Gone Fishin'

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Several weeks late, striped bass began showing up in Island waters in better numbers.

Remick Smothers (left) holds one of two large striped bass he caught on a fly rod while fishing with Nelson Sigelman off Lobsterville Beach. — Photo courtesy of Remick Smother

Retelling fishing stories about how good the fishing used to be is a frightening symptom of aging that appears along with various other frightening signs that include aches that seldom seem to disappear, and hair disappearing from the right places and appearing in the wrong places. No one likes to sound like an old codger, even when codgerism is setting in.

In recent weeks, I had been living on my memories of how good the shore striped bass fishing used to be on Martha’s Vineyard, in particular Lobsterville Beach. In the 90s, when it was not unusual to see a line of fishermen stretching up and down the beach. I spent many nights casting to the sound of a large bowling ball dropping in the water, the sound a big bass makes when it hits bait on the surface.

Last season, Tom Robinson and I had each caught more than a dozen “keeper” bass, fish 28 at least inches in length, before the start of June. This season, I did not catch a keeper until late June. The last week in June, Tom and I fished Cedar Tree Neck on a rising tide just after sunset and caught not one fish for our efforts, not even a schoolie. Other fishermen were having equally dismal luck from the shore and on the water.

So I was pleasantly surprised last week to hear that the bass had started to show up around the Island. The boats were also picking up fish. But the best news concerned Lobsterville.

It is a magical spot for striped bass fly fishermen. The prevailing southwest winds blow right off the back and the fish are generally right off the beach. When it is hot it is one of the finest spots to fly fish for striped bass on the Vineyard (which means the world). I was anxious to get up-Island. What better excuse than a visitor who wanted to fish.

Every summer about this time I get a call from Remick Smothers. I began taking Remick fishing when he was about 7 years old. His family did not fish and he loved to fish so they gave me a call and asked if I wouldn’t take him fishing. I took him to Lobsterville Beach. He returned home and proudly deposited three big bluefish in his grandmother’s sink. I recall that she was as tickled by his catch as he was proud.

Remick is now 25 and a fine young man with lots of social obligations and a new job. Last week, I got the call. “Nelson, it’s Remick. I’m here for a week and I’d love to get together and do some fishing.”

My first free night was Thursday. Remick was off with his folks at 6 pm to a BBQ party off South Road in Chilmark, a fundraiser for the Y. No problem, I said, the bass fishing will not start until the sun goes down. I can pick you up at 8:30 pm in Chilmark.

Now there are people who like to fish and there are fishermen. Any 25-year-old guy who would leave lots of food, pretty women, beer and friends to go bass fishing is a fisherman.

The driveway looked like a Lexus, Mercedes, BMW dealership lot — not a pickup truck in sight as I did my best to avoid sideswiping any bumpers.

Remick and I arrived at Lobsterville and made a quick walk up the dark beach. Bass were delicately snatching bait from the surface. I cast to each expanding circular ripple on the surface of the water. Not far away, Phil Cronin of West Tisbury, tell-tale cigar in his mouth, cast to breaking fish.

An experienced charter captain, Phil said it was his first trip to the beach this season. Word filters around the Vineyard and Phil had gotten the word: Lobsterville.

Finding stripers and getting stripers to hit can be two separate challenges. The fish were there. The key turned out to be a small black fly and very slow retrieve.

Remick was casting an intermediate line that put his fly lower in the water column where the larger fish tend to roam. Remick gets excited about fishing, and he gets really excited when he is catching fish. “Nice fish,” he shouted to me as line rolled off his fly reel.

He slid the fish up the beach. The bass measured 34 inches, a fine catch on any night, but a particularly fine fish for a young man happy to be back fishing under the stars on Lobsterville Beach on Martha’s Vineyard and another good story for me to tell when I become a codger.

West Basin parking

Years ago, the state built a public boat launch ramp at the end of West Basin Road in Gay Head. The state failed to anticipate that the town would restrict parking to the extent that only residents could easily park a vehicle and boat trailer.

Years ago, a fisherman could park along the fence. The town now restricts that area to residents. There is a lot at the end of the road that is state property with about 12 spaces, used by beachgoers during the day and fishermen in the early morning and night. Out-of-town boaters can use one of those spaces to park a trailer. It is not a perfect situation but it works.

Unfortunately, I heard that several spaces had been occupied for more than a week by trailers. On Sunday, I saw three spaces occupied by trailers, one of which had a boat on it. Given the limited available spaces it seemed quite inconsiderate.

I spoke with Aquinnah Police Chief Rhandi Belain. He has always done his best to accommodate fishermen. Chief Belain said he was aware of the three trailers and was looking into getting them moved to free up the spaces.

The owner of the boat and trailer said he was waiting for a mooring. That was several weeks ago, Chief Belain said. The chief has ordered signs that state that overnight parking is prohibited. That may help. A little consideration would also help.

Fluke fishermen get ready

The VFW fluke tournament is this Saturday and Sunday, July 12, 13. The cost to enter is $20 for adults, $10 for teens and seniors; 12 and under are free but registration is required.

In addition to the individual competition there is a team division. That is an additional $20. The winning team gets half the purse — the glory is priceless. Four heaviest fish each day count to the team’s total. It does not matter who catches the fish. Weigh-in is from 4 pm to 6 pm at the VFW. There is a cook-out on Sunday followed by an awards ceremony. Register at Coop’s, Larry’s, Dick’s, Shark’s Landing and the VFW. This is a fun tournament. For more information, call Peter at 774-563-0293.

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Every fisherman’s list of gear should include some type of PFD.

Rene Sehr of Holland holds up a small striped bass he caught in Menemsha Pond. — Rene Sehr

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.

R.I.P., Walter

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.

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Nantucketers and Vineyarders squared off over the weekend in the Islanders Cup fishing tournament. Left to right: Dennis Dias (Nantucket Anglers Club), Peter Sliwkowski (MV Surfcasters), Lonell Rodgers (Nantucket). — John Piekos

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket fishermen went wader to wader this past weekend in the annual Islanders Cup fishing tournament, a catch-and-release contest determined by weight.

The final tally was Nantucket Anglers Club, 72 pounds, 14 ounces, Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association (MVSA), 61 pounds. The critical difference was one striped bass.

Try as they might, the Vineyard surfmen could not hook a sizeable bass among many bluefish. Or perhaps they were just being gracious hosts.

Any way you look at it, a bad day of fishing beats a good day of watching soccer. Last week my wife was surprised to see me watching a World Cup soccer match. “What are you doing,” she asked, “I thought you didn’t like soccer.”

Assuming my serious journalist inflection, I explained that I was watching the game in an effort to try and understand why so many people around the world go bonkers (as in rip out stadium seats, riot and kill each other) over the game. “Maybe I’m wrong,” I said. But I digress.

Each season, members of the respective Island fishing organizations fish, eat and generally have a good time. Last year, the Nantucketers hosted the Vineyarders. This year, it was our turn. Organizer Victor Colantonio of Chappy provided me with a blow by blow of the action, or lack.

The inter-island Hy Line ferry arrived at 4 pm, Friday from Nantucket with 11 top anglers from the Nantucket Anglers’ Club. They were met on the dock by 11 stalwart Vineyarders. “After an hour at the Sand Bar restaurant meeting, greeting, snacking, and doling out tally sheets, the groups paired off, one-on-one,” Victor said in an email to me. “They dispersed into dark wet, cold, forbidding island haunts in a 40-hour competition to land the heaviest striped bass and bluefish.”

The prize was bragging rights and “the Island Cup, a sorry-looking pewter trophy that can’t hold a shine.”

Friday night, Victor and Scott Whitlock of Nantucket hammered bluefish on East Beach, north of the jetties “landing 27 fish and dropping nearly as many in 4 hours. Whitlock put a 9-pounder on his scorecard.”

Saturday was uneventful, with mostly small bluefish. “The score was essentially tied at 50 pounds per team,” Victor said. “The hardest working anglers working the best holes still had their needle stuck at nil. Both teams knew that the 2014 contest would hinge on who would land a bass. Pressure mounted and team MV sent its four ablest bodies to the north shore to work the rocks and pools of Makonikey, Menemsha Jetty, and Gay Head. The rest headed to Chappaquiddick to froth up the breach, Wasque, East Beach, and Cape Poge. Suspense was matching exhaustion in the 31st hour of the contest.”

Hmm, tie, lots of running around,no big score — sounds like soccer.

Early Sunday, at 12:40 am, Nantucket’s Lonell Rodger was fishing East Beach with his Island counterpart, Pete Sliwkowski. “First cast a bump, second cast a ‘blam’ and 10 minutes later Lonell has his 17-pound bass landed, weighed, off the scale and back in the water, none the worse for wear,” Victor said. “Big trouble is brewing for MV without a big fish.

“Sunday morning passed with the anglers in the doldrums, swarms of gnats and no fish.”

Hmmm, sounds like soccer in the rain forest.

At noon the fishing stopped. The trophy went to Nantucket and the fun and camaraderie, that was shared by all.

Jim Cornwell of Edgartown won the prize for the heaviest bluefish and Lonell Rodger’s bass took the largest (and only) keeper prize.

Fishing for the Vineyard were Victor Colantonio, Jim and Jonathan Cornwell, Jim Fraser, Jim Mullin, Peter Sliwkowski, John Piekos, Joel and Jason Graves, Matt Malowski, and Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs.  For Nantucket: Scott Whitlock, Peter Krogh, George Williams, Harold Wiggin, Lonell Rodger, Dale Gary, Dave Dauphinee, Tre Wullschleger, Dennis Dias, Bob Bechold and Bob Virta.

Contest postscript

In a followup email, John Piekos said, “Of the 22 hardcore anglers in this year’s contest, three didn’t land a single fish, which is remarkable. More remarkable is that only one angler landed a striped bass over 28 inches.  Maybe it’s time to think of eliminating the commercial season for these wonderful table fish and increasing the recreational ‘keeper’ length to 32 inches.  All the contestants were abuzz that if 22 skilled fisherman, using the best equipment and deploying proven tactics can not land more than one bass in one of America’s best fisheries in a perfect season that maybe the species is in a lot bigger trouble than we think.”

The inter-Island tournament now stands at Nantucket 4 wins, MVSA 3 wins. The action shifts to Nantucket in 2015.

“On a personal note,” John said, “I can think of no better way to spend a weekend than in the company of anglers, incredibly optimistic people, doing what they love to do in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As for the fishing, 2014 was tough but we looked back over the team weights for the past seven years and remembered, with a shrug, one year MVSA managed only 24 pounds against Nantucket’s 55 pounds and in other years where a team didn’t break 60 pounds, total. Then of course there are the wonder years of single team scores of 167, 155 pounds and 136 pounds tallied. We’ve come to realize that the Island Cup is less about fish on the scale than friendship from the heart.”

Fluke tourney date

Start tieing your fluke rigs and drafting team members, the VFW Fluke Fishing Derby is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13. This is a fun Island tournament. More information will follow.

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The new fish pier is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Is it just me or has the fishing for striped bass been considerably off this season. If it is just me, I am having very poor luck. Last year, by the end of May, I had caught several keepers. I have yet to catch a sizeable fish.

But fishermen remain optimistic. The fisherman’s chant — one more cast — was not intended to be muttered by a pessimist. The prevailing theory is that a cold spring and successive east winds set us back several weeks. We will see. This time of the year is when we would typically be experiencing our best striped fishing along Lobsterville Beach, the breach, and East Beach on Chappy.

Regarding the last two fishing spots, I had a conversation with Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations. Each fishing season Chris must balance the needs of competing constituencies, which include state and federally protected shorebirds, the state and federal biologists who enforce those regulations, fishermen, beach-goers, and the people who sign his check and would not be pleased if a bird were to be squished by a tire or some kid running for a Frisbee.

Each season, The Trustees are required to protect nesting shorebirds. Once their chicks hatch, the protection is ramped up to include no over-sand vehicle travel anywhere the birds may be feeding or traveling. That prohibition is extremely restrictive on narrow sections of barrier beach, for example the elbow leading to the gut, a popular fishing spot and currently not accessible from Cape Poge.

On Sunday, Chris met with several fishermen, members of the Surfcasters Association, who questioned what might be done to ease some of the closures. Chris said that in response to that meeting The Trustees moved fencing to open up several hundred yards. Not a lot but it helps.

“It was all predicated on the fact that this is where the chicks are now and if they move tomorrow we are going to have to move the fence line again,” Chris told me in a phone conversation Tuesday. “What we are trying to do is find some middle ground where the birds have adequate protection and as much beach as possible is opened up.”

Chris said several fishermen had questioned the number of chicks based on the lack of visible exclosures. The group took a ride. Chris pointed out some of the nesting sites, not all of which are marked by an exclosure.

What is an exclosure? Think of it as the crow, gull, and skunk version of a plover refrigerator. Well-meaning biologists erect wire mesh tents around plover nesting sites to keep predators out. Landowners are required to be earnest about protecting plovers or run the risk of being found liable by wildlife officials for a take — From Section 3(18) of the Federal Endangered Species Act: “The term ‘take’ means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

Crows are pretty smart. Smarter than a feral cat.

When God created plovers he designed their natural coloring to blend in perfectly with their beach environment. Even a crow or gull might have trouble spotting a plover chick against a sand and pebble background. Big wire exclosure? No problem. Caw. Caw.

Chris said that increasingly predators sit on an exclosure and wait for the adult or the chick to emerge from the exclosure. “As they [predators] get smarter you have to change your tactics,” he said.

The Trustees are now erecting exclosures around the more vulnerable nests, Chris said, those that are out in more exposed areas. Those that are near beach grass are left to survive on their own, and they are having some success.

Currently, the stretch of beach from the windmill house to the gut is closed. “We have five plover chicks running around out there,” Chris said.

A portion of beach is closed between Arruda’s Point and the bathing beach and between Wasque and the bathing beach, however the back trail is open to Wasque. One mile of the eastern end of Norton Point is closed to protect terns. The breach is accessible from the Chappy side.

Chris said the fishing for blues was hot on Chappy for several weeks but has slowed down. “Most of the guys now are just waiting for the bass to pick up,” Chris said.

Me too.

Thanks for the fish pier

pier-sign.jpgI am looking forward to walking with an order of fish tacos from the Lookout restaurant down to the new fish pier to sit on one of the six wooden benches and watch some little kid pull up a scup, or a big kid hook an albie. Both are possibilities.

Last week, I walked to the end of the pier. A visiting couple, Wayne and Wendy Sedgwick from New Haven, Conn., were sitting on a bench reading “Poseidon’s Arrow” (him) and “Betting the Rainbow” (her). There wasn’t a fishing rod in sight, but that will change and the pier will take on some of the ambience of Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. It is all good.

The height of the pier is of some concern. Jack Sheppard, director of the Office of Fishing and Boating Access, said the new pier is the biggest one his department has built and reflects 25 to 30 years of engineering experience, including mistakes over the years.

Low piers are more vulnerable to storm damage. The height is a necessary compromise.

Fishermen down south commonly use pier nets, basically a round hoop net attached to a line,  to land fish. The Surfcasters Association or Derby committee might consider stocking the pier with a few nets. There would be some paperwork involved, but it is a possibility.

Jack told me the department has to okay any additions. That is a result of a bad experience with fishermen placing rod holders on a pier and attempting to “reserve” a spot. Now the department has a rule that nothing may be attached without department approval.

reading-pier.jpgHopefully, fishermen will take care of the new pier that their tax dollars financed. The benches are not for cutting bait.

A word about Jack. He is a fisherman and hunter who enjoys the outdoors. When he joined the department in 1986 there were 42 public access sites. That includes boat ramps, canoe slides, piers, and fishing access spots. Now there are 287 sites. Not bad for a nine-person department that in real dollar terms has seen its budget shrink over the past 10 years.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new pier is 11 am this Thursday, June 19.

Striped bass season opens

The commercial striped bass season opens Monday, June 25. In past years, the commercial season opened in July and closed in early August once the state’s quota had been reached, usually in early August. In 2012 and 2013, the season closed after only 16 days, in part due to a large congregation of fish off Chatham.

This spring the Division of Marine Fisheries announced that the 2014 season will open on June 23 and remain open until the 2014 quota, approximately 1.15 million pounds, is reached.

The change is expected to meet market demand for bass over the July Fourth holiday and give Island fishermen an opportunity to capitalize on local fish.

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Martha’s Vineyard is antipasti for visiting Italian fishermen.

Paolo Balsamini and his fish. — Photo courtesy of Arturo Kenney

A famous Roman general once wrote, “Veni, vidi, vici,” Latin for: I came, I saw, I conquered. There is no way to know if Julius Caesar liked to fish. His Italian countrymen sure do.

This week and last, a group of Italian fishermen from the Milan area, members of the Milano Fly Angling Club, enjoyed fishing for striped bass from Lobsterville Beach, fine food — hey, they’re Italians, they travel with a chef, and the natural beauty served up plentifully by Martha’s Vineyard.

Arturo-Kenney-first-light.JPGThe story begins with a basketball. Art Kenney of New York City played three years in the early 1970s for Olimpia Milano. The team honored him last year when it retired his number 18, the first such retirement in the very successful club’s history.

On one of his return visits to Milan, Art gave a presentation on fly fishing for the Milano Fly Angling Club, the oldest fly fishing club in Italy. The rest, as they say in Rome, is history.

Art, a New Yorker, is chief tour guide and travel secretary. This is the club’s fifth fishing trip to the Island. The men, eight Italians and Art, are staying in a rented house just off Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah.

Art said the men fish mostly at night — all night. “We’re looking for big fish,” he said.

The fishing has been slow this trip, but no matter. “We have so much fun,” Art said. “It’s like Animal House without any of the craziness. It’s a real fraternity of fishermen.”

Art said the men love the Island. “It’s just such a beautiful place to fish and all the people we meet are so nice,” he said.

Arturo_Paolo-Balsamini.JPGWhen they are awake in the daytime the men make periodic shopping trips down Island. Their favorite stop is Coop’s in Edgartown. “Coop is the Island’s best goodwill ambassador,” Art said in a phone conversation as he relaxed in the house. “He is extremely helpful.”

Coop also endeared himself to the Italians with gifts of fresh squid, clams, and flies that worked.

“Coop doesn’t know it but he’s an international phenomenon, at least in Milano,” Art added.

Paolo Balsamini came on the line. He said he likes everything about the Vineyard.

“I like the fish, I like the beach, I like the environment. Lots of wildlife. As a fisherman I like to fish, so I like to catch a lot of striper, especially the big one,” he said with a laugh.

Paolo, 50, said the fishing was a lot better last year, but like fishermen around the world, he takes a philosophical approach. “But, ah, it’s the sea, you know,” he said. “If they are not, they are not. There are schoolies, but in the mix, you know, there are big ones but it is a matter of luck.”

Asked about what he fishes for in Italy, Paolo laughed. “I fish in the sea, but I catch one sea bass every five, six outings,” he said. He catches trout with more frequency.

Roberto Pecorelli.
Roberto Pecorelli.

His favorite fly for the Vineyard? “Floating sand eel in black in various sizes,” he said.

Paolo was a commercial pharmacist until he lost his job two years ago. Now he drives a taxi. He also travels to Denmark in late spring to fish for sea trout. “Very fun,” he said. “There’s a lot of fish and some big ones.”

I asked Paolo what he thought about our ticks. My question was lost in translation. He thought I asked for tips. “Fish as long as you can,” he said. “All night long. This is my tip because if you have your fly in the water you can fish the big one. And fish when the water is moving.”

He also had a message for the people of Martha’s Vineyard: “Thank you for the whole Island …preserve your Island.”

Coop's welcome mat.
Coop’s welcome mat.

Club president Roberto Pecorelli spoke to me. “This fishing is very, very important for me, for my mind,” he said with a laugh. “I love to fish on the beach at night with my friends. To catch fish is not very important. I am very happy when I caught only one fish. Very, very fine for me.”

It is a sentiment any fisherman could understand in any language.

What not to do

Last week, Tom Dunlop wrote a striper love story for the Gazette about a guy who caught a bass, threw it up on the beach where he let it lie and declined to cut the gills and bleed the fish because he does not like to do that while a fish is still alive. He drove home with the fish in a plastic bag, but after it twitched in his kitchen, he had a pang of conscience and ran it down to the water where he spent more than one hour reviving it.

Tom’s a good writer and in his hands the tale sounded swell. Hats off to the kind-hearted fisherman. But the story attracted plenty of criticism from fishermen and with good reason.

I do not doubt the fisherman was well intentioned. But once the decision is made to keep a fish for the table it is not humane or practical to let a fish lie gasping on the beach building up heat and toxins. Cut the gill with a sharp knife. The blood will drain and the fish will die.

Do not carry a fish in a plastic bag. It does not allow the fish to cool. Bring a cooler with ice, or in a pinch throw a wet towel over the fish. The end result will be fresh, high quality fillets.

Pier ribbon cutting Thursday

On Thursday, June 19, at 11 am, state environmental and wildlife officials will join Oak Bluffs town leaders in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new fishing pier.

The pier looks great. Strollers and families with kids who like to fish for scup will be the chief beneficiaries. I have no doubt it will produce a few albies.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority 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.

The state office of Fishing and Boating Access funded the project. State saltwater license fees and taxes on fishing and boating equipment paid for it. If you have the time, stop by and celebrate the first pier on Martha’s Vineyard built for fishing.

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Measured by what matters, the 23rd Catch and Release tournament was a great success.

Peter Sliwkowski managed to escape a stiff northeast wind Saturday night on the Chappy side of Katama Bay. — Photo by John Piekos

The northeast wind blew at more than 20 miles per hour and the temperature made it feel like the first day of March rather than the last day of May, making for less than ideal conditions for the 124 fishermen casting about in the 23rd Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament last Saturday night.

Army Captain Matthew Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, presented a flag he carried on a combat mission in Afghanistan to Rod and Gun club president Bob Delisle (left) and treasurer Cliff Meehan.
Army Captain Matthew Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, presented a flag he carried on a combat mission in Afghanistan to Rod and Gun club president Bob Delisle (left) and treasurer Cliff Meehan.

The fishing reflected the conditions — miserable by Island standards. About 184 bass, mostly small, were caught and released by fishermen who struggled from 7 pm until 2 am Sunday morning to find any spot facing the water out of the battering wind.

But a bad day of fishing in the catch and release beats a good day in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. One year ago, Army Captain Matthew Blair was in the hospital receiving treatment for the foot he fractured while on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

At the awards ceremony Sunday morning, Captain Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was happy to have the opportunity to fish on Martha’s Vineyard with his father, Jim Blair of Norton, his cousin Dean Blair and friends. And the more than 100 fishermen and guests sitting in the regional high school cafeteria were very happy to welcome him back.

For those who thought they were seeing double, they were. Matthew, 35, and his twin brother Army Captain Nicholas Blair, 25th Engineers stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where he is part of the Global Response Force, are a catch and release tag team pair. In the past seven years their schedules have only allowed the brothers to fish the tournament together once.

Last year, Nicholas fished the catch and release undeterred by a cast on the foot he broke during a training exercise one month earlier. Here is one of those twin psychic connection anecdotes. Nicholas broke his foot on May 2, 2013. One week later, Matthew sustained a series of fractures in his foot while on a mission (which he completed despite his injuries).

In conversation, both brothers are humble about their military service. Quiet, competent, and professional in demeanor, they represent their service well.

The highlight of the awards ceremony held Sunday morning came when Captain Blair presented an American flag he carried with him in his Apache helicopter during a combat mission in Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass to rod and gun club president Bob Delisle and treasurer Cliff Meehan. It was a way to say thanks, he said, for an organization and event that has meant so much to him and his family.

Mattered a lot

The tournament presented Captain Matthew Blair with an inlaid wooden Martha's Vineyard fishing flag donated by Brian Oneil of Rustic Marlin Designs.
The tournament presented Captain Matthew Blair with an inlaid wooden Martha’s Vineyard fishing flag donated by Brian Oneil of Rustic Marlin Designs.

I spoke to Matthew by phone Monday as he returned to the 10th Mountain Division base at Fort Drum, New York, after three days on the Vineyard. Matthew said that but for the tournament he would not have taken up fly fishing.

He said he values the tournament for the opportunity it provides to spend time with his father, to fish and enjoy the Island. “Just some good old American reset time,” he said.

Military service is a Blair family tradition. A sister, Kristen (Blair) Mayer, is an Air Force captain who for a time was stationed at a hospital in Kabul.

“This last deployment Kristen and I worked together,” Matthew said. “She was running a hospital in Kabul and I was outside Fenty by the Khyber Pass and she came up one day and I put her in the helicopter and I showed her around. That was a rare family experience meeting in a war zone.”

Matthew is married with two children, a four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. Between his military and family responsibilities, free time to go fishing is rare.

Last year, knowing Matthew was in the hospital, the fishermen signed a catch and release tee-shirt to wish him well. For most of us, war is a distant rumble of thunder, a snippet of news. I suspect few of us realized that the smallest gesture of thanks can often be quite meaningful for those who serve.

In one of the more emotional moments of the ceremony Sunday, Matthew thanked those in the room for thinking of him. I asked him about that moment.

Matthew said that the routine of deployment in a war zone pushes home to the background. “When you get injured and sent to Walter Reed or any of the military hospitals, it’s very antiseptic and you are separated from anybody you are used to working with, and you are separated from your family, so it is like a deployment unto itself.”

Professional military men and women share a strong sense of duty. Matthew said that sitting in the hospital for three months far from the battle was difficult.

“I had been working 12 hours a day,” he said, “flying my absolute maximums every day and night and then when I got hurt I felt like I had let the team down. Like I was failing the Army by getting hurt.”

The tee-shirt and the card he received from the rod and gun club reminded him that his service was appreciated. “It mattered a lot,” he said, “because it kept me from reinforcing my own apprehension that I was letting people down.”

The flag now in a case at the rod and gun club was carried during a night assault on two towns in conjunction with the 101st Airborne in an effort to capture Taliban supporters. “It was two big raids. There were a lot of moving pieces. Lots of helicopters landing at night. Lots of troops moving around at night.”

Matthew served three tours in Afghanistan for a total of 24 months, beginning in 2007. The changing tempo of the war and the push to shift responsibility to the Afghan forces has created new challenges for those trained to bring the fight to the enemy, he said.

The Apache helicopter is a lethal piece of military equipment packed with high tech weapons systems and capable of flying 171 miles per hour. It carries a pilot and a co-pilot gunner.

Asked if it is fun to fly, without adding the qualification of people shooting at him, Matthew said, “It’s true. It’s a lot of work to be a pilot, but when you get to do the real yanking and banking at high speeds at low altitude it’s the greatest fun in the world.”

He said the austere Afghanistan environment was challenging but did not deter from the thrill. “Flying in the mountains at those speeds is really great, I love doing it.”

The first time Matthew fished the tournament he had just returned from Afghanistan. Upon each subsequent return he fished the tournament. “My father would always be looking at the clock saying, remember, if you’re going to be home in May get June off for the tournament.”

Following a revolving cycle of deployments, for the first time in a decade, Captain Blair and his unit are not home preparing to leave. World politics could intercede, but for now he is enjoying spending time at home with his family.

It is a short hop by helicopter from Fort Drum to the Vineyard. I told Matthew that his unit would be welcome and with no scheduled deployment he could begin preparing for the 24th catch and release.

“I’m already looking at the calendar for next year,” Matthew said.

Results

Tournament co-chairman Cooper Gilkes (right) presenåted an Orvis Helios fly rod to awards ceremony host Nelson Sigelman in appreciation of 23 years of nonstop kidding around.
Tournament co-chairman Cooper Gilkes (right) presenåted an Orvis Helios fly rod to awards ceremony host Nelson Sigelman in appreciation of 23 years of nonstop kidding around.

Roberto Germani Trophy for the most striped bass caught and released by a team: 1. John Kollett, Sandra Demel (11 fish average); 2. Dave Thompson, Tom Carroway (Team Sprintless, 8.5 avg.); 3. Cooper Gilkes, Jackie Jordan, Pete Kutzer, Jess McGlothlan, Todd Cascone, Aaron Cascone, Tom Zemianek, Donald O’Shaughnessy, Jr. (Team High Stickers, 6 avg.)

Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy for the largest striped bass caught and released: Dean Blair, 72 inches (44 inches in length, 28 inches in girth).

Arnold Spofford Trophy for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly: 1. Seth Woods, Mac Haskell, Charlie Finnerty (Team Caddyshack, 2.3 avg.); 2. Jeffrey Stevens, Scott MacCaferri, Ed Tatro (Team Last Cast, 2 fish avg.); 3. James J. Jackson, Mark G. Wrabel (Team Bassholes, .5 fish avg.)

Larry’s Bass Blast

There is shore and boat competition striper action in this month-long tournament that ends June 30. Winners split the kitty. For more information, call the tackle shop at 508-627-5088.

Current tide charts are here.

19

Fishermen were surprised to find new signs barring passage to the informal path they have used for years to gain access to the popular fishing spot.

A sign warns people to stay off the well used trail that once provided informal access to Dogfish bar. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Fisherman are protective of fishing spots. It is a trait imprinted in their DNA since the first time a caveman decided it was more fun to catch a trout in a stream with his hands than hit it with a club.

More than 20 years ago, fishermen in the know could travel down a dirt road in Gay Head — now known as Aquinnah but still called Gay Head by those in the know — to a small parking lot. A path led to a beach at Dogfish Bar. Property owner Dr. Jason Lew was fine with fishermen using his lot. On a good night the striped bass fishing could be legendary. But the arrangement, one similar to past conveniences that once provided fishing access around the Island, was too good to last under the onslaught of more visitors and GPS.

Last fall, Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs asked me to look into new signs that had sprouted up barring access to the path to the beach. Stone boulders had also been placed around the parking area, acquired years ago by the state Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Last Saturday, I drove to Aquinnah to look into the fuss. Then I started making phone calls.

A sign planted directly on the path to the beach states: Private, no trespassing, protected sensitive “Ecosystem,” violators subject to arrest.

It is a pretty ominous warning for a fisherman who just wants to catch a bass and mind his or her own business. I took a short walk and discovered pretty quickly that the ecosystem is dominated by ticks.

What I discovered in my research is that Beverly Wright and her husband Robert Macdiarmid own the lot to the west of the state lot. A portion of the property where people parked and the path was on their property, not the state’s. Beverly told me that frustration over abuse of their property — mostly by beach-goers, not fishermen — led them to assert their property rights and bar anyone from parking on their property or using the path.

Beverly said she placed the boulders only on her property line. She said she does not know who placed boulders in the state lot to constrict parking. No one seems to know.

Doug Cameron, Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA) assistant director and deputy chief engineer for the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, told me in a telephone conversation Wednesday that FBA recently received permission from the Aquinnah conservation commission and planning board to create a new path on DFG property. The one sticking point, he said, is that after the fact, the planning board said the parking lot must be limited to four vehicles. Doug does not agree. I am sure fishermen will be on his side.

I also learned that William Waterway, once known as William Marks, was behind the “ecosystem” signs. Mr. Waterway is the president of a private beach association that maintains a parking area about 100 yards up the road where the cost of admission, a key to the gate lock, is more than $70,000. William also owns a lot just adjacent to the association lot. He just sold a share solely for parking and beach access for $72,500.

Mr. Waterway appears to be the self-appointed environmental steward of the beach. His ecosystem signs are everywhere. I could not reach him by phone but this is what he has to say about himself on his website: William Waterway is an award-winning water author, poet, artist, philosopher, and Native American flute artist who was raised on an organic farm.

William is interested in man’s connection to water. “Mysterious water helps us to survive each second,” he writes in the introduction to his website. “Without a stream of healthy water flowing through our bodies – we become ill and cease to exist. The same goes for the body of any region or country.”

Dog ticks appear to be the principal inhabitants of the protected "ecosystem."
Dog ticks appear to be the principal inhabitants of the protected “ecosystem.”

I suppose the tug of war is between tick ecosystems, reverence for water, and fishing access. Fisherman have a champion in Jack Sheppard, longtime director of the Fishing and Boating Access Board. Jack is responsible for helping fishermen and boaters gain access across the state. A little history is in order.

Years ago, as I said, Dr. Lew allowed fishermen to use his lot. When his property went on the market, in 1996 the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank stepped in with an offer to buy the entire parcel that stretched from Lighthouse Road to the beach and create a boardwalk path. Unfortunately, Gay Headers objected to the potential public incursion and the local Land Bank advisory board nixed the deal, citing fears of heavy use, traffic, impact on the environment, and community opinion in making its decision.

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner John Phillips had fished Dogfish and recognized the value of public access to a unique fishing spot. John asked Jack Sheppard and the public access board to step in. The state purchased a 2.4-acre property at Dogfish Bar in 1996 for $160,000.

John and others in the state agency pledged that care would be taken to preserve the ecology and protect residents’ interests. He asked the Island office of the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) to handle local management details. And the Orvis Company, out of Manchester, Vermont, known for its commitment to the environment, pledged to contribute $40,000 towards management costs. Orvis regularly devotes a percentage of its profits to projects, causes, and activities that benefit the environment.

Under the theory that no good deed goes unpunished, Gay Headers saw a conspiracy. Orvis wanted to run a fly fishing school, some said. It was untrue. Their interest did not extend beyond preserving access for the public. The Trustees just wanted to be helpful.

In one report at the time, Mr. Waterway, then Marks, charged that some fishermen are “pretty damned lazy” if they cannot walk from public parking on Lobsterville Road to Dogfish Bar, a distance of approximately one mile.

Mr. Marks said that he opposed the purchase because he believed the Spur Road and the surrounding environment is “burdened enough as it is.”

Orvis decided not to spend money where they were not wanted. The Trustees wanted no part of the controversy.

After much gnashing of teeth, and a tussle between state wildlife officials and Gay Head leaders, a period of detente settled over the area. The state did not improve the parking lot and everyone looked the other way.

So here we are again. The well used path is off limits. Walk on it and it is a trespass. Fishermen may walk through the grass until the state creates a new path, Doug Cameron said. My advice is to check for ticks.

Catch and Release

The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club will host its 23nd annual Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament this Saturday.

There are three prize categories: the Roberto Germani Trophy, for the most striped bass caught and released by a team; the Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy, for the largest striped bass caught and released; and the Arnold Spofford Trophy, for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly per team member.

The contest rules are simple. There is no fishing from boats. Fishermen may only fish from beaches that are accessible. The first cast cannot be made until 7 pm Saturday, and fishing must stop at exactly 2 am, Sunday.

The club hosts a breakfast in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria Sunday morning followed by an awards ceremony at 9:30 am.

The entry fee is $35. Money raised by the tournament helps support a variety of youth programs. For tournament information or to contribute, contact Cooper Gilkes at 508-627-3909. Sign up early or Saturday afternoon at the high school.

Coop’s will host an Orvis Day this Friday. Stop by to win a new fly outfit and feast on hot dogs and burgers.

1

New rod and reel in hand I went looking for some fish and found them.

Matthew Passalacqua, executive chef at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Katama, displays a bluefish he caught Tuesday afternoon. — Photo courtesy of Matthew Passalacqua

I was not invited to the Cannes Film Festival which began last Wednesday in Cannes, France. I commented on that fact to my wife Norma as we watched starlets stride and pause for photos on the red carpet like so many show horses in front of a horde of gawkers and photographers on one of the many evening programs that report on that sort of senseless news.

My point to Norma was that had I been invited to Cannes I would have been unable to throw a fishing rod on my truck Saturday afternoon and go looking for bluefish. I knew there were fish on Chappy, but I wanted to explore. The wind was out of the southwest and conditions were perfect for bluefish.

I had a nine-foot, medium weight St. Croix Wild River outfitted with a Penn Battle 4000 reel. It is a relatively light outfit that is able to handle decent size fish. My lure of choice was a lime green Spofford’s needle fish with all the treble hooks removed and one single tail hook. It casts well and bluefish love it.

I decided to try the flats up the beach to the north of Edgartown Light. I started walking and casting. Just off Eel Pond I had my first hit, a slashing strike that sent a splash of water into the bright sunlight. I never get tired of watching bluefish hit surface lures, and the first hit of the season always gets the adrenaline pumping.

Another hundred yards up the beach and I was into the fish thick. Almost every cast brought a strike. I landed a fish I estimated to weigh about 5 pounds destined for the grill and quickly slit the gills to bleed it. Then I dug a small ditch on the beach and placed the fish in it to keep it cool in the afternoon sun.

The poor reputation bluefish has as table fare is undeserved. It may never be a substitute for halibut, but when treated well it is excellent on the grill. And it is one of our plentiful local fish.

For entertainment I began reeling as fast as I could. Groups of bluefish pursued the lure, toothy mouths wide open and snapping. It was quite a sight and I was all alone. Beats Cannes any day.

And the winner is

Several weeks ago, Times reporter Barry Stringfellow recommended that we host a contest for the first bluefish caught on the Island. I saw through his motives immediately — he wanted to know where the fish were as soon as they arrived — and I agreed it was a good idea.

LeRoux in Vineyard Haven, which stocks all manner of high quality kitchen goods that any chef would need to prepare a fresh caught fish, provided a $50 gift certificate as a prize. On Thursday, May 15, Ron Domurat of Edgartown sent a photo of a bluefish he caught on Chappy to The Times. Ron did not know anything about the contest he had just won.

Barry sent Ron an email congratulating him on his prize. And that is when Ron really showed the stuff that champs are made of.

“Hi Barry, thanks but I may not have been the first one,” he wrote in an email. “Mike Carotta travels all the way from Nebraska to fish here every spring. He’s been doing it for 40 years. We were on the same ferry to Chappy and he preceded me out to the beach. He went directly to Wasque and I went to Lelands Point where I caught a BF on my first cast with a 3 oz. Kasmaster. I had fish in the 7-10 range on my first eight casts and ended up with a total of 15 for the day. There were a lot of fish and I was seeing them moving through in the tops of the waves. The first fish was caught around 3:30 pm. When I caught up with Mike at Wasque around 4:30, he had six BF on the beach and said they were there when he arrived. Any chance of splitting the prize? It could have been a tie!”

When Mike learned about Ron’s gesture he told Ron to keep the prize. His only request? “How ‘bout we share the recognition,” Mike said in an email. “My kids would get a kick out of the mention.”

And the judge’s decision? Next season Ron invite Mike to a barbecue and use the gear he bought at LeRoux to cook the fish.

Dick’s hosts tournament

Dick’s Bait & Tackle in Oak Bluffs will host its 22nd Annual Memorial Day Weekend Derby. The contest begins at 12:01 am, Friday morning and ends at noon Monday.

The fishermen who catch the heaviest bluefish or bass from the shore or a boat will earn some nice prizes. Last year, the winning bass were all under 20 pounds and the bluefish were under 8 pounds.

The cost to enter is $30 and all the entry money goes right into the prizes, Doug Asselin, who was watching the shop when I called, told me. Remember, bass must be at least 32 inches long to weigh in.

Doug said the fishing for bluefish has been excellant. On Chappy Monday he caught 15 fish. Nothing huge but lots of fun, he said.

One good sign is the presence of huge schools of squid in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds. Lots of squid attract lots of fish, so the ingredients are coming together for some good fishing in the weeks ahead.

Call 508-693-7669 for more information or go to dicksbait@comcast.net.

Catch and release and have fun

The 23rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release tournament takes place next Saturday night, May 31.

Hopefully, the fish will cooperate. Irrespective, I expect to have a great time. Those who have participated in past tournaments know this is more a state of mind than a fishing tournament. Last year’s contest, which generated a $1,200 donation to the Wounded Warrior’s Project, certainly demonstrated the generosity of spirit and camaraderie that has become a highlight of the Sunday morning breakfast and awards ceremony.

Each winter, tournament co-chairman Cooper Gilkes and I select a date for the contest. We have tried late in June, early in June, and late in May. We have a pretty good record of generating high winds, torrential rains or both. This year’s date was selected to take advantage of a dark moon, good tides, and, hopefully, the arrival of plenty of striped bass.

There are three prize categories: the Roberto Germani Trophy, for the most striped bass caught and released by a team; the Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy, for the largest striped bass caught and released; and the Arnold Spofford Trophy, for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly per team member. The club will host a breakfast in the high school cafeteria Sunday morning, June 1, followed by an awards ceremony at 9:30 am.

Prizes are not awarded based on catch totals. The winners get simple plaques. We draw registration blanks to hand out the prizes that include custom collections of saltwater flies, very expensive fly rods and reels, and assorted gear, almost all of it donated by the participants.

The entry fee is $35. For tournament information or to contribute prizes, contact Cooper Gilkes at 508-627-3909.

The Roundabout's finishing touch. — Photo by Ralph Stewart & Kristofer Rabasca

The 68th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby turned out just the way I dreamed it would. I caught the winning fish following a heroic battle in which I overcame all odds to win a place on the awards podium Sunday.

It was the end of the week and the bass fishing was slow. Tom Robinson and I were in a rut. Eat dinner, head to the same spot on the South Shore, cast bait and wait, and wait, and wait. Our Derby had begun in a wave of enthusiasm that had smashed against a wall of reality. We were not catching fish, any fish.

The phone rang. “Where do you want to go?” Tom asked. “Same place?”

“Sure, why not,” I said.

“Yeah, why not,” Tom said with a laugh. “Like it’s going to matter.”

I could have said I wanted to stay home, that I had had enough. But the Derby does not allow for defeatism, only resignation in the face of adversity. It is like walking into Cumberland Farms to buy a microwave dinner because the pizza place is closed and you need to eat something. You know what to expect, but you need to do it.

I picked Tom up and we headed up Island. At a narrow bend in the dirt road on the way to the beach a skunk ambled along. At the sound of my truck’s engine the nearsighted roadside stink bomb on four legs quickened his pace, his little legs churned, his bushy tail waved, but he did not veer right or left — I know it was a male because he did not ask for directions.

“You’d better wait ’til he gets off the road,” Tom advised me.

One night, Tom said, he’d had to follow a skunk for about half a mile on the road out of Cedar Tree Neck. The sides of the dirt road were steep and the skunk would not get off the road. But Tom is a cautious and humane fellow and I am not, not when I am going fishing. I stepped on the gas. There was no crunch. “See, Tom,” I said as though I’d been sure of the outcome all along, “they get out of the way.”

Tom rigged up to bottom fish. He put our bait of choice, a hunk of scup on a circle hook, cast it beyond the waves and settled into his beach chair as he had done so many nights before.

I decided to cast live eels, a bait which is highly effective for striped bass, yet had begun to raise misgivings and a pang of conscience in me. I was surprised by it.

I had begun to think of my eels as little gladiators destined for the arena. I felt bad for the eel I chose to impale on a hook. I wondered if real Roman gladiators really said, “We who are about to die salute you,” or was that just the product of a good Hollywood scriptwriter. I thought, if I’d been a gladiator it sure would have been hard to utter those words with conviction. I wondered what my eel-gladiators would like to do to me. I knew I had too much time to think if I was even thinking about my eels.

I walked to the surf line and cast my wriggling gladiator out into the darkness. I imagined a 60-pounder holding in the currents. I could see the fish. I willed it to my hook.

The strike was tremendous. There was a geyser of spray and foam. I kept my focus. The first run nearly emptied my spool. The second was shorter and the third shorter still. Rod tip up, don’t touch the drag, stay calm — I reminded myself.

Once the fish was spent, I let the surf deposit the striper on the beach, and I ran to pin it to the sand so it could not wash back into the water. It looked enormous. Tom was shocked (and likely thinking he’d wished he’d caught it).

“We need to go to the weigh station right now,” I said to Tom. We knew we would be racing to make the final weigh-in.

“Leave the rods,” I said as I dragged the fish up the beach, trying to catch my breath.

We hopped in the truck and I raced back up the dirt road. “Look out,” Tom said, but it was too late. I hit the skunk square on. A yellow, toxic cloud enveloped the truck. The gas clung to the undercarriage, liquid revenge from the still squirming skunk.

I rolled down the windows but it barely diluted the organic, Island-grown tear gas. I could barely see. Tom was gagging. I drove on and we hit pavement and I took a right.

As we approached the West Tisbury line, Tom suggested I slow down. “But we need to get to the weigh station,” I said.

Bam! I hit a deer. The 10-point buck was dead as a stone. Tom was okay. I was okay. The radiator was steaming, but the truck was still running.

“Tom, help me,” I said.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“I’m keeping this deer,” I said. We lifted the dead deer into the truck bed. “Let’s go,” I said.

I kept looking at the clock. I knew we could make the 10 pm cutoff, but it was going to be close. Then I saw a glow through the trees.

“It’s a house fire,” Tom said.

I pulled into the driveway. A mom and her two small children stood in the driveway as flames shot from the window.

“Kitty’s still inside,” the little girl said.

I could hear sirens in the distance, but there was no time to waste. I did not think about what I had to do. I ran inside the burning house. There was kitty, standing at the top of the stairs. I grabbed the cat as flames licked at my elbows. The cat scratched me — I never did like cats — and I ran outside gagging.

“Tom, let’s go,” I said.

We parked outside the Derby weigh station with just minutes to spare.

The Derby committee members took one whiff, looked at the front end of the truck and me and started to laugh, and gag. When I walked in with my fish they began to cheer.

At least, that’s how I dreamt my Derby would end.

Derby awards Sunday

The 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby ends at 10 pm, Saturday night. I would not be surprised if the eight grand leaders in the shore and boat bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore categories watch the weather report and the daily results over the next several days with great interest.

The Derby committee will hand out awards on Sunday, October 20. One grand shore leader will leave with a new boat and one boat grand leader will leave with a new truck.

The ceremony will take place under the big top at lovely Farm Neck Golf Club off County Road in Oak Bluffs. The fun begins at 1 pm and includes free food, prizes, a raffle, and silent auction.

Soldiers participating in the 5th annual American Heroes Saltwater Challenge visited the Derby weigh station Tuesday night. From Top Left- Shane Scherer, Nathan Nash, Krystal Robinson, Kirk Birchfield, Carla Hockaday Bottom Left- Randy Robinson, Emanuel Thompson, Nathan Rimpf, Monte Bernardo, Amanda Simmons, David Little, Ben Ruhlman Grady Keefe (Bottom middle). — Photo by Maggie Nixon

Early last week, I caught a fat striped bass. The fish was not particularly large, probably about 15 pounds but a nice size for the table. I paid no attention to what appeared to be a slight red sore on its side, figuring it was probably due to the fight.

My practice when I plan to keep a bass is to cut the fish in the gills immediately to bleed it, both to end its struggle and preserve the quality of the meat. I trim off the dark red meat, which I think adds little to the flavor.

When I looked at the fillets I saw several dark spots in the otherwise white flesh. It was not an appetizing sight. A closer examination revealed small capsules or cysts. To paraphrase my daughter — gross.

I put the fish in the refrigerator and went to that source of all knowledge and opinion, Google search. For a second view, I also contacted the folks at the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF).

DMF striped bass biologist Gary Nelson told me that the department’s resident parasitologist thought the fish was infected with black spot disease “which is a life stage of a trematode worm known as fluke.”

He added, “The larvae create cysts under the skin and in the flesh. The fish is edible in that condition, just cook it as you normally would.”

Do what? I emailed back and told him It did not sound very appetizing. I asked if he had any sense of how widespread it was, since this was the first time over many years I had ever spotted any black spots in any bass I had kept.

“I don’t have any statistics, but I see it occasionally in striped bass and other fish,” Gary said. “It is one of the most common diseases. Luckily, it usually isn’t lethal.”

Did you catch the “usually isn’t” part of that answer? I imagined myself on the cusp of being the first human to contract mad striped bass disease.

A Google search for dark spots in striped bass brought up several references. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website posted a question from a fisherman, Paul Puher, about rockfish, their name for striped bass. It was very similar to my experience.

“I recently caught a rockfish that looked very healthy,” Paul said. “I filleted it and saw these black spots deep in the meat. I cut through it, and it appeared to be a dead something. Can you please tell me what these things are; should the fish be thrown out, is this normal?”

Maryland fish health biologist Mark Matsche responded.

The black spots are the larval form of a parasitic worm known as digenean trematodes. This infection is often called “black spot disease”, and in some fish, particularly small individuals, the worms may be visible through the skin. There are many different species of digenea worms, and most are white or yellow in color. The black appearance of the worms is a result of pigments that may accumulate around the parasites as part of the fish’s immune response. This black pigmentation of the worms doesn’t always occur, and the spots may appear white or yellow (“white spot” or “yellow spot” disease). Most species of fish may be susceptible to digenean infections. Digenean worms have a fairly complex life cycle, which involves aquatic snails or other invertebrates as the initial host; fish as an intermediate host; and mammals, birds, or other fish as the final host; the intermediate form of the worm penetrates and burrows into the flesh of fish.

Most digenean parasites are not dangerous to humans. When few in number, black spots can be trimmed from the fillets, and thorough cooking will kill any remaining worms.

My wife and I considered what to do, fish cakes perhaps. There did not seem to be enough beer if the fridge to wash down fish cakes with cooked trematode worms.

I imagined the farm to table folks could sell it if they charged enough and added Vineyard in front of worms on the menu, but it was not for us. I was not reassured by the notion that all I had to do was cook the bass. I used the fish for crab bait.

Red pots mark research project

I was curious about two red pot floats marked Shellfish Department, one off each Tashmoo jetty and well within casting distance of the many fishermen who haunt Tashmoo hoping to catch a glimmer of an albie or a bonito.

I contacted Tisbury shellfish constable Danielle Ewart who put me in contact with Shelley Edmundson of the University of New Hampshire. The shellfish department is assisting Shelley with a research project on the movement of conch in and out of Tashmoo. The buoys are attached to electronic counters that count each time a tagged conch moves in or out of the inlet.

Shelley could not have been nicer and expressed concern that any fisherman might lose a fish on her account. Because I never catch a bonito or albie, I could not offer her an informed opinion on whether the floats would be less of a fish hazard if moved closer. My view is I will just treat the floats as one of many obstacles, which include other fishermen, in the interest of science.

Derby updates

False albacore finally showed up. Bonito in lesser numbers. The striped bass fishing seemed to slow last week.

This Saturday is bass day. The Derby will hand over $500 each to the fisherman who catches the largest bass from the shore and from a boat on October 5.

There is plenty of reason to fish for a striped bass. The current Derby leader as of Tuesday was 35 pounds. That is a pipsqueak by classic Derby standards.

Boat storage tip

In the weeks ahead, many fishermen will put their boats away for the winter. For many Island boat owners, their preparations will consist of a blue tarp tied down with rope. Cosmetics may not be important but the gas that is left in the engine could mean lots of trouble when spring arrives because it contains ethanol.

The Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) advises recreational boat owners to take special precautions with gas left in the engine.

Ethanol absorbs water. If ethanol becomes saturated, which can happen when it sits for long periods, the ethanol separates from the gasoline, forming two separate solutions, BoatUS said. This is called phase separation and it’s bad news for the engine. An engine won’t run on the (water-soaked) ethanol solution, which sinks to the bottom of the tank and is highly corrosive.

“Today it’s highly likely that your boat’s gasoline contains a mixture of up to 10 percent ethanol, which is known to damage engines and boat fuel systems, especially over the long winter storage season,” BoatUS said in a press release. “If you have a portable gas tank on your boat, try to use as much gas as possible before you put the boat away at the end of the season. Any remaining gas or gas-and-oil mix that’s left in the portable tank can be put in your car or outdoor power equipment, respectively. The goal here is to use it up as quickly as possible.

“If your boat has a built-in gas tank that cannot be emptied, add a fuel stabilizer, and then fill the tank as much as possible, leaving just a smidgen of room for expansion. This will greatly reduce the amount of moisture laden-air that can enter through the tank’s vent and potentially condense on inside tank walls over the long storage season.”