Gone Fishin' : The first striped bass of the season is a welcome sign
There are signposts in life. Some, like the hospital bill for the birth of a first child, mark significant change. Others are less momentous but welcome. An example is catching the first striped bass of a new fishing season.
My first inkling that the fish had arrived was the sight of fishing poles in the back of Island trucks in late April. The usual sources reported small bass along South Beach and elsewhere.
One day in early May when the temperature was above 60 degrees I suggested to my wife Norma that we take a ride to South Beach. She grabbed a book and I grabbed a light spinning rod rigged with a Storm shad, one of the very effective lines of plastic baits.
I also took a flat plastic box set with dividers and packed with a collection of carefully selected lures. I was quite proud of that box.
It represented an act of winter preparation that required me to get off the couch and actually sort my fishing tackle. The box was evidence of a personal triumph over the slow slide to sloth.
It included Sluggos in various colors, Storm shads and several poppers, not the least of which was a venerable Atom Striper Swiper.
Despite spring-like air temperatures, the water was still in the low fifties. By the time we arrived at South Beach the clouds had rolled in and the warmth we felt in Vineyard Haven had disappeared.
I cast until my fingers grew numb. I suggested we drive to a nearby location in Katama Bay. But I had no better luck and I left my meticulously arranged box on a bench near the marsh where I had been fishing.
I realized what I had done days later. I went back thinking that it was unlikely anyone had been out fishing, but the box was gone.
I checked with Coop at Coop's to see if anybody had turned it in but they had not. Coop wanted to know why I was fishing where I was fishing. The teasing had a familiar seasonal ring.
The weather reverted to a typical Vineyard spring pattern, and I was not inspired to go fishing again until May 15, the night scheduled for the second round of the Aquinnah annual town meeting.
I planned to cover the meeting. Tom Robinson stopped by my house as I was eating dinner and suggested we go fishing. It was a beautiful warm evening, but I resisted the temptation.
However I did pack a fishing rod. I rightly figured that Gay Headers would have had enough of participatory democracy for one week.
The failure to reach a quorum freed me to go to Lobsterville Beach about sunset. Small bass were making swirls along the shore. And not another person was in sight. I cast a five-inch white Sluggo, a worm-like soft plastic lure, and received several strikes but no hook-ups. After about 30 minutes I left thoroughly satisfied with the experience.
When I returned home there was a message from Tom. He said he was returning from Giordano pizza takeout in Oak Bluffs (a seasonal signpost in its own right) when he saw fish breaking in Vineyard Haven Harbor by the sea wall. Fishing is all about priorities. Putting aside any concern for the warmth of his family's pizza, Tom pulled over to the parking area. He made a cast and was rewarded with a keeper bass, two inches over the state minimum size limit of 28 inches.
He called me to offer a fillet, but really to rub it in. I lied and said I had caught a keeper as well. I waited until Tom was sufficiently deflated to tell him the truth, about two days.
My first fish of the season arrived on Monday evening May 19. Unable to reach someone I had expected to interview on the phone I decided to take a break for about an hour.
I arrived at Little Bridge about 7 pm. A slight change in the surface water pattern down the beach indicated bait. I walked to that location and made a cast.
I soon landed a striped bass about 20 inches long. The freshly arrived fish reflected spring vigor and felt chill in my hand.
Ally Moore soon joined me. I had left him a message and he also welcomed the diversion. Ally hooked a small bluefish.
It was getting late and well past the time I had expected to leave. I made my last cast of the night and took a hit that was much stronger than what I'd expected. The fish made for the jetty and the bridge.
It might have made it through the bridge, but I applied as much pressure as I could without breaking the line. The battle at the bridge line wore the fish out and I soon landed a 30-inch fish - my first keeper of the season.
That week I was alerted to a notice in The Times lost and found classified section. It said in part, "Found tackle box on private property. Child-like tackle box with strange off-Island lures. Initials "NS" on box. Call if reward is offered, otherwise we'll show everyone!"
I have no doubt that the Island fishing season has truly begun.
Last summer, author Michael Tougias was a guest speaker at the Vineyard Haven Library. He was there to speak about his book "Ten Hours Until Dawn, The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do" (St. Martin's Press).
The book is a great read and a dramatic reminder of the danger of the oceans and the men and women who are willing to risk those perils in order to save others.
Wednesday evening Michael returns to the library at 7 pm to talk about his new book, "Fatal Forecast: An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea."
He will use slides from the actual storm to describe how in November of 1980, two fishing vessels, the Fair Wind and the Sea Fever, set out from Cape Cod to catch offshore lobsters at Georges Bank. The National Weather Service had forecast typical fall weather in the area for the next three days - even though the organization knew that its only weather buoy at Georges Bank was malfunctioning.
Soon after the boats reached the fishing ground, they were hit with hurricane force winds and massive, 60-foot waves that battered the boats for hours. The captains and crews struggled heroically to keep their vessels afloat in the unrelenting storm. One monstrous wave of 90 to 100 feet soon capsized the Fair Wind, trapping the crew inside. Meanwhile, on the Sea Fever, Captain Peter Brown (whose father owned the Andrea Gail of Perfect Storm fame) did his best to ride out the storm, but a giant wave blew out one side of the pilothouse, sending a crewmember into the churning ocean.
Most amazing is the story of Ernie Hazard, who managed to crawl inside a tiny inflatable life raft - only to be repeatedly thrown into the ocean - as he fought to endure over 50 hours adrift in the storm-tossed seas. The book also explores the resulting court case against the National Weather Service that made the front page of newspapers across the country.
Don MacGillivray stopped in with a cautionary tale. He was fishing at Long Point and had turned around when a wave rolled in and knocked him off his feet and face down onto the beach. "I was just too close, you know what I mean," said Don.
He stretched his arms out and in the process the backwash ripped his seven-point Loomis rod and Shimano reel from his grasp. "Someone might find it," said Don hopefully, "but I kind of doubt it."
Stranger things have washed back up on the beach. Don can be reached at 508-693-7017. His story illustrates the value of wearing an inflatable PFD even when fishing from the shore.
A total of 70 fishermen entered Dick's Memorial Day weekend tournament. The results follow.
Boat bass: Bill Aibel, 33.1 pounds; Walter Tomkins, 30 lbs.; Bob Blanchard, 27.9 lbs. Shore bass: Jim Creedon, 26.1 lbs.; John Hoy, 20.1 lbs.; Mark Campos, 18.3 lbs.
Boat bluefish: Mark Campos, 7.4 lbs.; Sylvia Wheeler, 6.7 lbs.; Jeff Tomkins, 6.7 lbs. Shore bluefish: Bob "Hawkeye" Jacobs, 8.4 lbs.; Steve Amaral, 7.4 lbs.; Eric Stella, 6.9 lbs.