Menemsha charter captains went above and beyond in search for fish

Airborne infantryman PFC Colton Wiley, 19, of Keofauqua, Iowa (left), and Army specialist Dylan Waugh of Lebanon, Virginia hold up two bluefish caught fishing with Captain Scott McDowell. — Photo by Jennifer Frank

I am frequently asked by people I meet who the leaders are in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. I reply that I don’t know.

I do not look at the leader board because it gives rise to feelings of jealousy and envy. You see, the Derby brings out the worst in me. I know it is supposed to bring out the best, like warm, fuzzy feelings of camaraderie and good fellowship. Sure, it does.

With nine days to go until the end of the Derby there are fishermen who would knock their grandmother off the jetty if she was in their way when the bonito start breaking off Menemsha.

But the Derby also brings out the best in people. That was the case last week when a group of Menemsha charter captains gave up their time and income to take 10 visiting wounded soldiers out fishing over the course of several days.

On Friday afternoon, the charter captains sat with their respective fishermen at a series of tables in the Home Port restaurant for an awards ceremony as part of the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. It was one of many events the Nixon family, owners of the Home Port, and the Derby committee hosted last week.

By all accounts, the fishing was tough. It would have been easy for the captains to mail it in — troll around for a few hours, and return to port. And the beautiful scenery and lots of fun fish stories would have been more than enough for soldiers just happy to be out of the hospital.

But it would not have been enough for the captains — Scott McDowell, Buddy Vanderhoop, Jonathan Boyd, Tom Langman, Jen Clarke, and Lev Wlodyka — all of whom went above and beyond in their efforts to find fish on multiple days. How tough was it?

Well, when Lev, a six-time Derby grand leader, tells me he had a hard time finding striped bass I know the fishing is tough.

Lev took out Captain Benjamin Harrow, a West Point graduate and special forces commander who lost both his legs and two fingers in an explosion on May 15, and Captain Harrow’s father-in-law and self-described fishing buddy, Salvatore “Sal” Garagliano.

Both men are experienced fishermen. I asked Lev about their fishing trip. Lev said Captain Harrow never complained, not once, even when it got a little rough off Gay Head.

“Ben is just an exemplary human being, he really is,” Lev said. “Just the things he’s done and the way he’s exerted himself. He is like a textbook American.”

Lev had to refine his fishing techniques. He removed the boat’s leaning post and cleared the deck of everything he could to provide room for the wheelchair.

“It took us three days to get it dialed in,” Lev said.

When Lev was worried that the conditions might be too rough, Captain Harrow reminded him that not too long ago he was jumping out of airplanes — not to worry.

Lev said it was gratifying to be able to give back in some small way. And it was sobering.

“I cannot believe that I complain about anything anymore,” Lev said. “It was a wake-up, it really was.”


In life there are the doers and the talkers. You meet a lot of talkers in tackle shops. Usually, they are good at recommending what other people should do.

“Somebody ought to build a public fishing pier in Oak Bluffs,” I bet one of the talkers said years ago.

And David Nash of Edgartown agreed. And David is a doer.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs terminal. The original idea was to incorporate a fishing platform into the pier. That plan disappeared after 9/11, due to security concerns, but not the idea.

Quietly and persistently and with the support of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, David pressed the case for a public fishing pier to be built in Oak Bluffs.

In 2007, the state Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA), part of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, signed an agreement with the town of Oak Bluffs to cover 100 percent of the cost of the fishing pier’s design, permitting, and construction, estimated at $750,000 to $1 million. Oak Bluffs agreed to be responsible for day-to-day operations and maintenance, public safety and policing.

Plans called for an L-shaped, pile-supported, handicapped accessible fishing pier off Sea View Avenue Extension north of the Steamship Authority’s pier. The new structure would extend 317 feet into Nantucket Sound.

Neighbors objected to the location. David and the Surfcasters, with the support of state fisheries officials, persisted.

In November 2010, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Island’s powerful permitting body, approved the pier. The tireless Douglas Cameron, FBA assistant director and deputy chief engineer, set about obtaining all the necessary local, state, and federal permits. The paperwork was completed and all that was needed was the money.

Well, I learned this week that FBA expects to go out to bid in December, award the contract in January and complete the project by June 30, 2013.

If all goes as expected, next Derby big kids and little kids will be casting from a new public fishing pier in Oak Bluffs, thanks to the doers among us.

Lost and found

Phil Horton emailed me. “In their obvious haste to get to weigh-in somebody left a rod and reel in a sand spike on East Beach this past weekend,” he said. “It’s a bait set-up. I picked it up and have it at the house.”

The owner can claim it by calling Phil at 508-693-6979.

I regularly receive requests to help recover lost items — mostly rods and tackle fog-bound fishermen have forgotten on the beach. The Derby is prime time. It is easy to forget stuff on a dark beach in the wee hours of the morning, or allow a fishing rod to balance on a car roof, but not for long.

Last week, I highlighted a tackle box that Quinn Keefe, 11, left in Menemsha and a 10-foot St. Croix rod with a Stradic reel that Chris Adler left around 3 am in Gay Head.

I thought readers deserved an update. Both items were returned to their respective owners.

Julian Pepper, a top-notch fisherman who works at Larry’s, found the rod and reel. He called around to see if anyone had reported a lost rod, and then read about it and contacted Chris.

I think it is a testament to the quality of the fishermen — Islanders and visitors — who fish the Derby that the majority of lost items I have reported on over the years have been returned.