If you think about it, fishing is an inherently dangerous sport. There are sharp hooks and fish with sharp teeth. There are rocks to slip on, jetties to fall off, and boats to sink. But the biggest danger fishermen face, particularly experienced fishermen, is complacency.
How often do you see a single fisherman tooling along in his boat wearing no personal flotation device (PFD)? Too often. And not just fishermen.
The prevailing excuse is that there are other boats around, or the water is calm, or he or she is a good swimmer or the mindset that accidents happen to someone else. Well, they do not.
Inflatable PFDs are inexpensive — cheaper than a fishing reel or a casket — and they are comfortable to wear fishing from a boat or on land. Why would you need one on land?
Last week, I received an email from Rene Sehr (aka one of the Dutch guys). Rene has been visiting the Vineyard from Holland for years, usually in the company of Ton Kalkman, for an annual fishing vacation. He fishes hard day and night. He said his vacation started slow because he was a bit sick due to the air conditioning in the plane. But he soon got down to business.
“I found a few fish, but most of the beaches I used to fish and catch, were deserted places, no fishermen and no fish or just a few small fish, so I started roaming the ponds and I found some good schools of small herring and finally the bass arrived,” Rene said. “During daytime I caught a lot of small bass, but during the night I also caught keeper sized bass. So my fishing was pretty good.”
“We once experienced the drowning of a guide, you wrote an article about this sad event,” Rene said, referring to the June 2002 death of Kenneth Schwam, 46, of Oak Bluffs and Wyncote, Pennsylvania.
Ken, a fly fishing guide, drowned after he stepped off a sandbar into deep water just before midnight while fishing off Eel Pond in the Fuller Street Beach area of Edgartown’s outer harbor. Ken was fishing with a client on a sandbar off the beach. Returning to the shore in darkness, the men mistakenly stepped into a channel and became separated in the water.
In November, 1997, David Nielsen, 38, was fishing on the inside of Tisbury Great pond, a short distance from the ocean opening, when he accidentally stepped off a sandbar into deep water and drowned.
Rene continued, “One of those dark and foggy evenings last week I was standing on a sandbank in the pond, when I hooked up with a good fish, that forced me to go further onto the bank and deeper into the water. Finally I could unhook the fish and I wasn’t aware that the fog has became very thick! I stood up and due to the use of my headlight I couldn’t see a thing for a few moments. After that I saw that there was very little world left around me. So for a few moments I became a little bit shocked. We have an expression in Holland, but I cannot translate it properly, but it’s something like: my heart stood still for a moment. Where has the shore gone? Well after 20-30 seconds the fog pads drifted away and I was able to see a little bit of the shore again. But I cannot explain what came over me for a few moments!
My point: beware of the fog and do not say it cannot happen to me! I know this area pretty good, but you are completely lost when this happens!
So I have caught a good amount of fish, but only three on the flyrod…. Most of the fish could only be caught deep in the channel with heavy shads. So, see you next year and I will bring Ton again.”
White shark numbers increase
A recent study of white sharks by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that their numbers are increasing, in part due to strict conservation measures.
NOAA said white sharks are among the largest, most widespread apex predators in the ocean but are also among the most vulnerable. The new study, the most comprehensive ever on seasonal distribution patterns and historic trends in abundance of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in the western North Atlantic Ocean, used records compiled over more than 200 years to update knowledge and fill in gaps in information about this species, NOAA said in a press release.
“White sharks in the Northwest Atlantic are like a big jigsaw puzzle, where each year we are given only a handful of pieces,” said Tobey Curtis, a shark researcher at NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, and lead author of the study. “After decades of effort by a lot of researchers, we finally have enough puzzle pieces for a picture to emerge on distribution and abundance patterns. We are pleased to see signs of population recovery.”
Among the findings: White sharks occur primarily between Massachusetts and New Jersey during the summer, off Florida during winter, and with a broad distribution along the U.S. East Coast during spring and fall. The sharks are much more common along the coast than in offshore waters. The annual north-south distribution shift of the population is driven by environmental preferences, such as water temperature, and the availability of prey.
The return of gray seal colonies off the coast of Cape Cod followed by frequent sightings of white sharks has generated considerable media publicity and provided the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) with unprecedented opportunities to study the feared and fascinating predators.
The NOAA study provides plenty of reason to think that white shark sightings in the waters surrounding the Vineyard will increase.
While the overall distribution of white sharks is very broad, ranging from Newfoundland to the British Virgin Islands and from the Grand Banks to the Gulf of Mexico as far west as the Texas coast, 90 percent of the animals recorded in this study were found along the East Coast roughly between the Florida Keys and northern Caribbean Sea to Nova Scotia, Canada. The center of the distribution is in southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic Bight, where 66 percent of the sharks occurred.
The U.S., which has managed its shark fisheries since 1993, banned both commercial and recreational harvesting of white sharks in 1997.
The study said that newborn white sharks, as small as four feet long, regularly occur off Long Island, New York, suggesting this area may provide nursery habitat. The largest shark in the study considered accurately measured was a female landed on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in August 1983. The animal measured 17.26 feet from the tip of its snout to the fork in its tail.
VFW fluke derby
Had enough of World Cup histrionics? Tired of celebrity tournaments, celebrity fundraisers, celebrity this and that? Join the VFW Post 9261 MV Fluke Fishing Derby for some good Island fun Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13.
This is a rock-solid Island tournament and an awful lot of fun with a no-frills awards ceremony and barbecue Sunday at the VFW on Towanticut Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Where else on Martha’s Vineyard could a set of four beer mugs with one cracked glass command an auction price of over $40?
Prizes for the biggest fluke and sea bass. Kids 12 and under enter free but must register. Adults registration is $20, teens and seniors are $10. Weigh-in is 4 to 6 pm at the VFW. There is also a team competition. For more information, call organizer Peter Hermann at 774-563-0293. Register at local tackle shops.
Walter Ashley of Oak Bluffs died Saturday. A fisherman, hunter, and fixer of most anything brought into C&W Power, his small machine repair shop in the airport business park, he will be missed by those who came to appreciate his deadpan sense of humor and sure fix on what was right and wrong in life.