A chance encounter with striped bass makes a perfect adventure

Scott Patterson plays a striped bass while in the background terns dive on bait that schools of bass are driving to the surface. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The best fishing adventures often begin without much of a plan. Last weekend, I enjoyed some magical striped bass fishing. My adventure began as a half-hearted fluke trip.

Saturday, I had no particular goals in mind beyond spending some time on the water in my Tashmoo-18. On board as I set out from the crowded Lagoon Pond launch ramp, I had a fly rod, a boat rod, and a spinning rod. What I did not have was two full six-gallon tanks of gas.

I digress on the subject of the launch ramp. When possible, it would be very helpful if drivers not towing a trailer would double-up and save a parking space. And why do some people take the time to wash down a boat and trailer on the ramp when people are waiting to launch or pull a boat?

Leaving the ramp behind, my first stop was Middle Ground, the ridge that divides the east end of Vineyard Sound. I cast a Sluggo for bass but it was quiet, so I headed to the deep water between Cedar Tree Neck and Cape Higgon to fish for fluke. When I ran out of gas in my first tank I switched to my second tank and mentally kicked myself for not stopping at the gas station earlier.

The tide was flowing strong to the east, normally good conditions for fluke, but the fishing was slow. I caught numerous small sea bass and several keepers, which provided some activity and enough of my favorite fish for a good dinner.

It was late in the afternoon. The wind had picked up and the tide was falling, creating choppy seas. I picked up the corner of the one tank with gas and gauged its weight. It appeared there was enough gas for me to make it back to Vineyard Haven.

Should I gas up in Menemsha was the question? I rolled around the options. I imagined the worst-case scenario: I run out of gas midway across Vineyard Haven Harbor as a ferry is bearing down on me.

Later, I recounted this story to my wife, Norma. She expressed surprise that I decided to not push it. “Honey, that’s not like you,” she said. “You must be growing up.”

I exited Menemsha Harbor and just off the shoreline I spotted various flocks of terns diving into the water. Terns are often attracted to flocks of cormorants because the fish-eaters push bait to the surface. I went in for a closer look.

The terns were over schools of striped bass. In the clear water I could see bass slashing through clouds of juvenile herring. Bass were erupting out of the water all around me.

I grabbed my fly rod and cast a white squid fly in the direction of a swirl. Three bass followed it until one, bolder than the others, slashed at the imitation and my line went tight.

A few years ago, I witnessed a similar phenomenon off Lobsterville Beach. Those fish were keyed in on herring and would barely look at anything a fisherman threw. The stripers I encountered Saturday afternoon behaved like bluefish.

Initially, there were only a few boats but as word spread several boats exited Menemsha and joined the fishing fray. I saw one young guy on the shore.

I drifted nearby and asked if he had any luck. He said he had hooked up several times and that it was his first trip to Menemsha. “Good time to visit,” I said.

The sun was getting low. On my way home I spotted terns and fish along the shore from Menemsha Beach to the brickyard.

I returned by car to Menemsha Beach late Sunday afternoon. Saturday it was gas, on Sunday it was waders — I had left them at home. A pair of rubber hunting boots provided enough protection to stand at the edge of the surf but not wade out among the rocks.

The wind was hard out of the southwest. I saw only two shore fishermen. Like human terns, fly fishermen Scott Patterson of Edgartown and Chris Windram, a well-known fly fisherman and professional fly tier, had honed in on the fish. Each man had clambered up onto a boulder exposed by the low tide and were soon into a fish.

I was having more difficulty hooking up on my spinning rod. A white Sluggo with a small weight to help my cast cut the wind soon changed my luck.

The sun was dropping into the horizon and I felt a pang of guilt when I recalled that I had told Norma I would be home to cook dinner. But I had also told Norma I planned to “check out Menemsha.”

After 20 years of occasional missed dinners I knew Norma would not be surprised that I was late. I also knew evenings when all the forces of nature coincide to produce rare fishing are not to be taken for granted, so I buried my guilt and cast.

The bass moved into the shore as the sun turned crimson red. I put down the spinning rod and picked up my fly rod and made a cast. The striped bass took the fly in the surf.

The sun disappeared and I decided it was time to leave. I was driving home on North Road still savoring the experience when three motorcycles roared up behind me and at an opportune moment flashed past my truck and raced out of sight down-Island.

Just past the intersection of State Road the West Tisbury police had stopped the three bike-riders. It was a perfect evening.

Authentic Vineyard voice

If you turn to another television channel when you see the sort of disclaimer that precedes a program like “Swamp People,” that begins, “… the following program depicts a way of live that dates back 300 years, some images may be disturbing …”, please do not continue to read this fishing column.

About two weeks ago I caught the 8:15 am boat from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole. I was following a path well-worn by Vineyarders to an appointment with Dr. Price, a well-known periodontist located within walking distance of the SSA’s Palmer parking lot.

Dr. Price is a congenial guy who makes the process of gum excavation seem routine. But I was not looking forward to the morning as I hopped on the shuttle bus for the short ride to the lot.

The bus was crowded with an assortment of riders, mostly summer visitors holding onto luggage, computers, or copies of the New York Times. Among the passengers I saw the lumpy, weather-beaten face of Captain Nelson C. Smith of Edgartown.

I walked up to the front of the bus to say hello. “We Nelson’s have to stick together,” I said to Nelson, who turns 86 in January . He laughed and launched into a story about Nelson Bryant of West Tisbury and Nelson’s (Bryant) wartime exploits — jumped into Normandy; wounded; jumped into Holland; wounded.

That story provided Captain Smith with an easy segue into a story about Nelson’s brother Danny Bryant, who died June 9. He began with an observation of the practice of jacking deer. The time period was the fifties. and Island winters were leaner then, and deer provided a way to beef up the larder.

He described Danny’s Jeep as though I shared his familiarity with the make and model. “It was one of the first station wagons they came out with,” he said. “It was a squareback and of course it had a drop down tailback.”

I knew the other riders were listening to the story but I dared not look in any direction but Nelson’s as he continued his hunting story .

The gist of it was that Danny saw a big buck standing in a field in West Tisbury and dropped it with one shot. He loaded the deer into the back of the Jeep. “He closed it up and that’s when it came to,” he said. The deer came to life, thrashing its antlers in the back of the Jeep.

Nelson leaned into the tale as he approached the conclusion of a story I am sure he has recounted many times. It was a classic Vineyard hunting story about a classic Island guy.

Well, Danny didn’t want to shoot in his vehicle. So he took out his sheath knife. The inside of Danny’s vehicle looked like the scene of a mass murder.

Nelson was chuckling as he finished his story about a Vineyard that is rapidly disappearing. I was laughing thinking of the reaction of the people sitting near us on the bus but I did not dare look around.

I laughed about Nelson and that story on the bus all the way to the dentist’s office. And I figure Danny Bryant had a good laugh too.

First bonito

I received a report from Steve Morris of Dick’s in Oak Bluffs that George Kudravetz of Oak Bluffs and Virginia landed the first bonito of the season Monday.

“It is true,” George told me when I called him at his home.

George said he was fishing a sand eel off East Chop on board a boat captained by his friend Chuck Harding. “It was rough as hell,” George said.

He estimated the fish was about 5-pounds. George, who is 91 but does not look a day over 80, is no novice. His name has regularly appeared in the Derby daily prize lineup and in 1986 he won the Derby grand prize boat division with a 10.95 bonito. Congratulations.

Correction: The striped bass blitz left me rattled. That is my excuse for misidentifying Chris Windram as Dave Skok in the print edition.