WELLFLEET — Chopper Young is waiting on a fish. He’s knee-deep in Sally’s Bottom (from him, this guarantees a smirk), two poles planted, a headwind niggling his lines. Six feet to his left wades Bob Kellogg, Young’s scrub-bearded, camouflaged, oysterman friend.
In two hours, Kellogg has wrangled with four bites and kept a trout. In two hours, Young has drained his Dunkin’ Donuts cup and complained about the wind. It was the wind’s fault at first, when six minutes passed and Young’s fish-in-five-minutes promise fell flat. “Hate fishing into it,” he says. “Damn near impossible.”
Then Kellogg’s line bobs once, twice. Blame shifts. “Bob’s got the good spot,” Young says. “Stole the good spot I showed him. Fishing hole’s ruined.” Kellogg lands his trout. Chopper: “Nothing special, smaller than my bait. But that’s the one that I was gonna catch.”
Another hour of disappointment, and Young comes to terms with the Gull Pond fishes’ united front. He grumbles. He wades in; he wades out. He returns to the issue of the wind. Then, he starts to catalog. His poles are store-bought, sure. But consider his pole-holders: hand-forged, by him, in ’98. Kellogg’s bobbers are red-striped, plastic, mass-produced. Young whittled his, onsite, from a pair of pondside twigs. How about a recreational fishing license? Get a load of this: he doesn’t have one. On principle.
“So, Bob’s got a fish,” he says. “But me? I’m fishing the real way.”
Chopper Young says that he has always been moustached. He is blue-eyed, burly, perpetually baseball-capped. The cap lifts, only for a second, in moments of marked animation. “Selectmen: We have to call them ‘selectpersons’ now. What a joke.” Ball cap lifts. “Biden: hope he dies.” Ball cap lifts. “The liberal mob.” Ball cap lifts.
“Women: love ’em to pieces. But God, can they alter your judgment.” Ball cap lifts. One particular woman, sashaying through the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in a pair of well-cut jeans. Ball cap lifts.
In 2007, 2008, and 2013, Young won the U.S. national oyster shucking title, which qualified him to compete in the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway, Ireland the following year. In 2008, he was the world champion. At the Route 6 Express Mart in 2015, Young won $10 million on a Mass. State Lottery scratch-off ticket. None of these stories moves the ball cap anymore.
Young has called it curtains on competitive shucking. Not at the Wellfleet OysterFest level, but shucking for national and world titles. “I’m getting old,” he says, waiting for a reporter to disagree. Young is 54. He has a 32-year-old daughter and a three-year-old at home. Gray speckles the moustache. Still, he maintains that he can outshuck anyone. He swipes open an oyster, winks, offers it. “I’m damn good.”
And Young is done with scratch-offs. He opted to turn his 10-million-dollar ticket into a $6,500,000 cash option: $3.5 million, after taxes. He had his teeth cleaned. He bought his mother a house. He went on safari and brought home a wildebeest.
But when he talks about winning the lottery, Young spends most of his time rattling off things he didn’t do. He didn’t abandon his shellfish grant, or his boats, or his clamming operation. He didn’t go make a crowd of uppity friends. He didn’t buy a sports car. “Chopper didn’t change,” he says twice. “Chopper didn’t change.”
What Young, after heavy questioning, will admit did change: once in a while, he has to deal with banks. He’s bought some property. He’s bought some trucks. “It’s good not being up against the pressure of racing to pay bills, to make ends meet,” he says. He takes a breath. “And, well, it’s good just knowing you can take care of your goddamn self.”
Years ago — he doesn’t remember when, but certainly before the scratch-off — Young served as an alternate on the Wellfleet Shellfish Advisory Board. Now, he’s driving down Route 6 (“Don’t text and drive,” he says, texting and driving) when his phone dings with a reminder about an SAB meeting that night.
“No thanks,” he says, adding an expletive. “A bunch of opinionated assholes trying to tell other assholes what they can and cannot do? I don’t need that.”
Also, “assholes” are most of the shellfishermen who engage with the SAB. Pre-lottery, Young considered a select board run. Now the select board members are assholes, too: “Giving the chickens a handful of scratch while they jack up the tax rate to build an affordable colony, so our kids can stay here and be deemed welfare recipients for the rest of their goddamn lives.” So is everyone in town government. “Greedy.” So are the Democrats, “handing out paychecks, taking money from the millionaires who worked for it and giving it to the mess we’ve created — people at the bottom of the barrel.”
Young does not believe in welfare. “Handouts,” he says, “are bullshit.” Young believes in strict borders, American jobs, and keeping his head down. Young believes in being able to provide. He hunts. He fishes. He stacks wood around the Keep America Great flag in one of his front yards. He whittles his own bobbers. He grows fruits, vegetables, oysters, weed. He has Flemish Giant rabbits, which he’ll kill if he has to. He says he has most everything he needs for an apocalypse. He has a giraffe and half a zebra hide in the kids’ playroom. He has his wildebeest.
But hours into that April morning on Gull Pond, Chopper Young is still without a catch. A stranger arrives at the hole, rod in hand, and asks about the fishing.
“Damn terrible,” says Young, who had set the time (8 a.m.) and the place (Gull Pond). “If I’d had my druthers, we’d be in Orleans.”
Editor’s note: Because of a fact-checking error, an earlier version of this article reported that Chopper Young won the World Oyster Opening Championship three times. He was the U.S. national champion three times, but the world champion only once, in 2008.