Robert Scott “Hawkeye” Jacobs, who spurned the trappings of corporate success and followed his love of fishing to the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, where he found friends and a way of life that suited his personality — gregarious when it came to poker, and solitary when he thought the stripers might be biting during the Derby — died Sunday at his home in Oak Bluffs with friends and his brother by his side, following a long illness. He was 68.
Bob’s fishing persona had all the trappings of a comic strip character. Lean and gangly, most often unkempt, he drove a succession of distinctive beat-up Jeeps — when one died, he would park it in his yard and find another — that he crammed full of fishing gear and buckets for holding bait. Not all his Jeeps made it to his yard collection — one died prematurely when it burst into flames on Norton Point Beach, greatly amusing those who knew him.
Bob’s solitary habits did not keep him out of the action. One summer night in June 2012, about 1 am, he was fishing alone at Big Bridge, one of his favorite spots, when a young woman drove her vehicle off Beach Road, went across a dirt parking lot, striking a sign, over a rock embankment, and plunged into Sengekontacket Pond.
Bob rushed over to help the woman from her car before it floated into the channel. Downplaying his actions, Bob later told The MV Times, “Well, you never know what’s going to happen when you go fishing.”
Bob was born in 1947 in Trenton, N.J., and grew up in in New York City on the north shore of Queens, where his love of fishing began and developed. He and his younger brother Don spent countless hours fishing from a local pier, and he soon developed an interest in surfcasting. Bob would dig for sandworms with a pitchfork, and use them to fish for stripers at night when a “keeper” only needed to be 16 inches in length.
“I fished a lot with my brother when we were kids, but he had more passion for it than I did,” Don recalled. “I remember lots of times when I was cold and wanted to go home. His response was always the same: ‘One more cast.’”
Bob graduated from Queens College, majoring in mathematics, and at the age of 20 went to work at IBM as a programmer and systems analyst in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He played on IBM’s basketball and softball teams, and is reported to have been an excellent shortstop. He transferred to Manhattan for a short period, but left for Martha’s Vineyard to follow his passion for fishing, supporting himself as a taxi driver on the Island, which is where he acquired his nickname.
“His boss said he had an eye for picking out the people who would tip the most, and started calling him ‘Hawkeye,’” longtime friend and fellow fisherman Ron McKee said. “And it stuck.”
Ultimately he had a number of jobs in Boston, and returned to the Vineyard on weekends. For more than 40 years, Bob never missed a Derby.
If fishing was his passion, the Derby was his religion. Day and night, Bob was known as a “hard fisherman” in an annual Island rite where hard fishing is taken for granted. Each Derby he pursued the grand slam title — the heaviest combined weight of all four Derby species — with a relentlessness that bordered on obsession. His favorite perch was Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, where he was part of the Wharf rats, a clan of fishermen who shared in the camaraderie of chasing false albacore and bonito.
In one memorable Derby incident, recounted by MV Times fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman, Bob hooked a big albie just as the Pied Piper, a small passenger ferry which operates between Edgartown Harbor and Falmouth Harbor, docked at the wharf on its regular run. Bob’s fishing line got hung up under the ferry. He could still feel the big albie pulsing at the end of his line.
Unwilling to break his line, he reviewed his options, which he described: “I realized that I had my mask, my fins, and my snorkel in my car. I thought, Maybe if I put on my skindiving equipment, I can get down there and free it, then get back on the wharf, jump back on the boat, and play him.”
Nelson asked, “And that seemed reasonable?”
“Yeah, it did,” Bob said, providing some insight into the Derby mindset.
Bob stripped down to his underwear and donned his mask and snorkel, but was unable to get deep enough under the ferry in the murky water to free his fish. A crewmember of the Pied Piper did get a bit exercised.
“She comes running up at me, really nasty, really challenging, and she goes, ‘Sir, what are you doing on our boat?’”
“And I just said to her, ‘Yeah, I have a fish on.’ And then I tuned her out. And I realized later, yeah, a fish on, that explains it.”
Bob, who fished his first Derby in 1974, admitted that it might be difficult for those unfamiliar with how difficult and time-consuming it is to catch a big albie to understand his swim.
“It might not be that easy to make them really understand,” Bob said. “I can explain why it was worth the effort to me, maybe, but I do not know that anybody else would agree.”
In the end, it never really mattered much whether anybody agreed or not. Bob just went fishing.
When not fishing, Bob participated in a regular poker game with a colorful group of local characters, and loved to solve the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle (in ink). For decades he participated in weekend pickup softball and volleyball games In West Tisbury and Edgartown.
Bob leaves behind his wonderful aunts, a host of cousins, and many wonderful friends. For those who wish, donations in his memory made be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby, P.O. Box 2101, Edgartown, MA 02539, or release a fish in his memory.
A graveside service is scheduled at 11 am Thursday morning, May 12, in the Oak Grove Cemetery on Pacific Avenue in Oak Bluffs.