Many years ago, when the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby was in its infancy and the Island was a simpler place, Steve Amaral of Oak Bluffs was one of a group of Island kids who dove for coins tossed into the water by ferry passengers who arrived at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier.
He and his pal William “Bink” deBettencourt would ride bikes to the pier. Passengers would toss out coins and the kids would swim out from around the pilings. Marsec level warnings and cranky neighbors were a future away.
“That was my summer money. And when school started I would have a gallon jug. I would have two of them. One had pennies and the other one was just silver. I had separated them. I don’t know how much money I had but you can imagine with quarters, nickels and dimes it was a couple of hundred bucks and back then a couple of hundred bucks was a lot of money.”
But Steve did not save all the money. He used some of it to buy shotgun shells and fishing plugs at Amaral’s plumbing shop at the bottom of Circuit Avenue, where his uncles also sold fishing and hunting gear.
“So what I’d do, I put a portion of that money away and once a week I’d go down and buy my plugs or shotgun shells and put them in a box and put it underneath my bed. And when it came time to go fishin’ and huntin’ I’d have some halfway decent fishing plugs and the shotgun shells — that was a must. I got those first.”
Steve, along with his brothers Ed and Leo helped out their dad Gus at the family fish market. Shellfishing was work. That is the way it was for many working Island families.
Steve said that for one reason or another he did not use certain plugs. One of those plugs, a “Pugnose” came from the Point Jude Bait Company of Narragansett, Rhode Island.
More than 50 years later Steve was thumbing through the pages of On the Water fishing magazine and saw a terrific looking custom surf rod designed to cast the new braided lines. It was expensive, and Steve is a frugal man who had always believed in saving for a rainy day.
He spoke to Oak Bluffs charter captain Bob Weiss.
“Bob says to me, ‘how old are you Steve?’ And I said, ‘you know, I’m getting up there.’
He says, ‘you’re talking about saving money here for a rainy day and how old are you — it’s raining. It’s raining.'”
Steve made up his mind to order the rod right away. And the money he used to buy it?
He went into his past and pulled out the lure he had bought more than 50 years ago, still in its original box and now highly prized by collectors of vintage tackle.
Steve laughed when I asked him what he got for it from a Jersey collector. Enough to buy the rod and a nice pair of waders, he said.
Steve has put his new rod and waders to good use. He still fishes with passion despite a slow shore Derby. He and his fishing partner of more than 20 years, Mike Alwardt, are out most every night.
“I’ve worked my butt off,” Steve said. “I can’t remember when I’ve cast and walked like this. If I haven’t made 1,800 casts, I ain’t made any.”
Steve, mindful of the fact that many far younger fishermen could not keep up that pace, quickly adds, “And I’m thankful that I can do it. But I’ll tell you, I don’t bounce back like I used to though with all this walkin’ and pluggin’.”
Steve said the wind — constant and hard — has affected the shore fishing this Derby. “It took out so many places that we could normally fish. The wind’s up; the surf’s up; the water’s dirty; you know I’ve been there and done all that.”
He adds with a resigned laugh, “And when you find a spot that is fishable, then the fish don’t want to cooperate.”
The Point Jude Company began producing lures in the mid-1940’s with names like the Clipper, Surf Slapper, and Cape Codder. It was also well known for tin (metal) lures.
The company is now named the Point Jude Lure Company. Formed in 1946, Point Jude was once one of the largest saltwater lure companies in the Northeast, and now, according to the company’s website, it is one of the longest lasting.
I went looking for a photo of an old Point Jude and found Tom Clayton. He is an avid striper fisherman who began collecting saltwater tackle when he was 12. He’s 58 now.
Tom has a website (shorelinebt.com) where he displays old lures and solicits sellers like Steve who have a lure or two under the bed.
In a telephone call from Shoreline Bait and Tackle, his son’s tackle shop in Wall Township, New Jersey, Tom said the saltwater tackle collectors market is limited to the northeast. “Serious collectors, there might be a dozen,” he said.
Tom said the freshwater market is much larger and now is international in scope. The Japanese, big bass fishermen, have developed a yen for old freshwater tackle.
Tom’s passion is striped bass: “My father was a bass fisherman, I’m a bass fisherman and my son is into it.”
Derby awards ceremony
The 65th Derby ends at 10 pm Saturday. The awards ceremony that wraps up five weeks of fishing is Sunday at Nectar’s/Flatbread Pizza Co. (formerly the Hot Tin Roof and then Outerland) off the entrance road to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
Doors open at 12:30 pm and the official ceremony kicks off at 1 pm. There is a cash bar, and snacks courtesy of Flatbread.
I often write about public access. Islanders have more formal access to beaches thanks to organizations like the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, but less access of the informal kind.
In the past, landowners often granted access to fishermen who they knew and even allowed those they did not to gain entry to the beach. But that access comes with responsibility.
The so-called colonial ordinances provide the right to fish and fowl up to the high water mark. They do not provide the right to drive a vehicle across private property or be inconsiderate.
Christopher Gray describes such an incident in a letter to the editor on page 10. Fishermen who take access to the west side of Tashmoo for granted would do well to read it.
Rest in peace
Bob Darlington died Monday after a long battle with cancer. Better known as A&P Bob, he was a simple, gentle soul who loved to fish and was a fixture at Memorial Wharf. He will be missed by his friends.