Gone Fishin'

Weigh master Roy Langley slid open the door of the Derby weigh station at 8 am, Sunday morning and rang a handbell, signifying the start of the five-week contest. His grandson Nick Jerome, holding two bluefish, was first in line. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

I set my alarm for 3:45 am. Technically, it would be morning but conceptually, it would be the middle of the night. Despite my misgivings at the loss of sleep and the zombie state it would induce, I was determined to look for a good striped bass on the first day of the 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that began at 12:01 am Sunday.

I expect that fatigue and fishless nights over the next five weeks will deplete the reservoir of enthusiasm I had at the start of the Derby. But the Derby is a little like a Christmas present — there is plenty of excitement and anticipation while the present is still wrapped.

My preparations began Saturday afternoon after I returned home from hanging a deer stand, the first of several I expect to put up in the weeks ahead. The need to prepare for archery season, which begins one day after the Derby ends, is one of the many logistical hurdles I and many other Island fishermen face, that and the lesser responsibilities of home and the workplace.

The task had gone quickly, as the tree and I are familiar with each other. The bark still retained the scuff marks from the previous year, and I had little doubt I would shoot a deer from that spot. I approach every outdoor season — fish, deer, duck, goose, scallop — with a sense of optimism, not because I expect to reap a bounty but because I am happy to be here to enjoy it.

My plan for the opening day of the Derby was simple. I would put the small fiberglass dinghy I had bought for my wife Norma years ago, which had been resting comfortably upside down in our yard for years providing shelter for mice, into the back of my Nissan pickup. Tom Robinson and I would row across West Basin and cast eels into Menemsha channel before the sun rose. Low tide was 6:30 am. I figured we would have about one hour of productive fishing before the current went slack. I hoped one of us would hook a big striper and walk into the weigh station that morning.

A normal person might have greeted that plan with some degree of skepticism. But Derby fishermen are not normal. Tom asked what time I planned to pick him up. I said 4:15 am. “OK,” Tom said.

Before the sun went down I took my light, nine-foot surf rod out of the basement and put it on my truck. Coop built the rod, a birthday present from Norma with my name on it, more than 20 years ago. The reel is a classic Penn 704Z. It is more than 30 years old, but still has what it takes to wrestle a bass out of the surf. It felt right to begin the Derby with that outfit.

Norma is a Derby wife. By way of definition, she does not like to fish but she understands the Derby state of mind. She did not flinch at the sight of a bucket of eels and the noise of a running aerator in the basement. “Just don’t wake me up,” she said about my plan.

My alarm is set to WCAI, the local NPR station. I was concerned that at that hour the BBC would be reporting in hushed, knowing tones from some distant corner of the world. I worried an English accent might not have what it takes to jar me awake. But my internal Derby clock was all I needed. By 3:30 am I was up and tiptoeing out of the bedroom.

My clothes were laid out on the couch at the ready. I turned on the coffee pot and went downstairs for the eels. As I walked up the steps I imagined what would happen if I were to drop the bucket. The fishing columnist smiled at the thought of the story I might write. The would-soon-be-dead husband gripped the handle more tightly.

Tom was waiting when I pulled into the driveway. In fact, he’d been waiting some time. “I thought you said quarter of four,” Tom said.

There were half a dozen cars and trucks parked at West Basin when we arrived. A few guys were standing in the predawn darkness talking by the back of a truck. I assumed the other vehicles belonged to fishermen on the Lobsterville jetty. The Derby has begun in earnest, I thought,

The crossing was uneventful. The fishing was equally uneventful.

Fishermen Jim Cornwell of Edgartown greets a well wisher at the Derby weigh station. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

I caught one bass about 30 inches long and I hooked another smaller fish in the tail. Tom caught no fish. The sun rose and the wind picked up out of the north. By 7 am, I was rowing us with some difficulty, against the wind, back to the dock.

A north wind often triggers albies to feed off Lobsterville Beach and the jetties. Tom and I had brought rods rigged for albies in the event the fish were hitting.

Derby albie fishing is 96 percent waiting, talking, and casting without any evidence of fish, and 4 percent Red Bull–driven panic when the fish break. In the parking area, Phil Horton and Tim Sherren were comparing notes on the morning. Both fishermen had surrendered to the stiffening wind. Had they seen any albies, I asked. A few breaks here and there, but not enough to keep them battling the wind. The conversation all seemed so familiar, so Derby.

I stopped at the Scottish Bakehouse for a cinnamon bun, arguably the best on the Island and my reward, applying Derby logic, for getting up so early. MIke Stimola of West Tisbury was there. I had not seen Mike all summer and was happy to run into him. He had gone out after midnight and been rewarded, Mike said, with a nice striped bass.  He was on his way to weigh it in. We compared notes. I learned later that his fish weighed 19.59 pounds and earned him a third-place daily pin.

It was all so familiar, so welcome, so Derby.

Jason Graves brought his five-year-old daughter Ava and a 19.80 pound striped bass to the weigh station Sunday morning. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Jason Graves brought his five-year-old daughter Ava and a 19.80 pound striped bass to the weigh station Sunday morning. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Kids day is Sunday

The Kids Mini-Derby is Sunday, Sept. 21, from 6 am to 8 am at the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier. No casting skill is required, and a simple fishing rod will suffice. Simply bait a weighted hook with a piece of squid or sand eel and drop it to the bottom where, with luck, a hungry scup or sea robin lies in wait.

The mini-derby is strictly for kids old enough to hold and reel a fishing rod, through age 14. It is not for adults. No matter how bad you want your kid to catch a fish, do not fish for your kid. It is against the rules, it violates the spirit of the event, it irritates the people who follow the rules, it teaches your kid all the wrong lessons, and if that is not enough, you risk the embarrassment of being told all of the above by a Derby committee member in front of your kid.

It is also the one and only time fishing is allowed from the pier. The event is free, and open to all kids.

Lost fly rod

The Tisbury police are holding a nine-foot, Lamiglas Infinity fly rod turned in over the weekend. Identify the reel and reclaim the outfit. Tisbury police I spoke with expressed no interest in learning to use a fly rod. Most prefer to catch fish with their bare hands —  once it is battered and fried.

69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Sept. 16)

Boat bluefish: Estey L. Teller, 13.38

Shore bluefish: Clinton A. Fisher, 13.34

Boat bass: Joseph E. Canha, 28.17

Shore bass: Tom E. Barber, 26.53

Boat bonito: Mike J. Balzarini, 7.58

Shore bonito: Kerry Leonard, 6.63

Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17

Shore albacore: Colin T. Britt, 9.84

(Daily, weekly, and division results are available atmvderby.com.)

In this recent aerial photo, an ever-shifting sandbar that has formed off Wasque Point near the breech is visible in the foreground. Fishermen take their chances when when wading out on the bar. Photo by Skip Bettencourt

The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins at 12:01 am Sunday. It seems like it was just last week I was jigging for squid on State Beach in anticipation of this moment. How did it get here so fast?

Summer was fine, but I was quite happy to say goodbye to the traffic, crowds, and daily Obama golf bulletins. In September, we revert to Derby time. No need to set the clocks back or forward. Time is measured by wind and tides and rumors of fish.

The 2014 Derby features a separate contest for kayakers and some rule changes for fly fishermen. All the information is available online at mvderby.com or in the rules brochures. Kids Day is Sunday, Sept. 21. The awards ceremony is Sunday, Oct. 19.

If you are one of those misguided fishermen who does not buy a Derby button because you think you will not catch a Derby-winning fish, I have some advice: Buy a button. Lightning does strike in the Derby. There are numerous stories of people who went fishing without a button and regretted that decision. They tell themselves it doesn’t matter, but deep down, you can tell just by the way they say it, it does.

Fill in the blank

I have started to compose a news story.

“Fill-in-the-blank” drowned today after he stepped off a sandbar while fishing for striped bass off Wasque on the southeast corner of Martha’s Vineyard and was swept away in the treacherous current. The Coast Guard recovered Mr. Fill-in-the-blank following a brief search.

Mr. Fill-in-the-blank, an experienced fisherman, was not wearing a PFD or any other safety equipment when he waded out on an ever-shifting bar that has formed near the cut in Norton Point Beach in search of a Derby-winning fish.

Prior to the start of the well-known fishing tournament, Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations, asked fishermen to exercise extreme caution when fishing near the cut. Mr. Kennedy said conditions change on a daily basis.

“Several of our rangers were called out a couple of nights ago at Wasque when our night ranger on Norton Point lost sight of several fishermen who had ventured onto the offshore bar more than a hundred feet off of Wasque while fishing the breach,” Mr. Kennedy told The Times last week. “Their lights suddenly went out, and our ranger didn’t know if they turned the lights off voluntarily or had been pulled off the bar. Luckily the fishermen safely made it back to shore without incident, but several of them had no PFDs or inflatable suspenders in case they went into the water. They were happy, they caught several stripers, but I shudder to think at what potential cost.”

Mr. Kennedy urged fishermen to use caution and common sense when venturing onto bars and jetties, especially at night. “Basic safety equipment, when wading at night, should be the first thing you grab out of the truck before heading down the beach,” he said. “Otherwise, help could be a long time in coming.”

Get the picture? I do not want to fill in the blank. Chris said the bar changes daily. What was safe one day may become dangerous the next.

Pre-Derby planning

"King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast" echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.
“King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast” echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.

Derby veterans know that the five-week fishing contest shares some qualities with a marathon. In a road race, the key is to pace yourself so you will have enough energy in the final miles to finish the contest.

In the Derby, the question of pacing has more to do with the endurance of your spouse — will the contest end before he or she has had it with your fishing schedule to the point that your fishing rods are in danger of being used for kindling?

Besides spooling reels with new line and sharpening hooks, a good pre-Derby fishing strategy should include any activity that will make your spouse think you are a pretty good guy, because believe me, in about three weeks she or he might have some doubts.

I have a suggestion that will whet your appetite for fishing, yet should meet any spouse’s criteria for a fun night out: Go out to dinner and then see the Coastal Cohorts at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse Friday and Saturday night perform “King Mackerel and the Blues are Running: Songs and Stories of the Carolina Coast.

My friend Ed Strong invited the trio to perform because he knows them well, he thinks they are very talented, and he thought their stories and songs, which focus on coastal living and the unique characters it attracts, would find a receptive audience on the Vineyard.

This is not opera. This is fun, entertaining music (sung in English) about events Islanders understand. A YouTube clip of a performance at the University of North Carolina contains the following lyrics: “Summertime is just about gone, all that’s left to think about is the fishin’ comin’ on …” Performances begin at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night. Tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors; $30 for students. Tickets are available online or by visiting the theater at 24 Church St. in Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.

Lessons from tragedy

From 1998 to 2001, Capt. W. Russell Webster was the commander of Coast Guard Group Woods Hole, now known as Sector Southeastern New England.

During his tour, Captain Webster, now retired, was instrumental in extending the Coast Guard’s emergency radio coverage to a so-called “black hole” behind Nomans Land in anticipation of later upgrades. The temporary fix was to place an antenna on Peaked Hill in Chilmark in 2000.

Captain Webster, a Coast Guard historian, was determined to rectify the lack of radio coverage in part because of what he had learned about the loss of Fairhaven fishermen Hokey Hokanson and his teenage son, Billy, on March 25, 1990.

Billy transmitted a brief, heavily garbled radio distress call. A hoax call immediately followed Billy’s cry for help, and believing that the two were connected, the Coast Guard did not launch rescue units for several days. The Hokansons’ deaths prompted a new anti-hoax law and helped lead to changes in Coast Guard search and rescue procedures.

In a newly published book, “The Sol e Mar Tragedy Off Martha’s Vineyard” (historypress.net), Captain Webster and his co-author and wife, journalist Elizabeth B. Webster, describe the events that unfolded following the loss of the Sol e Mar. This is a short, eye-opening read. To his credit, Captain Webster does not shy away from describing where the Coast Guard went wrong, in this case or several others: Overworked and inexperienced watchstanders, insensitive next-of-kin notification procedures, and a reliance on outdated technology all contributed to mistakes.

The recognition that mistakes were made and a determination to correct them is why the Coast Guard is better prepared than ever to fulfill its mission.

The Websters will be signing copies of their book from 11 am to 4 pm Saturday at the Secret Garden on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Mill Pond is placid on a summer day. Photo by Michael Cummo.

A glimpse of Mill Pond in West Tisbury as I drove up-Island caused me to think about the effort by a determined group of residents to restore the historic waterway to a free-flowing stream. Their progress has been slow, but not nearly as difficult as that of the herring that continue to struggle to return to their natal waters each spring up and down our coast.

The offspring of those that survived the journey have by now begun their return to the sea. It is a natural cycle that man has interrupted along our coast to the detriment of a variety of species that include striped bass.

Fisheries management cannot succeed on the large scale if we do not think about the small scale, and do what we can to protect waterways — from the smallest brook to the largest river — from degradation.

Herring and white perch spawn in the lower reaches of Mill Brook, and native book trout cling to life in the upper reaches of the stream that begins in Chilmark, passes through several artificial impoundments in West Tisbury, such as Mill Pond, and streams into Tisbury Great Pond. There is also evidence that American eels still manage to use the stream.

Last May, with assistance from the state Division of Marine Fisheries and a group of volunteers, West Tisbury erected a fish ladder at the dam. How successful it is in allowing fish to navigate this obstacle remains to be determined. However, fish ladders are not a solution. They are a compromise intended to mitigate the harmful effects of a dam.

For example, in the northwest where dams help provide valuable hydroelectric power, fish ladders are used to help maintain passageways for salmon — not so successfully judging by the continued decline in salmon numbers. As a result, there is a concerted effort by conservation groups to remove as many dams as possible. Removal of the Elwha Dam in Olympic National Park, billed as the largest dam removal project in the world, has led to the return of salmon for the first time in a century in that river.

The U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service acknowledges the detrimental effects of dams, which “can block or impede migration and have created deep pools of water that in some cases have inundated important spawning habitat or blocked access to it. Dams also change the character of rivers, creating slow-moving, warm water pools that are ideal for predators of salmon.”

The Mill Pond, which warmed to more than 80 degrees this summer, is a case in point. We have no salmon, but we certainly have brook trout. That they survive is a testament to their resilience.

At one time in our nation’s history, progress was measured by how much we could extract from the environment. We erected dams on rivers and streams to pull power from the water with little thought about the consequences, which seemed minor compared to the benefits. In the last century that equation and our understanding of it began to change.

Today, the removal of unused dams attracts positive attention. In June, state and local officials celebrated the successful removal of the 84-foot long Bartlett Pond dam on Wekepeke Brook, a tributary of the North Nashua River, restoring upstream fish passage to approximately 18 miles of high-quality coldwater habitat. “With the dam’s removal, there has been an immediate return of native brook trout to the restored stretch of the river,” state Fish and Game Commissioner Mary Griffin said.

“Removing dams helps restore healthy rivers to provide clean water, reduce risks, enhance recreation opportunities, and preserve wildlife habitat,” said Wayne Klockner, State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, which has an office on Martha’s Vineyard and is in a position to comment on at least one Mill Brook impoundment.

Earlier last spring, the state’s office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) designated eight new river and wetland restoration projects across the state as Priority Projects, which qualified them for grants and contracted technical services funded by the Division of Ecological Restoration (DER). The goal in almost every case included restoring habitat connectivity and flow to benefit fish species.

“River and wetland restoration projects improve habitat for many species of fish, such as brook trout, blueback herring, alewives, and rainbow smelt, that support recreational and commercial fisheries,” Ms. Griffin said of the designations.

The list included a partnership with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation to restore connectivity to the headwaters of Mill Brook by removing an earthen dam on the Roth Woodlands Property in Chilmark. It is the type of small-scale project that could prove meaningful in the future.

“We wish to be the best possible stewards of the section of Mill Brook that we own,” Sheriff’s Meadow executive director Adam Moore said. “In the case of Roth Woodlands, the Mill Brook flows beneath Old Farm Road through two culverts which are too small and too high. These culverts impede fish passage and create an artificial pond in which the temperatures are too high for fish to survive. We hope to restore the stream channel by putting in a proper culvert, and we believe that this will benefit native brook trout and the brook lamprey. We are very grateful to the Commonwealth for its financial and technical assistance.”

This map shows the various dams and impoundments that impede the flow of Mill Brook.
This map shows the various dams and impoundments that impede the flow of Mill Brook.

The September/October issue of American Angler magazine included an article by Morgan Lyle about the mounting effort to oppose a $5.19 billion hydroelectric project proposed by the government of Alaska. “An Alaskan proposal to dam the mighty Susitna River bucks the dam-demolishing trend in full swing from Maine to South America,” Mr. Lyle wrote.

The article described dam removal efforts in Maine and noted that the “freed Kennebec River now has the largest runs of alewives and blueback herring on the East Coast.”

Amy Kober of American Rivers, a nonprofit advocacy group, is quoted in the article. “When you take a dam down and let a river flow freely, the signs of life come back quickly, from insects to fish to osprey,” she said. “More than 1,100 dams have been removed in our country. On the Kennebec and Penobscot, on rivers across the country, the web of life is being repaired. And that’s good for anglers, it’s good for communities, it’s good for all of us who benefit from clean water and healthy rivers.”

I have to think it would also be good for West Tisbury.

Will Wagner of Cambridge holds a 13.5 pound bluefish that he pulled out of the rocks while casting for bass near President Obama’s vacation house last week. Photo by Phil Cronin. — Photo by Phil Cronin

Fishermen like to complain when they are not catching fish. They complain about the fishing, the weather, the lack of bait, other fishermen, their spouses, their boss and global warming or global cooling.

Fishermen also practice the art of rationalization and they are nothing if not philosophical about their sport — in a bumper sticker sort of way: “A bad day of fishin’ beats a good day of working,” is a popular bit of fishing wisdom you will find affixed to rusting trucks and flashy SUVs.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is not alway true. An Australian fisherman named Tran Van Lanh had a bad day of fishing and I bet he wishes he had stayed at work. You see, Tran got eaten by a croc. Honest.

On Martha’s Vineyard we don’t have to worry about crocs, or snakes or head hunters. We have it pretty good. Our biggest risk is hooking ourselves in front of our friends. A bad day of fishin’ on the Vineyard is no fish. Not so in Australia.

According to the Outdoor Hub news service, which provides me with a steady stream of news stories that make me happy to be on Lobsterville beach, the 57-year-old fishermen was killed last Monday after he was ambushed by a crocodile in Australia’s Adelaide River.

The partially albino croc, according to the Australian news service SBS, had a white head and was well known along the river as “Michael Jackson.” Guess the Australians didn’t get the memo, or maybe it is too far away for Al Sharpton to cause a fuss.

SBS reported, “The man was taken when he got into the water to unsnag his fishing line.”

Not a good idea to try and unsnag a line in a croc-infested river.

“Police and rangers scouring the crocodile-infested river by boat on Monday night shot and killed a 4.5 meter crocodile (that’s almost 15 feet) and the man’s body was recovered later that night.

“The Adelaide River is well known for its Jumping Croc tours, where boats travel the river and crocodiles jump for meat attached to hooks.

“Michael Jackson was one in a million, and unfortunately being an albino would have been picked on by all the others, it’s a big pecking order,” said Rob Marchand, owner of Wallaroo Tours, which runs Jumping Croc cruises across the river from where the man was taken, the news service reported.

I do not think Mr. Marchand is an objective expert. One-in-a-million? So the next 999,999,999 fishermen who jump in the river to unsnag lures should get out just fine?

Mr. Marchand said that the crocodile had been in that part of the river for several years, “and that the crocodiles had been fighting a lot recently, jockeying for position and preparing to breed.”

He added, “They [crocs] know how to do three major things: eat, reproduce and aggression … if you’re not going to look after yourself, you’ll find yourself being eaten.”

By the way, he rejected the suggestion that the Jumping Croc tours were encouraging predatory behaviour on the Adelaide River.

“I’m sure crocs knew how to eat people a long time before we come along,” he said.

So next time you’re complaining about a bad day fishin’, think of poor Tran and say a little prayer.

Striper hearings set

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a 15-member body responsible for managing fish species and implementing management plans along the East Coast, is beginning the process of revising the regulations that govern striped bass. In government speak, the ASMFC will take comment on Addendum IV to the Striped Bass Management Plan. “The Draft Addendum proposes new fishing mortality (F) reference points, as recommended by the 2013 benchmark stock assessment, and associated management measures to reduce F to a level at or below the proposed target within one or three years. It responds to results of the 2013 Atlantic striped bass benchmark assessment indicating F in 2012 was above the proposed F target, and female spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been steadily declining below the target since 2006.”

Of course, F is pretty much what recreational fishermen on Martha’s Vineyard have been saying for years as they’ve watched the quality of the bass fishing decline.

The Draft Addendum includes a suite of management options to reduce recreational and commercial harvest along the coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Specific options to be considered include bag, size, slot and trophy size limits for the recreational fishery and quota reductions for the commercial fishery.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will hold a series of hearings on behalf of the ASMFC the first week in September but does not plan to make state specific recommendations and hold hearings on them until later this year. One thing is certain: new rules will be in place when the bass return to Massachusetts next spring.

DMF is not planning to hold an ASMFC hearing on the Vineyard but will hold a hearing on Nantucket on Sept. 2. That makes no sense to me. Nantucket has a small commercial fishery, a much smaller number of recreational fishermen and is in the middle of the ocean.

Other hearing sites include: Massachusetts Maritime Academy (Sept. 2); Gloucester (Sept 3); and Braintree (Sept. 4).

Now is the time to comment. Yapping in the tackle shop means nothing. Public comment will be accepted until 5 pm, September 30, and should be forwarded to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703-842-0741 (FAX) or at mwaine@asmfc.org  (Subject line: Draft Addendum IV). For more information, contact Mike Waine, at mwaine@asmfc.org or 703-842-0740.

Derby approaches

The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby (mvderby.com) is only weeks away. The Derby begins on Sept. 14 and ends October 18. More later.

Matt and Alicia Winter in Coop’s last week shopping for a third Mojo rod. — Nelson Sigelman

Fishermen believe in mojo. Tides, fresh bait, the hottest lure, the best fly mean nothing if a fisherman does not have mojo. Look no further than the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby for evidence.

Experienced Derby fishermen go to such great pains every year to register under the same number that the tackle shop outlets keep lists of “reserved” buttons. There are lucky rods and lucky lures. But on any given day mojo is what makes the difference. That and a good fishing rod.

St. Croix makes some of the finest quality fishing rods around. The company’s Mojo Surf rod is light and tough and named to inspire confidence. But what happens when you start to believe in bad mojo?

I was standing in Coop’s when Matt and Alicia Winter, longtime West Tisbury seasonal visitors from Kent, Conn., walked in and began inspecting fishing rods. Alicia picked up an 8-foot Mojo. “I love this rod but I’m starting to think it’s bad luck,” Alicia said to Justin Pribanic, who was manning the store while Coop was off tuna fishing. What fishing columnist could resist that opening?

In this earlier photo, Alicia Winter holds a brace of bass she caught when her rod was intact.
In this earlier photo, Alicia Winter holds a brace of bass she caught when her rod was intact.

Alicia, Matt, and their son, Nathan, visit their family’s home every spring and fall to fish. Last October, they walked into Coop’s looking for a rod they could use for bass and other species. The 8-foot Mojo, matched with a Penn Battle 4,000 reel, was perfect. They each bought a new rod.

It was the last day of Columbus Day weekend. They had been fishing on the beach and were tired. “We leaned the rods against the truck, which we never do,” Matt said. “Neither one of us thought anything. We drove away and ran over them. It was awful.”

Two rods were destroyed, including Alicia’s new Mojo.

They returned to the Vineyard in May and again in June. Alicia had bought a new Mojo. They were excited to be on Island during the spring squid run along Bend-in-the-Road Beach in Edgartown.

They went to State Beach. Matt was with Nathan, 13, who was jigging for squid. Alicia threw out some frozen squid on a bottom rig and set her rod in a sand spike. “I walked over to talk to her for a minute, maybe half a minute,” Matt said. With their attention diverted they were not looking at the rod.

“The rod holder was just lying on the sand  and there was a groove in the sand leading to the water,” Matt said. “Alicia was really sad.”

Not only had she lost her new rod, but she had also very likely lost a very big striped bass. As Matt was retelling the story, Alicia was outside the shop testing the feel of another 8-foot Mojo. She admitted it was a very “cool” looking rod, but she could not shake the notion that in her hands it might just be bad luck.

Unwilling to succumb to bad mojo, Alicia bought the Mojo. Third time’s the charm!

Author talk

Author Michael J. Tougias seems to have found his niche in retelling the gripping details of disaster and rescue at sea. The common threads in the books I have read are weather, Coast Guard heroism, and decision-making, underpinned in some cases by personal courage and in others, characterized by miscalculations.

I met Michael several years ago when he spoke at the Vineyard Haven library about his most recently completed book, “Ten Hours Until Dawn.” The book tells the story of survival, heroism and disaster at sea story during the Blizzard of 1978 when the tanker Global Hope floundered on the shoals in Salem Sound off the Massachusetts coast. The Coast Guard heard the Mayday calls and immediately dispatched a patrol boat. Within an hour, the Coast Guard boat was in as much trouble as the tanker, having lost its radar, depth finder, and engine power in horrendous seas. Pilot boat Captain Frank Quirk was monitoring the Coast Guard’s efforts by radio, and when he heard that the patrol boat was in jeopardy, he and his crew of four went out in their 49-foot steel boat, the Can Do, to assist the Coast Guard.

Bounty Cover 2His latest book, which he co-authored with Douglas Campbell, is “Rescue of the Bounty, Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy.”

The tall ship Bounty, featured in the Marlon Brando movie “Mutiny on the Bounty,” sank during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The captain and a crewmember died in the accident, but the Coast Guard performed harrowing helicopter rescues to save the other 14 sailors.

“The story begins on October 25, 2012 when Captain Robin Walbridge made the fateful decision to sail the HMS Bounty from New London, Connecticut, to St. Petersburg, Florida. Walbridge was well aware that a hurricane was forecast to come up the Eastern seaboard. He explained to his crew of 15 that the ship would fare better at sea than at port, and that he thought he could sail ‘around the hurricane.’ He told the crew that anyone who did not want to come on the voyage could leave the ship and there would be no hard feelings. No one took the captain up on his offer, and this decision would have fatal consequences.”

Michael will speak at the Vineyard Haven library at 7 pm on Tuesday about “Rescue of the Bounty.” He will speak at 6:30 pm on Thursday night at the Oak Bluffs library about “Ten Hours Until Dawn.”

Michael’s slide presentations and dramatic accounts make for a great night out for anyone with an interest in the sea and the heroism of those who risk their lives to save others. A book signing will follow the program, and the presentation is suitable for all ages.

Chris Casey of Bristol, Vermont, soon to be a resident of Montana, caught a striped bass during an early morning fishing trip Friday with his brother, Ned Casey, of Edgartown. — By Ned Casey

I love to catch blue crabs. It is great fun. They are also delicious to eat, once you master the art of peeling open a crab to get at its sweet meat.

Several years ago, male crabs, known as jimmies, were easily found in many of the Island ponds. An afternoon of wading with a net was a sure way to harvest a limit of 25 crabs, more than enough for a feast. Last year and the year before that, it was tough to find big crabs.

Female crabs, identified by their red-tipped claws, were more plentiful. State regulations require that female egg-bearing crabs be thrown back. Common sense dictates that all females be released.

From what I hear from other crabbers, we are in for another difficult year. Edgartown and Tisbury Great Ponds do not appear to have many blue crabs. The scarcity may be related to our cold winter and an extended period of ice over of our ponds. Or it could be another indicator of declining water quality. There has been little study, as far as I know, of the blue claw in our ponds.

The Chesapeake Bay, the wellspring of blue crabs and the culture that surrounds these “Beautiful swimmers” is in trouble, according to Angus Phillips, who wrote an interesting opinion piece published July 25 in The Washington Post (“The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab needs our help now, or never”).

Two years ago, a crab fisherman could pretty much bank on gathering a bushel within a few hours of leaving the dock, Mr. Phillips said.

“That was the norm, from June to September, as it had been for the decade or more since I took up crabbing and for a century before that,” he said. “Sometimes it was more than a bushel, sometimes less, but always there was a proper mess for supper if you took the trouble to go out.”

Last year, he said, the bottom fell out. Crabbers were not seeing small crabs or females and wondered what 2014 would bring.

“The answer is now in hand: Nothing. No crabs. The last signature species of the Chesapeake to withstand the pressures of overexploitation and declining habitat has all but disappeared from the waters around Annapolis, which locals still affectionately call Crabtown. Reports from elsewhere are no better. Like oysters, shad, herring, rockfish [striped bass] and yellow perch,crabs have vanished.”

Mr. Phillips argues that the time has come to shut down the crab fishery for a few years and give “the delectable crustaceans a chance to recover the way geese, yellow perch and rockfish did … The life cycle is short and their reproductive capacity so vigorous that we could have abundances back within a year or two, if we just leave them alone.”

Mr. Phillips called for immediate action.

“We have all watched critical Chesapeake resources dwindle to nothing, victims of declining habitat and ever more efficient methods of exploitation. At some point, these resources either go away or somebody puts up a hand and says: Stop! With blue crabs, that time is now — or never.”

The comments his opinion piece generated echo similar battles. Name your fishery. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of finger pointing. The commercial fishermen blame the recreational fishermen, the recreational fishermen blame the commercial fishermen, and both sides blame decreased water quality. Meanwhile, regulatory action lags.

A commentor identified as Southeast Creek said, “As a business person who has been in the crab business for 18+ years, I find your take on the situation ridiculously recreational. How about we place a ban on the hundreds of thousands of recreational crabbers who habitually catch more than their allotted 1 bushel limit? Happens over here on the Eastern Shore all the time.”

I saw one post under another report on the shortage of crabs in which the writer suggested the problem was an abundance of rockfish eating small crabs. He recommended an increase in the harvest of striped bass — now that is solid thinking.

I spoke by telephone last week with Chris Moore, Virginia senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit group working to protect this vitally important natural system. I was curious why commercial crabbers are allowed to take females and I wondered if there was a link between the decline in the Chesapeake and the Vineyard.

Chris said that surveys have shown a significant drop in the crab population in Maryland and Virginia for the past three years. Coastwide the numbers are down as well, he said.

“And that’s not necessarily surprising,” he said. “There are good years for reproduction and poor years for reproduction. The crabs here in Chesapeake Bay, once they spawn go 50 miles out in the ocean and migrate back in. So there could be something going on with the ocean temperatures or currents the last three years that have lowered the success of spawning activity.”

Chris said there are known factors, including water quality and interrelated loss of eel grass. “We have eelgrass losses in Chesapeake Bay that are very prominent and that’s one of the best habitats for blue crabs. So as young blue crabs migrate back into Chesapeake Bay they don’t have that type of habitat to go hide in like they should.”

I noted that a similar loss of eelgrass in Martha’s Vineyard waters figures large in the health of the our once abundant bay scallop population.

Chris said he did not think the Chesapeake blue crab decline would necessarily impact the Vineyard. Crab populations are typically geographically localized, he said, and tied to estuary systems. They are not a species like striped bass, he said, that migrates long distances.

The males prefer less salinity. The females tend to congregate nearer the ocean.

It is entirely possible that we have a small but sustaining population.

Shellfish get most of the attention on the Vineyard. Blue crabs add another reason to work to sustain the health of our ponds.

Like to eat crab? Hold back on the fertilizer. Green grass is not even good for salad.

Striped bass revisions coming

Last week, I received a press release from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Guess what? The scientists have come to the conclusion that most Island fishermen have already reached. Striped bass stocks are declining. According to ASMFC assessments, overfishing is not occurring yet but could in the future. Gee, how about that.

The history of fisheries management is pretty much the history of closing the barn door after the horses are out. Let’s hope it is not too late

This is what the ASMFC said about its new proposal, known as Draft Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass: “The Draft Addendum responds to results of the 2013 Atlantic striped bass benchmark assessment indicating F (fishing mortality) in 2012 was above the proposed F target, and female spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been steadily declining below the target since 2006. This means even though the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, SSB is approaching its overfished threshold and stock projections show SSB will likely fall below the threshold in the coming years. In addition, a similar decline has been observed in total harvest.  In response to these factors, the Draft Addendum proposes management options to reduce fishing mortality to the target level.

“The Draft Addendum includes a suite of management options to reduce recreational and commercial harvest along the coast and in the Chesapeake Bay under three reduction timeframes. The timeframes include (1) reducing F to its target in one year with a 25 percent reduction in 2013 harvest in 2015 (2) reducing F to its target within three years with a 17 percent reduction in 2013 harvest in 2015, and (3) reducing F to its target within three years with a 7 percent sequential reduction in harvest for three consecutive years starting in 2015.  Specific options to be considered include bag, size, slot and trophy size limits for the recreational fishery and quota reductions for the commercial fishery.”

More later.


Reeling against the drag and other hazards of boat fishing chronicled.

Michael Faber from Memphis, TN with a Vineyard bonito caught Monday out fishing with charter captain Phil Cronin. — Photo by Phil Cronin

There is a common misperception that charter captains “get paid to go fishing.”

That is not true. They get paid not to lose their minds, or in extreme cases, kill their clients.

I am not a charter captain. I have no plans to ever become one.

Twice last week, I had occasion to take people fishing in a boat. At the request of a friend, Saturday morning I took two of his visiting guests, a mother and her adult son, fishing on Vineyard Sound. I was not ambitious. My goal was to see them catch some fluke and sea bass.

The wind was stronger than predicted, as it almost always is, and the Sound was pretty choppy off Chilmark. We were drifting in about 90 feet of water. Another boat was perhaps 100 yards away. That was it.

Up the sound comes a guy full throttle in what appeared to be 32-foot cruiser. Did he make an arc around us? No. He went between us. And mom, a resident of Florida, yelled at him and made what we in the respectable writing trade refer to as “an obscene gesture.” Wow.

“Please don’t do that,” I said to her as calmly as I could. I learned long ago at Five Corners that you never know who you are shouting at.

She was justified, of course. But I knew she would go back to Florida, where I assume all boaters travel armed and an obscene gesture is considered a mild rebuke as opposed to opening fire, while I would be left to deal with the nitwit boater.

Inconsiderate boaters come with the territory. They power through a group of drifting fishermen — is there a big rush? They tie up the launch ramp or dock — why not load your boat before you are on the ramp or wash it down at home?

The fishing was slow, which surprised me. The big sea bass that seemed everywhere just a few weeks ago were scarce. With the seas getting rougher, I decided to call it a morning.

The next day, Sunday, I met my cousin’s son, his brother-in-law who was visiting from France, and his friend, at the Tisbury town dock at 7 am. I was still recovering from my previous outing, but I was determined to make good on an unfulfilled promise last summer to take the trio fishing.

They had driven from Worcester and hopped on the 6 am ferry from Woods Hole. They brought a cooler and expected to catch some fish. What they did not bring was the remotest idea of how to do it.

My Tashmoo-18 is adequate for three people but not four, so I borrowed my friend Tom’s boat. Given all the possibilities for disaster, I do not like to borrow boats. My immediate concern was not to sink Tom’s boat.

Off middle ground I rigged up three bottom rods and provided basic instruction — don’t lift the fish out of the water or it will shake out the hook (happened); lead the fish to the net with the rod (didn’t happen); lift the fish with the rod and don’t reel, reel, reel (didn’t happen, happen, happen).

My immediate concern was that one of the guys would hook a decent fish and lose his rod. We caught several fluke, one big enough to keep. I decided to liven up the action. I rigged up two spinning rods, one with a swimming plug and the other with a needle fish, and began to troll along the rip in search of bluefish. Within five minutes a blue hit the swimming plug. I reeled in the other rod and handed the rod to the Frenchman.

He immediately began to reel and reel for all he was worth. At the same time the fish pulled line off the reel. This is what is known in the business as reeling against the drag. Every crank of the handle puts another twist in the line. Enough twists and the line resembles a Slinky.

I tried coaching. “When the fish pulls stop reeling,” I said.

“Move the fish with the rod,” I said.

But the excitement had him in its grip: Crank, crank, crank. I could stand it no longer.

“Stop!” I yelled.

He froze. I could see slack in the line. “No, reel, keep reeling,” I shouted.

The bluefish was now close to the boat. I grabbed the net. The bluefish dove and surfaced again. Netting a fish requires a bit of choreography. The idea is to put pressure on the fish so it swims in the direction of the net.

My fisherman waved his rod tip and extended it over the side of the boat which kept the fish far enough from the side of the boat and my waiting net The fish went to and fro. My only chance was to grab the line and lead the fish to me. I had just taken hold of the line when the fish shook the hook. Gone.

“Did I do something wrong?” my Frenchman asked.

“Sometimes fish get away,” I said.

We would lose three more bluefish. Catch a few more fluke and sea bass. And on the way back to the dock one of the guys leaned over the side and puked. He claimed he was fine but he looked a little dazed.

I may have been frustrated, but my cousin said he and his friends had a great time. And that is what it is all about.

Kayakers unite

Martha’s Vineyard’s salt ponds and rocky indentations are tailor made for nosing around with a kayak. Matt Malowski of Oak Bluffs is the latest kayak convert. Matt wants to gauge how much interest there is in an informal M.V. kayak fishing club that would meet on a regular basis to talk fishing, share tips and get together for fishing trips. Interested fishermen should email Matt (matt@mvfishing.com). “I’ll create a list serve and begin coordinating an initial meeting to generate some ideas on how to proceed,” Matt said. “People will need to have their own kayaks and fishing gear. The hope is once we get a few people together we can start sharing ideas and knowledge, set dates and places to meet to go fishing together, and perhaps generate more interest for those who would like to learn more and get started in the adventure.”

For those who don’t want to share their email or don’t have one, Matt can be reached at 508-274-0320.

Fishing slobs

There is a small parking area off Beach Road that provides access to the culvert that connects Trapp’s Pond with Sengekontacket. I was there Sunday to look for blue crabs (pretty slim pickin’s). It appears people use the area to dump fish carcasses and shells. I also saw discarded bait that included eels, squid still in a plastic bag and other assorted trash. There is no excuse for dumping a baggie full of squid in the bushes. None.


Catch a movie and maybe a fish on Menemsha Beach Tuesday.

A chart-topping 180-pound bigeye tuna brought it in late Saturday afternoon by the crew of Mulberry Canyon is hoisted up and weighed in. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 3 pm, Friday with news of Cape Poge beach closure

By most accounts, The Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic (OBBC) held last weekend went off without a hitch. No shark heads adorned boats, no protestors provided targets for beer cans and if there were arrests I did not hear about it. Pretty tame now after the Monster Shark tournament swam out of town.

Damon Sacco of Bourne, owner and operator of Castafari Sport Fishing and organizer of the Hyannis Tuna Fest, was the organizer of the first Bluewater classic. Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown helped out.

Participants on the boat Mulberry Canyon pose next to their 180-pound Big Eye Tuna after it topped the charts on Saturday.
Participants on the boat Mulberry Canyon pose next to their 180-pound Big Eye Tuna after it topped the charts on Saturday.

A total of 25 boats entered the contest. In an email, Mr. Sacco said the 2014 Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic raised over $14,000 for charity. Proceeds went to the Island Autism Group and the MGH Colon Cancer Research Fund in memory of Kevin Glynn, he said.

Sixteen billfish — four blue marlin and 12 white marlin — were released. One bigeye tuna was landed, as were “a ton of yellowfin and mahi-mahi.”

Captain Al Gagnon of Brennans Grin took first place. Second place went to Captain Ted Rosbeck of Bad Martha. Captain John Galvin of Mulberry Canyon was third.

The biggest tuna was an 180-pound bigeye landed by Mulberry Canyon. Most billfish points went to the crew of Brennans Grin with two blue marlin. Mr. Sacco said there were 46 yellowfin tuna caught up to 95 pounds.

Steve Morris, owner of Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs, participated in the tournament. Steve told me, “It was definitely a lot calmer. Not a lot of yahoos. The guys were nice and it seemed like they were just here to fish.”

The banquet was held at Dreamland. Everybody seemed to be really happy with it, Steve said.

Steve said offshore fishing is an addiction and he admitted he is “totally hooked.”

The tournament weigh in attracted a crowd of spectators to Oak Bluffs harbor.
The tournament weigh in attracted a crowd of spectators to Oak Bluffs harbor.

He explained, “You never know what’s going to be out there, a white marlin or a bigeye tuna, there’s so much out there to catch. We spent the night out there, we turned the lights on and there were squid and bait all around the boat. You just never know what’s going to be out there.”

I suggested it might also be scary to be a little boat in a very big, dark ocean far from land. Steve laughed. “This is true, this is true, that’s why you go in a big boat.”

Steve said they put the lines out Friday night to try and catch a swordfish. Crewmembers took turns sleeping. “There’s usually someone up tending the rods,” Steve said.

“And looking out for a Korean oil tanker?” I asked.

“Well you stay out of their way, for sure,” Steve said.

But they were not alone. They were part of a small fleet all hooked on offshore fishing. That is part of the fun, he said.

First bass of the summer

Matthew Strem of Edgartown holds a 15 pound striped bass he caught Friday night on his new fishing rod.
Matthew Strem of Edgartown holds a 15 pound striped bass he caught Friday night on his new fishing rod.

While the big boys were fishing offshore, Matthew Strem, 10, of Edgartown was trying out his new bass rod on South Beach with his mom and dad. On Friday night Matthew caught his first striped bass of the summer. It was 34.5 inches long and weighed in at 15 pounds.

His mother Lynn provided the details: “We drove on to the beach and used squid on his new bass fishing pole, bottom fishing. Matthew was the first one that night to catch a bass. He was so excited he couldn’t wait for dad to get the tape measure to see if it was a keeper. And it was, 34 inches long and weighed 15 pounds. It was also about 11 pm that night. He caught his fish and reeled it in all by himself, but I wasn’t surprised because Matthew has been fishing for a long time, catching many different fish. Nothing compares to the look on his face when that fish came ashore and it was a huge bass.”

Matthew did very well to land a bass on the beach in the surf. It is no easy task. It takes timing to ride the fish up on a wave. Better yet, he caught a bass. Most reports describe tough fishing for stripers from the shore. Congratulations.

Movie night on Menemsha

All fishermen should be concerned with the state of our oceans. On Tuesday night, fishermen will have an opportunity to learn just how concerned they ought to be — and go fishing.

Documentary filmmaker Bob Nixon, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, and Fisher Stevens have produced a new documentary, MISSION BLUE, which describes the life of oceanographer Sylvia Earle. The filmmakers will show their film at 8:30 pm, Tuesday on Menemsha Beach in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. The event is free.

Bring popcorn for the film and a fishing rod for later.

Dennis Harvey offered this description in a review for Variety Magazine: “A compelling human-interest hook and spectacular underwater photography are the highlights of Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon’s documentary.”

Mr. Harvey said, “The majesty and imperiled status of the world’s aquatic life are vividly captured in “Mission Blue.” Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon’s documentary also serves as a biographical portrait of internationally renowned oceanographer and eco-activist Sylvia Earle, whose trailblazing career and inspiring ongoing efforts provide compelling human interest, while Bryce Groark’s spectacular underwater photography offers eye candy aplenty.”

Cape Poge beach closure

Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge is currently closed for over sand vehicle access from the Dike Bridge to the gut, Chris Kennedy, Trustees superintendent said Friday. “On Tuesday, two plover chicks moved from the outside beach, north of the Dike Bridge to the bayside trail to feed,” Chris said in an email Friday.  “The next day they moved back to the outside beach but now appear likely to continue moving back and forth between the narrows and East Beach. These chicks are due to fledge in two weeks but under state and federal law we will be required to keep all of Cape Poge closed until these chicks fledge. We encourage property users to call the 24 hour recorded beach hotline at 508-627-8390 for updated information. All of Leland Beach and Norton Point Beach are open for OSV access. Permits are required.”

Bob Jacobs holds the bounty of a July nighttime fishing trip to Chappy, a 10 pound bluefish. — Photo by John Piekos

Typically, fishermen refer to this time of the season as the summer doldrums. The heat and humidity makes the fish, or is it the fishermen, lethargic and lazy. But reports from around the Island describe a mixed bag.

At Coop’s, the report varied by species. Cooper “Coop” Gilkes had fished Norton Point beach one night earlier and reported bluefish mixed with a few striped bass. But what really got his attention, he said, were the more than 30 commercial draggers visible just offshore.

Coop did not know what the boats were targeting but the sheer number has him worried. He said in addition to the boats he saw off Wasque he could see lights from more boats stretching to the west. “There’s not going to be a fish left,” he said.

I am told the Division of Marine Fisheries allows the boats to squid fish small mesh 24/7 up to the shoreline south of the islands from Nomans east to Nantucket’s southeast corner.

Bluefish are hit or miss on Chappy. Lobsterville, a favorite of striper fishermen, is slow but there are fish in Menemsha channel, he said.

Coop said he has had some reports of bonito. The tasty mini-tuna have been caught at the hooter off Wasque, off Gay Head, and off Menemsha by a kayaker. What these multiple sightings portend for the months ahead is unclear. It could be a brief foray or a sign that bonito are about to take up residence around the Island.

In recent years, inshore fishing for bonito has been pretty hit or miss, and shore fishing has been almost nonexistent. Coop said there has been no pattern. “Nothing really solid,” he said.

At Larry’s, owner Steve Purcell described a very mixed bag. He said the boat bass fishing had slowed but the shore guys were doing well up Island. On Chappy, he said, blues come in and then go away for a day. The exciting news was a bonito caught off Cape Poge gut from shore.

And the solid news he said continues to be the strong bottom fishing for fluke and scup. a favorite activity for kids. Offshore, he said football-sized tuna are within striking distance.

At Dick’s, Steve Morris said the new Oak Bluffs fishing pier is getting good use. He said scup fishermen are doing best in the morning and evening. It is a good season for scup with some monsters being caught. “Definitely, scup are in,” Steve said.

Offshore, small tuna are at the Owl and inside the Fingers. Steve plans to fish in the Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic, a big game fishing tournament that will make its inaugural run this week, from Wednesday, July 24, through Saturday, July 26.
Check out the weigh in from 5 pm to 8 pm, Thursday through Saturday, at the dock adjacent to Our Market. For more information, go to obbclassic.com.

Norton Point reopened, with caution

Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations Island superintendent, said that all of Norton Point beach has been opened for vehicle access. The barrier beach, which stretches out from Chappaquiddick and Katama, is a prime fishing spot.

“The last four plover chicks disappeared and we assume they were predated,” Chris said in an email. “We did fledge several hundred least tern chicks over the past few weeks and the last of those chicks have started flying.”

Chris said there is a large area cordoned off on the bayside where several hundred terns, plovers, and other shorebirds are fattening up on the Katama Bay flats in preparation for their flight south over the next few weeks.

“We would like to remind folks that while they can now access the breach from Norton Point, there is no swimming in the breach,” Chris said.


The ground pounders fought the tide and sea bass in the VFW fluke derby.

The VFW Fluke Derby was a boatload of fun for the kids. Left to right: Elizabeth O'Brien, Katherine O'Brien, David Packer, Nathan Packer, Jack Simpson, Jake Mundell, Molly Menton, and Charlotte Packer. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

I fished a four-aspirin, two-Aleve weekend. After two days of bouncing lead weight in 80 plus feet of water in Vineyard Sound for two days in the VFW Fluke Derby held Saturday and Sunday my body felt like Poseidon had gone over every muscle in my back and arms with a hammer.

The key to catching fluke is to stay in contact with the bottom where fluke lie in wait for prey. That takes weight. How much depends on current and water depth.

Kid champs. From left, Kendall Nerney, Corbin Buchwald, Tate Buchwald, Darien Kral, and Joseph Medeiros.
Kid champs. From left, Kendall Nerney, Corbin Buchwald, Tate Buchwald, Darien Kral, and Joseph Medeiros.

On Saturday, the wind was calm and the fishing was relatively easy. Most of the competitors worked hard to pick up a fluke amid the carpet of sea bass. Sunday, conditions changed. A strong southwest wind coupled with the fast flowing easterly tide made it tough to hold bottom.

Many of the boats worked the deep water holes off Seven Gates, between Cape Higgon and Cedar Tree Neck, where the water depths range between 80 and 108 feet and the big fish always seem to lie. By about 11 am, Sunday it took an engine block to hold bottom.

Saturday, my teammates, Barry Stringfellow and Nathaniel Horwitz, met me at 5 am at Tashmoo landing. I wanted to get an early start so I could take full advantage of the morning rising tide. On Sunday, my major concern was not getting caught on Vineyard Sound about noon when the tide would begin to drop against the wind. Sea conditions change rapidly once the tide turns and the ride back would have been quite uncomfortable and wet in my 18-foot Tashmoo.

Team MV Times held the lead Saturday night. But I knew it was tenuous and that a big fish on Sunday would determine the winner. With teams led by Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown and Bill Dreyer of West Tisbury on the water we were hanging on to the lead with a frayed piece of braid.

On Sunday, Billy caught an 11.39-pound fluke that earned him the fluke king crown and lifted his team Breakaway (Roger Kubiak and Joe Altavilla) into the winner’s circle. It was a sweet victory for Billy, Roger and Joe, who have lost in the past by just ounces.

VFW fluke tournament impresario Peter Herrmann with his grandchildren (Darien, Dylan and Emily Kral) and new eagle.
VFW fluke tournament impresario Peter Herrmann with his grandchildren (Darien, Dylan and Emily Kral) and new eagle.

A cable news pundit Friday reporting on President Obama’s planned two week family vacation in August on Martha’s Vineyard described the Island as “ritzy and glamorous.” I suppose that impression would be accurate if one’s world only encompassed kiss-kiss cocktail parties and swank dinners in summer echo chambers. It sure does not describe the VFW Fluke Derby, and for that I am very grateful.

For the past ten years Roger and Joe have come up to fish the fluke derby with Bill. Joe is from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Roger is from some town in New Jersey he kept, as near as I could tell, saying was “Metouchem.” I could not get the spelling straight in the noisy dining room and since it is New Jersey I did not really care.

I asked the two winning team members why they like fishing the fluke derby other than the fact that Billy takes them out and shows them a great time.

“They do a great job for the kids,” Joe said.

“Basically for the kids,” Roger said.

I had to ask, “Have you guys ever run for elected public office?” They looked at me quizzically. I explained that whenever someone starts telling me they’re doing it for the kids I figure he or she is running for office.

“These guys come up here,” Billy said, “They have a great time fishing. they fill their cooler full of sea bass and fluke, mostly fluke, and then they go home and look like heroes. They feed the town.”

Daughters, sons, cousins and family members they never knew they had text and call to ask about fresh fish. “It’s a good excuse to get together and fish for a long, long weekend,” Bill said.

Big kid champs, winners of the team competition. From left, Roger Kubiak, Bill Dreyer, and Joe Altavilla.
Big kid champs, winners of the team competition. From left, Roger Kubiak, Bill Dreyer, and Joe Altavilla.

John and Janet Packer of Vineyard Haven loaded up a boatful of kids Friday night. The kids sleep on the boat so that the only one who has to get up early is dad. The family has been a part of the tournament every year. Same for Bill and Kris O’Brien of Oak Bluffs and their two daughters. This year the family could only fish one day, but Bill said, “If I can only fish a day I’m goin’.”

The highlight of the awards ceremony is always the auction. Think of it as the anti-matter of every swank, high-priced Vineyard fundraiser. No celebrities. Just fun and spirited bidding.

Tournament organizer Peter Herrmann began the bidding for a set of wine glasses with the derby fluke logo at $30. $40 — $55 — $65 said winning bidder Janet Packer, who was determined not to be outdone.

A large stuffed bald eagle doll generated a bidding battle between Mark Morris and Jarda Kral. The three Kral kids urged dad to stay in the mix. But when the price hit $80 he stepped off the pedal. Mark peeled off $80 and then turned to the Krals. “You guys can have it,” he said.

The VFW Fluke Derby is that kind of tournament.

Largest fluke: 1. Bill Dreyer (11.39); 2. Cooper Gilkes (7.05); 3. Peter Cox (6.68).

Largest sea bass: Kendall Nerney (5.4)

Kids (12 and under): 1. Joseph Medeiros (5.5); 2. Tate Buchwald (4.18); 3. Darien Kral (4.04); 4. Corbin Buchwald (3.8); 5. Radio Goulart (2.42).

Teens (13-16): 1. Brendon Morris (3.91); 2. Richard Gibson (3.75); 3. Nathaniel Packer (2.80).

Teams: 1. Breakaway (Bill Dreyer, Roger Kubiak, Joe Altavilla) 39.28; 2. Sole Men (Cooper Gilkes, Rick Harvey) 33.85; 3. Austin O (Keith Olsen, Walter Tomkins, Galvin Tomkins, Michael Tomkins) 31.86; 4. MV Times (Nelson Sigelman, Barry Stringfellow, Nathaniel Horwitz) 29.84.

Derby Book launch

Hold a five-week fishing tournament on an Island with lots of crazy fishermen for more than six decades and what do you get? Lots of fishing stories.

Add the skills 25 years ago of a talented Edgartown artist who was devoted to the nonprofit organization and agreed to create a print each year to be sold to help fund the tournament and what are you left with? A series of images by Ray Ellis that captured the excitement, mood and beauty of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard.

Ed Jerome, longtime Derby president, has collected 27 Derby stories, many previously published, and put them together with Ray Ellis Derby prints into an anthology titled, “An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby, Twenty-five years of Paintings, History and Fishing.”

There will be a reception and book signing to celebrate the publication of the book from 5 to 7 pm, Friday, July 18 at Edgartown Books on Main Street in Edgartown. Many of the contributors will be present to sign books. For more information, call 508-627-8463 or go to Edgartownbooks.com.

Speaking of

Speaking of the Derby and books, Ron Domurat of Edgartown has published a collection of Derby stories in a self-published paperback titled, “Three Decades of The Derby, A collection of Stories from Thirty Years of Participation in Martha’s Vineyard Fall Fishing Classic.”

I always knew Ron was a skillful fisherman. Now add writer to his portfolio. For anyone familiar with the Derby the stories will evoke memories of great fishermen and good times with men that include Don Mohr, Abe Williams, Gordon Ditchfield, Al “Angie” Angelone, Marsh Bryan, and Walter Lison.

Last chapter

Henry “Hank” A. Schauer died on Friday, July 4, 2014, at the Arnold Walter Nursing Home in Hazlet, New Jersey. He was 85. His obituary said, “He lived to fish.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Saturday, July 19, at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Navesink. Interment will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the

Alzheimer’s Association, Greater New Jersey Chapter, 400 Morris Ave., Suite 251, Denville NJ 07934. Please visit Hank’s memorial website atwww.johnedayfuneralhome.com.