Gone Fishin'

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The new fish pier is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll.

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.

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. — Photo courtesy of Arturo Kenney

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. — Photo courtesy of Arturo Kenney

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.

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. — Photo by John Piekos

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. — Photo by John Piekos

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. — Photo by John Piekos

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.

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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.

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.” — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

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.

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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.

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.

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).

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.”

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Peter Shepardson of Vineyard Haven got his fish weighed in first — a 10.55-pound bluefish and a 12.44-pound striped bass.

Do not go gentle into that good night/ fish, fish until morning light (apologies to Dylan Thomas).

The 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby began Sunday at 12:01 am. In recent years I have lacked fishing ambition. My Derby strategy rested on a combination of hoping for the best and letting events take their course. This year I want to step foot on the podium.

I am raring to go mentally. Not so much equipment wise.

Until Saturday, most of the big bait rods I use to lob hunks of bait to unseen fish remained in the corner of the shed where I left them in October, at the end of last fishing season. My tackle was in disarray.

I rose to the challenge because it is Derby time and hope springs eternal, or at least it lasts for a few weeks until, bored out of my wits, I start to imagine that my rod tip actually bent under the force of a fish.

I suspect this Derby, Tom Robinson and I will revert to our tried and true strategy of bottom fishing squid in likely big fish spots and second guessing every decision we make. Optimism will give way to resignation, and we will await the end of the Derby so the pain can stop.

But that point is still weeks away. Sunday morning I woke in the dark and headed out to a rocky point, armed with a bucket of eels. A fisherman with eels means business.

There is a technique to using eels. The key is to hook the snake and cast it into the water before it writhes into a snotty, slimy knot. It takes a bit of doing, but there is no better bait for hooking a Derby-winning striped bass.

I prefer to use a heavy mono leader about 24 inches long, tied to a barrel swivel that is then connected to my main line. I do not use a steel leader to protect against the sharp teeth of a bluefish. Depending on how the fish is hooked, there is always the risk a big bluefish may bite through the line, but I’ll take that chance.

This year, the Derby may revert to its roots — striped bass and bluefish. There has been a noticeable lack of bonito and false albacore.

In recent years, bonito have been scarce, but not albies. As of Friday, I had not heard any confirmed reports of either fish. There have been years when the albies arrived late in September and the bonito hit in October. I hope that will be the case, but either way I am content to chase stripers.

No fish stands for the Derby like the striped bass. I give full credit to the fishermen who pursue albies, bonito, and bluefish to the point of exhaustion. Good fishermen claim all three categories. And the boat bass winner deserves congratulations, even when all he or she did was crank a reel under the direction of a skilled charter captain.

But, in my mind, the shore bass winner will always be the Derby champ. He or she went toe to fin with a big bass in the suds and current, letting the fish make its first long run, then another, shorter this time, and several more until the time was right to apply more pressure and ease the fish to the shore.

Kids day is Sunday

The Kids Mini-Derby is Sunday, September 22, from 6 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 do the fishing 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.

Big kid reminder

And a reminder for big kids, the “Super Saturday” event begins on September 21, with bluefish. The fisherman who weighs in the heaviest bluefish from shore and boat this Saturday stands to win $500.

Bluefish is the species for the first week, followed by false albacore, striped bass, and bonito.

The Derby committee still needs volunteers to help out on the fillet table, mornings and evenings, 8-10. Contact Matt Malowski (matt@mvfishing.com) or sign up at the weigh station. Derby information is available at Island tackle shops or at mvderby.com.

Mill Pond is a muddle

While West Tisbury residents continue to discuss how to maintain their scenic, artificial mud puddle, communities across Massachusetts with less of a sense of environmental benightedness are dismantling dams left over from the industrial age and restoring streams and free passage for a variety of fish.

There appears to be no question that removal of the dam that creates the Mill Pond would benefit herring, perch, trout, and eels. Yet, the muddle over the puddle continues.

Meanwhile, last week, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan announced $148,000 in grants for river and wetland restoration projects in six communities.

All of the grants are funded by the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Ecological Restoration (DER). Your license dollars at work.

“In partnership with local communities, landowners and many other partners, public and private funds are invested in these projects to restore degraded habitats that benefit numerous fish and wildlife species,” said Commissioner Mary Griffin in a press release.

The projects include the removal of the Bartlett Dam, owned by the town of Lancaster, for the purposes of improving the ecological health of Wekepeke Brook; the restoration of natural stream flows to improve aquatic habitat in three rivers in the Housatonic River watershed, namely Pecks Brook, Larrywaug Brook, and the West Branch of the Housatonic River; and the Town Brook restoration project and the removal of the Off Billington Street Dam in Plymouth.

“The project will restore and enhance self-sustaining populations of anadromous fish through removal of the dam, dispense with a potential public safety hazard, and provide significant social and recreational benefits through its contributions to the Town Brook Greenway and the continuation of the Pilgrim Trail.”

Michael Tougias will speak about his latest book, a harrowing tale of an offshore Coast Guard rescue.

Michael Tougias tells stories that make the reader happy he or she is on dry land. He has the skill and talent required not to let his writing get in the way of facts that need no dramatic embellishment. The truth is awe-inspiring enough.

Imagine, setting out on a pitch-black February night in a 36-foot wooden boat into a howling winter blizzard knowing you would have to make it through roaring surf breaking on a sandbar. You get over the bar and then face 70-foot waves you must plow through without any navigational equipment, to look for a group of men desperately counting on your arrival. You could turn back, nobody would blame you, in those conditions.

The crew of the Chatham Coast Guard station, all volunteers, had plenty to consider the night of February 18, 1952, when called on to help rescue the crew of a tanker that had split in two.

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Bernard Webber, Junior Engineer Andrew Fitzgerald, Seaman Richard Livesey, and Seaman Irving Maske, who was not even assigned to the station but volunteered, boarded Coast Guard surf boat 36500 and headed through the surf. A wave smashed the windshield and ripped away the compass as they navigated Chatham Bar, but they did not turn back.

The surf boats of that era were designed to carry a crew of four, plus up to 12 people in a rescue. On that perilous night, the crew of the CG-36500, dressed in foul weather gear that seems laughable by today’s standards, rescued 32 of 33 men from the stern of the tanker Pendleton, because Bernie Webber was unwilling to leave anyone behind.

And his crew was only one part of the story. Another surf boat from Nantucket and a Coast Guard cutter joined the effort to rescue the crew of not one but two split tankers.

In May, I dashed into the Vineyard Haven library to get a book on CD for a long car ride to Vermont. I picked up, “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.” The story was riveting. Several times, I had to stop the CD or risk missing highway exits.

It is no surprise that Disney recognized a great story and has begun making a movie based on the book. Jim Whittaker is the producer. He made “Apollo 13,” “Cinderella Man,” and many other award-winning movies. Filming begins this winter, some of it on the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard, Mike said.

I met Michael Tougias about five years ago when he visited the Vineyard to talk about his book, “Ten Hours Until Dawn, The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do” (St. Martin’s). That was an equally gripping story about a rescue effort in February, 1978, when a northeaster of historic intensity struck New England.

On Tuesday, September 17, Mike will return to the Vineyard to give a slide presentation based on his newest book, “A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and Incredible Rescue.”

The common denominator in all of these stories is the sea and the extraordinary courage of often ordinary people, and the importance of the Coast Guard in every coastal community.

There has been some gnashing of teeth in Chilmark over the size and design of the new Coast Guard boathouse that will replace the 50-year-old boathouse destroyed by fire. Boathouses, like the surf boats, have evolved. Memories are short.

It was not that long ago that Chilmarkers were fretting because it appeared the station would be closed in a wave of federal cost-cutting. Longtime selectman, builder, and lobsterman Herbie Hancock, a Yankee of uncommon good sense, now gone and sorely missed, fought to keep it manned.

The station now maintains two 47-foot motor life boats and a rigid hull inflatable that flies. It is easy to take the Coast Guard for granted when the seas are calm and the weather is fine. But if you are an Island fisherman, motorboater or sailor, you know that when trouble strikes, you will be looking for that 47, or the distinctive Jayhawk helicopter.

On Tuesday, according to the press kit I received, Mike will use slides to describe the situation facing three men clinging to a tattered life raft 250 miles out to sea in the Gulf Stream.

“Trying to reach these survivors before it’s too late are four Coast Guardsmen battling hurricane force winds in their Jayhawk helicopter. They know the waves in the Gulf Stream will be extreme, but when they arrive they are astounded to find crashing seas of seventy feet, with some waves topping eighty feet. To lower the helicopter and then drop a rescue swimmer into such chaos is a high-risk proposition. The pilots wonder if they have a realistic chance of saving the sailors clinging to the broken life raft and if they will be able to retrieve their own rescue swimmer from the towering seas. Once they commit to the rescue, they find themselves in almost as much trouble as the survivors, facing several life and death decisions.”

Mike said he likes slide presentations as opposed to author readings, which he described as boring. “I like to transport the audience into the heart of the storm so that they ask themselves ‘what would I have done,’” he said.

The program begins at 7 pm and it’s free. Former Coasties, sailors, fishermen, and anyone with an appreciation for a dramatic story should enjoy the presentation.

Bare essentials

No buts about it, Corinna Majno-Kaufman of Aquinnah (aka the Seaweed lady) thinks her husband, Ken, deserves to be recognized for his commitment to fishing. Corinna was collecting seaweed early in the morning along the beach at Gay Head, she said in an email, when her husband spotted breaking fish just off the beach in a feeding frenzy.

Not wanting to get his clothes wet and reacting to some primeval urge, he stripped his clothes off and scrambled to the top of a nearby rock, apparently not considering the risks from a rogue bluefish or barnacles, and began fishing in the buff.

“I must have heard, ‘I got a bite’ because I suddenly looked up to see that, once again, my goofy and totally unpredictable husband had done it again,” Corinna said in an email. “And I could only smile and wish I had my camera.”

Luckily, she said, a couple came walking by and took a photo of his posterior for posterity. I suspect it will be featured in their vacation album. She did send it along for publication, but this is a family newspaper.

Derby begins

Spool those reels, sharpen those hooks, and grind the coffee beans. The 68th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish derby begins at 12:01 am, Sunday. The Derby committee needs volunteers to help out on the fillet table, mornings and evenings, 8-10. Contact Matt Malowski (matt@mvfishing.com) or sign up at the weigh station. Derby information is available at Island tackle shops or at mvderby.com.

Jerry Hawke fed the hungry Times staff some of his blue ribbon smoked bluefish.

Jerry Hawke downplays his smoked bluefish success in the annual Ag Fair. There were only two entries the year he won a blue ribbon, he said. I suspect that is not true.

Jerry is a longtime Vineyard Haven seasonal resident, former Treasury official and not quite retired lawyer with the Washington, D.C., firm of Arnold and Porter. But as is true of many Islanders with impressive professional resumes, in local conversation he would rather be known for his fishing skills, or more specifically his ability to smoke a bluefish.

Bluefish in the whole does not generate the same culinary respect accorded flashier species. Some people say it has a strong taste, others find it oily. Perhaps. I find striper to be pretty bland.

Where bluefish excels is on the end of a line, as a hard fighting fish, and in the smoker, where it picks up the smoke, but true to its nature, is never overcome by it. Many fishermen, unless they are fishing for the market, seldom keep more than one or two fish, if any. Buy a smoker and you will gain a new appreciation for bluefish.

Ken Berkov, Jerry’s morning coffee buddy and sometime supplier of bluefish, told me Jerry makes superb smoked bluefish. He suggested I give him a call, which I did, because I wanted to pick up some pointers.

I have a Masterbuilt smoker I share with Tom Robinson. It is electric and digital. Jerry uses a Lil Chief smoker, a minimalist aluminum box that is one step above a tin can.

Jerry said he likes to fish. He owns a 26-foot twin-engine Mako and likes to go out to Middle Ground, Hedge Fence and sometimes Wasque, all popular spots to find blues. Although of late it has not been that easy, he said.

“There was a time when we could go out to Middle Ground and come back with a dozen bluefish in an hour or an hour and a half, and I had to figure out what to do with them,” he said about how he became a smoker. “And my friend Art Buchwald always made fun of me because I tried to give away the bluefish and he didn’t want to have any part of it.”

At some point along the summer social circuit he encountered some pretty good smoked bluefish. He figured he would try his hand at it.

“I started getting pretty good results and entered it in the Fair,” he said, where he won a number of blue ribbons. With some pride he noted, “The way I characterize it to my kids is that the smoked bluefish contest at the Ag Fair is open to anyone in the world so if you get a blue ribbon it is the equivalent of a world championship.”

He began vacuum sealing his bluefish, a sign of advanced technique, and began handing it out to friends, a sign of confidence in the product.

Jerry told me his Lil Chief smoker harbors the secret of his success. “It creates a lot of smoke, but not much heat,” he said. “And if I were going to reveal the secret of producing nice, moist fish, that’s it. Because I think a lot of people smoke their bluefish in a charcoal grill, or smoker, but it dries it out, it cooks it. The Lil Chief doesn’t cook the fish.”

He brines his fish the night before then lets it dry before putting it in the smoker. The brine is comprised of one cup kosher salt and one cup brown sugar dissolved in water along with several “secret” ingredients. I pressed. “The one secret, after it’s all dried I sprinkle it with dill weed and the dill weed gives it a very nice flavor.”

Jerry said he likes to eat his bluefish with cream cheese and Triscuits. “It’s really delicious,” he said.

One problem is that the main ingredient has been tough to find. “I was out with my son the other day on Middle Ground and we came back with one fish,” Jerry said. Then he dropped the bombshell. “So I went out and bought a few fillets.”

I recoiled in horror at the thought of buying bluefish to smoke. What was Jerry thinking? He admitted, four years ago he bought some bluefish to smoke. His grandson was horrified. “He went around telling people, ‘it may be good fish but he didn’t catch it.’”

On Tuesday, Jerry was headed back to D.C. with several packs of smoked bluefish. He offered to drop one off at The Times. I said any piece of food left in a newspaper office is devoured like a pig in a piranha-filled Amazon tributary. And I was correct.

The bluefish was peppery and moist. Quite tasty. I forgot to suggest he stop by the White House and give frequent Vineyard visitor President Barack Obama a taste. He could use a bit of a kick.

Mystery patch

David Christensen of West Tisbury came by The Times office with a well worn patch he discovered in his house. The patch bears an image of the Island under the name, “Roccus chasers.” He assumes it is a long-forgotten fishing club. Can anyone solve the mystery and tell us something about this patch?

Derby begins Sunday

The 67th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby starts at 12:01 am, Sunday, September 15. There is a lot going on so check out the rules carefully. Also, Kids Day is Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Oak Bluffs Steamship wharf from 6 to 8 am. Free for kids and no derby pin is required. The awards ceremony is Sunday, Oct. 20, at 1 pm at Farm Neck Golf Club.

Heart-breaking loss

I speak for many fishermen and members of the Derby committee, on which I once served, when I describe Ed and Maryanne Jerome as part of the bedrock of the Derby. Together, Ed at the front and Maryanne behind the scenes, they have helped guide the Derby over more than three decades.

Ed, a well-respected school principal who, when called upon, returned from retirement like Cincinnatus from his fields, has always brought a quiet confidence to the Derby, and the ability to navigate the shoals and bring often quarrelsome fishermen together — not easy.

Under normal circumstances, I would have expected to find Ed and Maryanne anticipating the start of the 68th Derby with their characteristic enthusiasm. But on Sunday they suffered the grievous loss of their son, Joseph Edward, 24, to illness.

It is a heavy burden. One their community will help them bear when they bury Joseph on Sunday.