Gone Fishin'

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.”

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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. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

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. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

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.

Derby organizers Al Brickman (far left) and Ben Morton (far right) arrive in Boston with a prize catch. — Photo courtesy of c. 1960. Museum Collections.

Friday, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum will host an opening reception for its newest exhibit, “One on the Line: The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.”

The exhibition will feature tackle, photos, and tales that illustrate the rich history of the Derby, which begins its 68th year on September 15. I look forward to seeing the show and encourage others to take the time to visit the museum, which is to be congratulated for seeing the value in this long-running Island event.

Anyone who skips this exhibit because he or she thinks the Derby is only about fishing makes a mistake. Striped bass and bluefish, the Derby staples for the past 67 years, and false albacore and bonito, later added to the contest, and the long since forgotten weakfish, are only the glue that binds a collection of characters and experiences — the good, the bad, and the whacky — that offer insights into the Island community.

“This exhibition will trace the Derby’s rich history from its start in 1946 as an event to extend the shoulder season for Island tourism to an annual tradition that has brought people together from across the country,” the museum says in a website introduction to the exhibit.

As we emerge from the busy summer and another presidential visit, it is worth recalling that the Vineyard tourist economy use to shut down after Labor Day. More than 60 years ago, year-round Islanders struggled to make ends meet over the long off-season.

A group of enterprising Islanders seized on the Island’s reputation for great fall fishing as a way to extend the shoulder season, and the Derby was born. The Island, the fishing, and the Derby have changed a lot since the days when one of the top prizes was a house lot in Gay Head. What has not changed is the passion fishermen continue to bring to the month-long contest.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum will move to new, larger quarters on a hill overlooking Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven. The current exhibit is limited by the space constraints of the Edgartown location.

Were it not, I would have had some suggestions for the types of dioramas and interactive exhibits so popular in museums around the country. All would be based on real life Derby experiences.

For example, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has lifelike scenes of native life. I would create a display that featured a fisherman in a beach buggy. Lures would be embedded in the sun visor, there would be several empty pizza boxes on the seat and the fisherman would be fast asleep.

A digital game exhibit designed to appeal to the X-box generation could replicate fishing for albies from the jetties in Menemsha Harbor. The object, each time the fish run through the channel, is to cast in front of them. The player would have to avoid hooking the lures of fisherman on the other side of the channel. The little figures would yell epithets at each other. Hook a fish and you have to navigate around obstacles as you scramble to the end of the rocks where you attempt to net the fish.

Museum visitors can get a “reel” taste of the Derby at 5:30 pm, Thursday, September 5, when Janet Messineo will give a talk called “Derby Dames: Women in the Derby and the Sport of Fishing.”

Janet, guest curator of “One on the Line,” is a longtime member of the Derby committee, a member of the Derby Hall of Fame and quite a fisherman.

I first met Janet one morning at Wasque Point. A line of fishermen were plugging away hoping to hook a bluefish. There was little happening so I was chatting with a group of guys, the Massimino brothers, I recall, from Jersey as they sipped sambuca and waited for something to happen.

A sprite of a woman walked down and cast out a butterfish on a weight. Bait fishing at Wasque was frowned upon because it interfered with casting. There were several comments, all negative, until the woman’s rod bent and she pulled out a very big bluefish. The next day, many fishermen had switched from casting lures to heaving bait.

The exhibit opening reception is from 5 to 7 pm, Friday, August 30, at the Museum Galleries, 59 School Street, Edgartown. Longtime Derby President Ed Jerome and Janet will greet guests. The reception is free for museum members, $7 for non-members.

Draft Amendment on bycatch discards

Heads up, tuna fishermen. NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a proposed rule which aims to reduce discards of Atlantic bluefin tuna and ensure compliance with international quotas.

“All those involved in the bluefin tuna fishery — scientists, managers, fishers and environmentalists — share a common concern about the large number of dead discards of incidentally caught bluefin tuna,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries in a press release.

NOAA Fisheries has identified bluefin tuna as a species of concern, but it is not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Copies of the proposed rule and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement are available upon request from the NOAA Fisheries Highly Migratory Species Management Division at 978-281-9260, and online at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.

In May, Brad Chase (left) and Johnny Hoy inspected the Mill Pond dam in West Tisbury that thwarts the upstream passage of river herring. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

President Barack Obama is out of touch with a majority of America. I know this because he has returned to Martha’s Vineyard for his fourth vacation in five years and has yet to go fishing, though he has found plenty of time to play golf.

There are about 60 million fishermen in the country, compared with 21 million golfers, many of whom are ex-fishermen. Why does a fisherman turn to golf? Because fishing is not frustrating enough, that’s why.

I can think of plenty of reasons why the president should go fishing on Martha’s Vineyard. There is the excitement of pulling a snapping bluefish out of the waves on South Beach, or hauling a big striped bass from among the boulders off Gay Head. And there is Guantanamo Bay.

Were he to gain an understanding of the fishing psyche, even a glimmer, it might lead him to finally fulfill the campaign promise he made more than five years ago to close Guantanamo Bay prison, where 166 detainees remain.

I understand it is a tricky question. We don’t want them here, we don’t want them in Guantanamo — we don’t much care what the Cubans want — and we hesitate to send the prisoners back to their home countries. The solution is to teach the detainees to fish.

Guantanamo Bay sounds like the perfect spot for a fishing contest modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the fishing tournament held every fall and now entering its 68th year. As most Islanders know, the Derby is an all-consuming event that takes precedence over most every other activity. Martha’s Vineyard is filled with once productive men and women who became Derby fishermen.

I propose that the State Department organize the Guantanamo Bay tarpon and snook fishing derby. It would present a new U.S. face to all those countries, religious organizations, and leaders we thought were not going to hate us anymore, but still do.

The Vineyard derby is organized around shore and boat divisions with special categories for men, women, and kids. The Guantanamo derby categories might include Taliban, Al Qaeda, Marines, and Cubans. Just a thought.

The detainees could spend some of the prison time they now devote to mischief and wondering when, if ever, they will return home, or face trial, to building fishing rods and lures. If the fishing is good, as I hear it is in Cuba, the bay could become a fishing destination on a par with spots in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas. It could even become the new site of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, solving yet another nettlesome political debate.

One day, the prison might become a high-end fishing resort. The cells would be luxury rooms with electrical power supplied by solar panels built in China. The detainees could return as guides.

That would be a lot better outcome than the current alternative.

Fishing stats

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, nearly 40 million licensed anglers generate more than $46 billion in retail sales, with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy, creating employment for more than 828,000 people.

According to the survey, freshwater anglers spent $25.7 billion on freshwater fishing trips and equipment. Saltwater fishing attracted 8.9 million anglers who enjoyed 86 million trips on 99 million days. They spent $10.3 billion on their trips and equipment.

Among the nearly 8.9 million saltwater anglers, 2.1 million fished for

striped bass for 18 million fisherman/days (f/d). Two million anglers fished for flatfish, which includes flounder and halibut, on 22 million f/d. Also popular were red drum (redfish) and sea trout (weakfish) with 1.5 million and 1.1 million anglers who fished for 21 million and 15 million f/d respectively.

Bass quota closed

The Massachusetts 2013 commercial striped bass season ended last Tuesday, August 7, after the Division of Marine Fisheries projected the state’s quota of 997,869 pounds would be taken by the end of the day.

Dealers can import bass from out of state, but the fish must meet or exceed the 34-inch commercial minimum size limit, bear a tag designating the state of origin, and meet or exceed that state’s minimum size.

Striped bass is a highly managed species. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responsible for managing migratory species, including striped bass, and implementing management plans and quotas along the East Coast.

In 2012, the state’s commercial quota was 1,057,783 pounds. Fishermen caught 1,218,426 pounds, about a 15 percent overage. As a result, in 2013 the quota was set at 997,869 pounds to make up the difference.

Herring

NOAA Fisheries last week announced that listing alewife or blueback herring, collectively known as river herring, as either threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act is not warranted at this time.

NOAA said in a press release it would work with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and other partners “to implement a coordinated coast-wide effort to continue to address data gaps and proactively conserve river herring and their habitat,” according to a press release.

One of the many important steps needed to restore herring populations is to provide unimpeded access to their natal streams so they may spawn. Increasingly, communities up and down the coast are removing the dams and blockages that helped contribute to the current problem.

The installation of fishways that help herring navigate up or around obstacles, and in some cases, dam removal is part of the solution.

Last year, a partnership of nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies began a project aimed at restoring the Mill River, an important tributary of the Taunton River. The project includes the removal of three dams and the installation of a fishway. Last month, work began to remove the Whittenton Dam. River herring have begun to return.

Closer to home, the debate continues in West Tisbury over the fate of the Mill Pond dam. Earlier this spring, Division of Marine Fisheries herring expert Brad Chase said that several species of fish would benefit from some human assistance to pass over dams that now block long-lost natural water passageways. What are we waiting for?

When the fishing is good I am creative. I think about what lures I might use to catch a striped bass, I consider the best tides and I explore different spots. When the fishing is slow I think strange thoughts.

For example, I thought that the cast of Swamp People, a reality show about Cajun alligator hunters, should be brought to the Island to live with the cast of the “The Vineyard,” a new docu-soap about young people living and working on-Island built around around the premise that wearing a Black Dog tee-shirt will cut off the flow of blood to the brain. Now that would be worth watching.

Last season, Cajun gator hunters Liz Cavalier and her daughter Jessica bagged a 13-foot, 900-pound gator in the swamp. Imagine how Liz would react to The Vineyard eye-roll — like, I mean, like, are you really going to wear those camo boots, like to the beach — Barbie gumbo!

Speaking of poor taste, a few weeks ago Steve Maxner of West Tisbury dropped off a letter addressed to me. Steve is a strong opponent of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark tournament.

He and I disagree. It is cordial. I am no fan of shark fishing, I prefer other species, but as long as the fishermen follow state and federal regulations, I think they should be free to pursue sharks.

The main threats to shark populations come from long-liners and finners, not sport fishermen. The save-the-shark folks would be more effective if they enlisted fishermen in the effort to eliminate the killing of sharks solely for their fins, rather than fighting with men and women just out for a day of fun.

But Steve is a thoughtful guy. “It seems to me,” he wrote, “that beyond the pros and cons of continuing the tournament there is a larger, far more important issue at stake, namely, what message do we send to our children about stewardship of the ocean and respect for its inhabitants.”

Steve was referring to fishermen who displayed shark heads on the dock. One shark head was adorned with sunglasses and had a beer can in its mouth. Another, had a manikin arm in its mouth.

Steve thought it was offensive and in bad taste. A desecration, he called it. No question about it. Sportsmen respect their catch.

Fishermen come in all stripes. More than 80 boats participated in the tournament. That’s probably more than 300 fishermen. Can we expect shark fishermen to adopt the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Nope. Were they all guilty of boorish behavior? I doubt it. No more than some of the folks who attend a winter hockey game. Unfortunately, a lack of class cuts across all sports.

The best thing to do is try to set a good example and teach your kids well.

Bow, wow

We have entered the so-called dog days of August. The fishing is slow from the shore and mildly better from the boat. But getting to the beach or to the boat through August traffic can be a chore. Still, a bad day of fishing beats a good day if you get your head lopped off.

Last week, an Alabama fisherman was tearing along the the Tennessee River in a bass boat at 70 mph when he hit a low hanging power line.

The accident nearly decapitated the 65-year-old Limestone County man, whose name wasn’t immediately released, according to news reports.

The Decatur Daily reported that the power line runs to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant at Athens. In an example of understatement, a TVA statement described the accident as “unusual and unfortunate.”

Authorities stopped boat traffic after the fatality to move the line. Too bad they did not think of that sooner.

And a good day of fishing is not worth getting dragged over the side of your boat when far from shore.

That is what happened to 54-year-old Anthony Wichman while he was fishing 14 miles off the shore of Kauai in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Tony hooked a 230-pound ahi tuna. After an hour-long fight he attempted to bring the tuna on board, it suddenly dived and overturned his 14-foot boat, according to a report I read in the Outdoor Hub newsletter.

I pause for a moment to question what anyone would be doing 14 miles offshore in a 14-foot boat, but maybe Hawaiians equate safe distance with boat length.

“The incident happened when Wichman gaffed the tuna in the eye, causing it to convulsively dive straight down,” reporter daniel Xu wrote. “When it did, a line attached to the struggling fish hooked around Wichman’s ankle and took him along. While underwater, the angler was able to free himself and cling to the side of the boat. Thankfully, Wichman had brought along a waterproof phone and was able to call his daughter, who in turn notified the Coast Guard.”

A rescue helicopter hoisted Tony up to safety. When his friends arrived to tow his boat they also found the tuna still on the line.

Golden key

Bob Lane told me in an email that The Trustees of Reservations will, under some conditions, provide night fishing beach access to Long Point in West Tisbury.

Access is through the locked winter gate at the end of Deep Bottom Road. Fishermen who want the key must contact Matt Sudarsky at 508-693-2117, 508-693-9961, or 774-226-3276 and leave a message for Long Point supervisor Dave at 508-693-3678 that you will be on the property. Matt can fill you in on the other details.

Fishing reports

What is going on around the Island? I checked with the guys who ought to know.

At Coop’s, in Edgartown, Cooper Gilkes said blues have been in and out off Chappy and on the shoals. The big fish provide exciting top water action, Coop said. Shore fishing is slow but fishermen willing to put in their time are finding bass.

I spoke to Steve Purcell, owner of Larry’s in Edgartown. He described a mixed bag. Inshore, scup provide plenty of fun with some jumbos up-Island that are attracting the New Bedford fleet. Bass are in search of colder water. Late night up-Island fishermen are finding stripers, he said. Steve said if the “trillions” of sand eels now out at the Hooter off the southeast corner of the Vineyard move in closer to shore, watch out.

At Dick’s in Oak Bluffs, Doug Asselin said that the warm water temperatures have slowed the fishing down near shore but fishermen who are able to get out to the Hooter are finding bonito, striped bass, and bluefish. “It’s nice if you have a boat that can handle it,” Doug said of the trip out to the southeast corner of the Vineyard.

The operative notion is “can handle it.” Sea conditions can change quickly with the tide and wind. The Hooter is no place to be caught in a small boat.

John Schillinger holds a bonito he caught last year with his fishing pal and charter skipper Phil Cronin. We hope they arrive soon in greater numbers. — Photo courtesy of Capawock Charters

When it comes to fish, I am not a food snob. I am an everyman. I occupy a spot in the fishing culinary universe somewhere between Gorton’s frozen fish sticks slathered in ketchup and fish submerged in a sauce built with the complexity of DNA.

I like to cook but I am unwilling to treat chefs with the reverence reserved for heart transplant surgeons and successful quarterbacks — particularly if they have never turned a profit in a restaurant or won a super bowl ring.

And I do not think the tab for a good dinner out on the Vineyard should be equal to the cost of a half-day charter. Which is why I prefer to cook at home.

Fresh fish is one of the luxuries we enjoy on the Vineyard. If you can’t catch a fish, there are some very good back-ups. When the fishing is slow I rely on Louie and Jeff at The Net Result.

Earlier this season, I had pretty good luck with striped bass and that is how I stumbled upon a recipe that I used to concoct bass fish cakes. In my view, striped bass does not freeze well. A few months in the freezer and it is best used for stew.

Bass is a dense fish. It lends itself to spices and a charcoal grill but can get a bit chewy when overcooked. The beauty of fish cakes is that they make great leftovers and freeze well.

In years past, I followed the traditional method of making fish cakes that involved cooked potato mixed with cooked fish formed into patties. They were fine, but I thought there must be a better way than reworking the two main ingredients.

For inspiration, I turned to America’s Test Kitchen, a great show that airs on PBS. Think of it as the food equivalent of Consumer Reports, the nonprofit consumer review organization.

Each week, the hosts dissect a recipe and create dishes that are not out of the reach of the average home cook. I went on their web site and found a recipe for salmon cakes that came complete with an instructional video.

I substituted bass. I have followed the recipe three times and experimented each time. I use 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard as opposed to 1 teaspoon because I like the added kick. I also throw in some Old Bay. One time I added dill from the garden. The end result is pretty tasty and simple to knock off.

If there is one problem, it is having enough uneaten fish cakes left to freeze. Here is the basic recipe from the Test Kitchen in a nutshell.

Catch a striped bass, although I suspect fluke, sea bass or even scup would do.

Into a large bowl throw: 3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs; 1 thinly sliced scallion; 1 minced shallot; 2 tbsp parsley; 2 tbsp mayo; 1 tsp Dijon mustard; 4 tsp lemon juice; 3/4 tsp salt; pinch of cayenne.

Cut 1.5 pounds of fresh striper into 1 inch pieces and chop in a food processor in three batches so as not to overload the processor. In my case, I trim the red meat out of the fillets.

Add the fish to the bowl and fold in to the mixture.

Use 1/3 cup dry measure and drop cakes onto a tray.

Pick up the roughly formed cakes and coat with Panko bread crumbs on each side.

Drop into pan with about 1/2 cup hot oil and cook about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown.

For the sophisticated

I will admit that at about $20 a pound, striped bass from the fish market may be a little too costly to turn into a dish once reserved for leftover cod.

So I have included a recipe published in the New York Times magazine. The more sophisticated among us will be happy to name-drop.

The recipe was included in Visiting the Source | A Chef in the Field: Striped Bass, by Jeff Schwarz and Greg Kessler.

“Grilling striped bass is my favorite way to cook the fish because the skin takes on a char that goes well with other strong flavors like oregano-laden chimichurri sauce,” the authors wrote. “Usually paired with meat, chimichurri plays off of bass just as beautifully, as long as you use a light vinegar like champagne or rice wine, rather than balsamic.”

Huh? What is chimichurri sauce, I thought.

“In preparing the fish, make sure the grill is hot first and be patient about flipping — you usually want about 4 minutes per side for a 7 to 8 ounce piece. Drop some local lacinato kale and thinly sliced yellow squash onto the grill as well for a charred vegetable side.”

Huh? What is lacinato kale, I thought.

Anyhow, here is the short version. Coat the fish with olive oil and throw it on the grill. Top with a spoonful of the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri Sauce: 1 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley; 2 tablespoons fresh oregano; 1 small garlic clove or 1 small shallot; 1 tablespoon champagne or rice wine vinegar; 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice; 1/3 cup olive oil; ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes; salt.

1. Finely chop the parsley, oregano, and garlic or shallot. Place in a medium bowl. 2. Stir in the vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and chili flakes. Add salt to taste.

Lobsterville 24/7 ends

I hear a good share of complaints in tackle shops, on the beach, and on the phone about fishing, fishermen, and the world in general. I have my own share of complaints. But sometimes good results can come from speaking to those responsible.

In my opinion, Lobsterville Beach is one of the premier fly fishing spots for striped bass in New England. Unfortunately, there is limited space to park at the beginning and end of the approximately mile long beach. Town leaders have the difficult task of dividing up limited parking between residents and non-residents.

For years, the signs posted along the resident-only side of the first Lobsterville Beach parking area said the parking restriction was in effect 24 hours and included a threatening image of a tow truck. It was a disappointing image for an Islander who had arrived at night to find the non-resident area full, the resident-only area virtually empty, and know bass were likely breaking right off the beach.

Serious striped bass fishermen come out when the sun goes down. After about 5 pm, fishermen are pretty much allowed to fish from most any Island beach, even in towns that adhere to a strict resident-only parking policy. For example, Chilmark allows fishermen to park in the Squibnocket beach parking lot after 5 pm.

More than a month ago, I raised the sign topic with Aquinnah selectman Beverly Wright and asked if the town would consider modifying the rule. She said the town was preparing to order new signs and recommended that I speak to Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain. So I did.

For those of you not familiar with Chief Belain, he is an Islander in the strictest sense of the word. A member of the Wampanoag Tribe, he is the kind of congenial, accessible police chief every small community would hope to have lead its department.

When I spoke to Chief Belain, I asked him if he would support modifying the existing parking policy. He readily agreed.

On June 18, on Chief Belain’s recommendation, Aquinnah selectmen Beverly Wright, Spencer Booker, and Jim Newman agreed that from 5 pm to 9 am, non-residents may park in the resident-only section of Lobsterville Beach. I think those changes reflect the spirit of neighborliness that is integral to our Island culture and fishermen. Thanks.

Humpback whales feeding on small sand eels off Chatham. As a group the whales corral the sand eels with a bubble "net" that disorients the baitfish. — Photo by Jim Fraser

Many Island fishermen are infected with tuna fever. One of the symptoms of this affliction is the need to make a long trip east to the waters off Chatham.

Jim Fraser of Oak Bluffs, an enthusiastic fisherman, has tuna fever. Tuna fisherman do not always catch a tuna or even see a tuna. But much about fishing is about the experience and the bait-rich waters off Chatham also attract feeding whales.

On Friday, Jim sent me several photos from a recent fishing trip he made with John Crocker on John’s boat the Jean Marine out of Tashmoo. I asked Jim to tell me a little bit about the experience and how long it takes to get to Chatham from the Vineyard.

“We had one hook-up and the fish ran pretty deep intothe spool, but one of the crimps failed and we came home empty,” Jim told me in an email. “It was maddening and I really try to make sure everything is perfect, but sometimes stuff happens.

“It is common to troll for hours on end without a sniff and then all hell breaks loose with a screaming strike just when you dozed off from the rumble of the engine and the hot sun, or you just sat down to eat your lunch. Other times you hook up within minutes of putting the lures in the water — those are exceptional [and I suspect he meant to say, the exceptions].”

Jim said it can take from two hours in a 10-knot vessel to about an hour in a faster boat. “If you are in a 10-knot vessel, you will be waking up very early to get there by daybreak,” Jim said.

It is a popular destination for the Cape and islands fishermen because of the abundance of bait and the fish it attracts. That is not the case south of the Vineyard, which Jim describes as pretty much a desert.

“Personally, I would like to see artificial reefs be deployed like in southern states, to stabilize the bottom and to create habitat for marine life,” Jim said. “Mass does very little in this area. The bait holds out east because there are strong currents with large depth changes which causes upwelling, bringing up nutrients which starts the entire food chain right up to the whales. The water at times looks like it is raining due to all the bait in the water, for miles on end.”

Not all the fishing is done with rod and reel. On calm days, Jim said, commercial harpoon fishermen in “stick boats” and working in conjunction with a pilot in a spotter plane pursue tuna on the surface.

“If the tuna surface-feed — imagine 200- to 300-plus pound fish feeding in a bluefish-like blitz — some of theharpoon boats will run hard right into the schools of breaking fish with a guy on the pulpit, which I find rather annoying, sort of like fishing for bonito in front of Tashmoo during the Derby!

“Like most recreational tuna fisherman, I tend to enjoy trolling and casting for them and fighting them standing up with rod in hand so I usually stay on the outside of the chaos and just watch the show.”

Tuna fishing off Chatham is not for the novice. Jim said the cold water rising up from the bottom can create a dense fog. “Half the time it is so foggy you can’t see the bow of your boat and the other half of the time the wind is blowing so hard from the west it makes the 50-plus-mile ride home a back-breaker. So you have to pick your day.”

A federal permit is required to fish for tuna, and thereare a number of state and federal regulations to follow. Jim recommends anyone considering the trip first go out with someone who is familiar with the area and the fishing there.

“Also, fishing for tuna isn’t exactly cheap either. The tackle is rather pricey and the fuel costs are substantial. But tuna fisherman get addicted to this and usually remember the experience and not the fuel bill.

“A tuna fisherman once said, ‘I pray to God that when I die my wife does not sell my tackle for what I told her I paid for it.'”

The winning kids (l-r): Donald O'Shaugnessy, Charlotte Packer, Nathaniel Packer, Molly Menton, Elizabeth O'Brien, Darien Kral, Michael Gibson and Joseph Medeiros. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The message delivered at the awards ceremony for the 14th annual Martha’s Vineyard Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9261 annual Fluke Derby was that the girls can play with the big boys.

In the first year that the tournament eliminated the separate women’s division, Molly Menton, 10, a sprite of a fifth grader at the Tisbury School, hauled in a 9.47-pound fluke to claim the coveted title of VFW Fluke King — actually, Queen — beating out some pretty grizzled veteran fishermen.

“I thought it was going to be a shark,” Molly, wearing a crown and holding a big trophy, told me when I asked her what she thought as she reeled in such a big fish.

The awards ceremony, held inside the air-conditioned comfort of the VFW dining room, was very much a come-as-you-are event, very much toned down compared with other items on the Vineyard summer social circuit. Sunburnt men in tee-shirts traded fish tales, and many looked very, very tired.

The ceremony began with an auction of donated items. The Possible Dreams, the gala August fundraiser, it was not. Unique, it was.

Auctioneer, tireless tournament organizer, and all-around good guy Peter Herrmann held up a beer mug with the fluke logo on it. Before the bidding could start he held up its companion glass and added a caveat. “This one does have a slight chip in it,” he said. That got a big laugh and attracted a top bid of $11.

Caught up in the spirit, I bid $22 for a set of unchipped mugs. Rick Harvey bid $23. “Thank you,” my wife, Norma, said to Rick. “I’ll chip in the dollar.”

Although the tournament rewards individual catches, the real competition is among the teams. This is very much an Islander’s contest, and many of the fishermen know each other. With team names like Slab Men, Fluke Skywalker (AKA the Packer Family), and Girl Power (the O’Briens), they look forward to bumping the competing teams off the leader board.

The fluke fishing was tough for the 130 or so entrants, and the daily tallies of the four heaviest fish weighed in each day by the 17 registered teams reflected it. Unlike past years, when fish in the three-pound range would be left behind in the cooler, fish smaller than that hit the scale.

Once the totals were in, there was little surprise when Peter Hermann announced that the Sole Men, with a total weight of 37.92 pounds, were the 2013 team champs. For Cooper Gilkes and Rick Harvey, they were in familiar territory.

For their young teammate, Donald O’Shaughnessy, who landed an 8.70-pound fish that helped push Sole Men into the lead and won him the teen prize, the tournament was a learning experience about the value of owning an alarm clock.

In the wonderfully written book, “A River Runs Through It,” (University of Chicago Press), Norman Maclean included a telling exchange between his brother, the main character Paul Maclean, a fly fisherman, and his sister’s boyfriend, Neal Burns, when Neal arrives late to go fishing.

Neal’s excuse is that he didn’t get in until late. Paul replies that he didn’t get in at all but he made it. And he explains, “Neal, in Montana there’s three things we’re never late for: church, work, and fishing.”

Membership in the Sole Men crew requires that sort of single-minded dedication to fishing. The plan was to leave Coop’s at 3 am, drive to the launch ramp at West Basin in Aquinnah and be on the water for the bite at first light. Early Sunday morning, Donald was not at Coop’s at the appointed time. After waiting a reasonable time for Donald, the men left.

Donald’s mom, Janna, drove her son up to Menemsha at 5 am, in time to meet Coop and Rick before they left the harbor. Taking a page from the film Captains Courageous, the men instructed Donald to remain in the front of the boat in exile. If he paused in his jigging he was instructed to keep fishing.

“At the end, he was getting real tired,” Rick said.

At the awards ceremony, Janna tried to take the blame because her alarm did not go off.

“It’s my fault,” she said. Coop would not hear it.

“No, it’s not,” he said.

I asked Donald about his day. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I felt like I was in jail.”

VFW Fluke Tournament results

Adult division: Chuck Hibbett (7.66); Bill Dreyer (7.5); Sheldon Ebanks (7.42). Kids 12 and under: Molly Menton (9.47); Charlotte Packer (5.62); Dariene Kral (5.13); Nathaniel Packer (4.82); Joseph Mederios (3.55). Teens 13-16: Donald O’Shaughnessey (8.70); Elizabeth O’Brien (3.36); Michael Gibson (3.29). Largest sea bass: Andre Levesque (5.04).

Launch ramp sweep

Last Thursday, I reported on all the boats and trailers left parked for days and even weeks at the Lagoon Pond launch ramp, taking up very valuable and limited space.

Thursday morning, I heard from Environmental Police Sergeant Mike Camire. He said he had cited every vehicle/boat/trailer that was there illegally, and he said if they were still there when he returned, he would have them towed.

That was good news to Ed Lepore, who called and happily reported that parking spaces were opening up, and a late model Toyota and boat that he found particularly grating, which had been left for more than a week, were gone, along with one or two boats and trailers.

In an update, Sergeant Camire said one problem he had encountered is that there is no designated tow lot. He said he would continue to check on the ramp until the situation improves. Seems to me we have what we need to start an artificial reef system.

On Sunday, the ramp needed a cop just to direct traffic, with people launching and hauling boats. It was a mess.

There are some simple courtesies people could practice that would make it more pleasant for everyone. Here are a few: load your boat before you get to the ramp; don’t tie up to the dock and block other people; and double up with another member of your group, if you are not hauling a trailer.

Bonito arrive

Bonito have arrived. I heard this week from multiple sources about bonito caught in Island waters, mostly off East Beach. Nicholas Wall won Coop’s Roberto Germani trophy, for the first bonito caught and released.

I have mixed feelings about this news. I love to catch bonito, and it is a delicious fish to eat. But it can be very aggravating to fish for the often finicky, elusive bonito. Do we need another source of insanity on the Island right now?

Shark circus comes to town

The 27th annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament comes to town Thursday through Saturday. The weigh-in spectacle on both sides of the scale takes place between 3:30 and 7 pm on Friday and 3:30 and 6:30 pm on Saturday.