The Martha’s Vineyard fishing season began with unmistakable signs. Signals I took that it was time to spool new line on my reels that had lain dormant for the last six months, fix the wader leaks I ignored in the fall, and check to see if the steering on my 18-foot center console Tashmoo boat was frozen.
I count the fragrance of blooming lilacs as one sure sign that striped bass have arrived off the south shore and in the ponds. A dead tick encased in dishwashing soap is another. Both are natural occurrences around my house.
I love the scent of blooming lilacs. I am less fond of ticks.
Last week, a few days before I caught my first striped bass of the season, my wife Norma found her first dog tick of the season crawling up her leg.
We do not live in one of those particularly overgrown areas of the Vineyard like Chilmark where people let the brush grow and raise ticks like chickens. We are suburban dwellers, Vineyard Haven folks who live cheek-by-jowl to our neighbors on a quarter-acre of good Island earth.
When I arrived home I found the tick in a little dish of soap. It is Norma’s preferred La-Brea-Tar-Pit Island method of killing ticks.
I am not sure why she finds this method preferable to a quick flush down the toilet or immobilization on a piece of tape for discard into the trash. I think it is Norma’s method of striking back at the Vineyard’s insect terrorists.
Oddly, on Monday the tick was still in the dish — a little less distinct in form — but still suspended in a little yellow bath of Joy dish detergent. I guess my wife means it as a warning to others of the species.
I caught my first striped bass, a small schoolie, Friday evening, May 6 in Sengekontacket Pond. The sun was just dropping into the horizon and fish were evident. I cast a Zoom “white pearl salty super fluke” soft plastic lure on a light seven-foot St. Croix rod spooled with braid to one of several rises in front of me.
The variety and colors of soft plastic baits available to fishermen is mind-boggling. The fact is that these baits work.
The fish was small, about 18-inches, and the only one I caught that evening, but welcome. That first hit of the season is always a reminder of what I have missed and what, hopefully, I can expect in the next six weeks as bass arrive along our shores.
That same day there was another sure sign that the Martha’s Vineyard season had begun.
That morning fishermen Jeff Lynch of Chilmark and Will Farrissey and Mike Capen of Oak Bluffs spotted a large great white shark circling a dead Minke whale tangled in lobster gear about a mile off Gay Head.
The fishermen had left Menemsha Harbor about 6 am in Jeff’s 23-foot Sea Ox center console boat to fish for mackerel. Jeff told me the shark was huge and looked to be close to 20-feet.
“We sat there and watched it for about a half an hour,” Jeff said. “It never took a bite. It didn’t seem very interested in the whale. But he was nudging it and going around it. He came right up to my boat, about two feet from it.”
Jeff took photos with his cell phone and sent them to Greg Skomal, Division of Marine Fisheries biologist and the state’s resident shark expert. Greg verified the identification.
Jeff was great about giving the home team a call and getting me the photos. The Times reported the story on mvtimes.com that morning. Mention a great white in the same sentence as Martha’s Vineyard and you set off a web media chain reaction.
There was not much to see. The shark was submerged and appeared as a brown shadowy shape. But it was Martha’s Vineyard. And it was — bassoons please — a great white.
Within hours Jeff’s photos and quotes were on mainland news websites. The story made the nightly news and crossed the Atlantic and appeared in London’s Daily Mail.
The Brits are a practical people, hard to impress and used to extreme, over-inflated newspaper headlines. Their newspapers regularly carry stories of the sort that describes how the quiet village pharmacist chopped up his mother and fed her to the cat.
One commenter identified as Lilly of London was not impressed.
Lilly wrote: “WOW a SHARK….a real life SHARK, spotted where??? In the SEA, as in actual water? you mean a shark’s natural habitat. well now i have heard it all. a shark spotted in the sea, what next? birds in the sky? the worlds gone mad. mad i tell you. Oh come on, this is not a shock, they can swim you know, they are not held by barriers. goodness me!”
Our state officials might take a cue from Lilly. Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs told the Boston Globe, “What I really want to stress is there’s no need for panic.”
Mr. Zimmerman stressed that people should exercise caution in the water and to avoid areas frequented by seals, a favorite food of the sharks, the Globe reported.
The funny thing is that last year Cooper Gilkes told me he was mackerel fishing with his son Danny and saw a great white. I told him he was crazy. “Do you believe me now?” Coop said when the story broke.
I do not panic at the news that a shark has been spotted in the ocean within one mile of Martha’s Vineyard. What would make me panic would be to learn that “swamp people” had boarded a ferry to the Island.
“Swamp People” is the name of the latest entry to reality TV programming on History Channel. Essentially it chronicles a group of individual fishermen who hunt alligators for a living, using baited lines in the swamps of Louisiana.
It is scary and not because of anything to do with the alligators. These guys make the crab fishermen of the Bering Straits look like fly fishermen on the famed Miramichi salmon river of New Brusnwick.
Sunday, I decided to work off a hearty meal of pork chops with a quick walk along the beach at West Chop. The sky was overcast as the promised rain began to fall, a light sprinkle, not enough to make me turn back.
I walked up the beach and back, pausing to cast. The hit was unexpected. The fish made a strong run in the current, and I had to walk quickly so I would be pulling at an angle to and not against the tide.
I slid the bass up the beach. It was about 26-inches and the fish’s muscular body felt cold and strong as I gripped it so I could remove the hook. It was a great feeling.
The new season brings several changes to the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) recreational fishing regulations.
With some exceptions all fishermen, boat and shore, must possess an annual saltwater fishing license at a cost of $10. Mass residents no longer have to register with the National Saltwater Registry but must purchase a DMF license on the Internet or over the phone at 1-866-703-1925.
The fluke season begins Sunday, May 22. The minimum size limit was dropped one inch to 17.5-inches. The bag limit remains five fish.
Last season, small black sea bass were plentiful. The DMF has upped the size limit from 12.5 inches to 14-inches and decreased the bag limit from 20 fish to 10 fish. That season also begins Sunday.
For more information go to www.mass.gov/dfwele/dmf/ or call 617-626-1520.