times they wander off. Almost all look forward to the final product, he said.
“Half of them are intrigued because it’s not something they’ve seen before. ... The other half are grossed out,” Bloomquist said. “But it’s part of the process. This is how you get that delicious fish taco at night.”
Nearby, two young children in orange life vests watched in amazement as another angler wiped down a flounder a few yards away.
Bloomquist has done this hundreds of times — a skill he learned as a teenager from his father. Now, it’s second nature for him, like driving.
It’s not uncommon for a crowd to gather around. And for children looking on, it’s a world away from the distant suburbs many are visiting from.
One of his favorite parts of the job, he said, is seeing kids put away their iPhones.
“It’s the coolest thing to see them light up and put their devices down for five minutes,” he said. “Playing video games, watching TV. But they get out here and that stuff is completely forgotten and they see what else they can do.”