Responding to the buzz of the busy shark season on Chappy, John Zarba, his son Colby and his friend Aiden Gates, all from Oak Bluffs, went to Leland Beach on a recent evening looking for a fight.
They got one. But it wasn’t a shark that put up a 90-minute battle, it was a bruiser of a stingray.
Despite his modest son’s objections, John Zarba told the tale to The Times. “At first I thought it was a shark. It really took off. But after about 10 minutes, it was immovable,” John said. “Aiden is a very experienced fisherman; he said they get down on the bottom like a big suction cup.”
Both Colby, 15, and Aiden, 16, are students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Aiden works at My Brother Charters out of Oak Bluffs.
The trio began the night with a stop at Dick’s Bait and Tackle, and stocked up with big circle hooks, wire leader, 80-pound braided line,10 feet of 100-pound leader, and some mackerel.
They were about a quarter of a mile north of Wasque Point when the big fish hit.
“As soon as the rod bent, Aiden knew it was a ray, not a shark,” Colby said.
“Colby was on the rod the whole time, and the two of us were holding him and pulling line. It was pretty crazy,” John said. “We got it in after about 20 minutes, then it saw the light on our headlights and took off. It was gone for over an hour.”
“It didn’t take a ton of line, so we knew it wasn’t that far, but I thought the line was going to break,” Colby said. “It was definitely the best fight I’ve ever had.”
When the stingray went into suction-cup mode, John and Aiden alternated taking the line 100 yards north and south on the beach, trying to find an angle that would dislodge it.
Colby’s had his share of snapped lines this summer. He said he’s been shark fishing four times this year, hooked up five or six times, and lost all of them.
On this night, his line held. He eventually wrangled the ray into the shallows. Then Aiden jumped in.
“Aiden is like the kid out of ‘The Jungle Book,’” John said. “He was absolutely fearless; when it was close, he didn’t hesitate, he went right into the water. I told him to get out, but he knew what he was doing. He knows more about fishing than anybody I’ve met here, besides the legends like Coop.”
The fish measured five feet in width.
“It was an incredible sight, like pulling a dinosaur out of the ocean,” John said. “The tail itself was six or seven feet long. The barb was about three-quarters of the way up the tail. It was twitching. We put a towel over it while we measured it.”
Initially, John estimated the weight to be about 150 pounds. But it may have been much heavier. “When we Googled the size, the estimate was closer to 250 pounds,” he said. “I’ve been told that catching a stingray that size is ridiculously rare; when they’re that big, they usually break your line.”
John had no doubt the stingray would live to fight another day.
“It practically flew back into the water,” he said. “It was gone in a shot.”