Gone Fishin' : Derby trio take over top striper spots
Tuesday evening I watched boat lights cross the dark horizon as I sat on the beach at Moshup Trail hoping for a strike. Nomans Island was in the distance but not visible on a cloudy night with no moon.
I suspected one or more of the boats I watched making for Gay Head was carrying a big striped bass. That same evening three of Martha's Vineyard's best up-Island bass fishermen walked into the weigh station in Edgartown and demonstrated once again that past Derby accolades were no flukes.
One - two - three. Lev Wlodyka weighed in a 46.82-pound striped bass, Morgan Child weighed in a 46.74-pounder and Nicholas Warburton's bass tipped the scales at 41.09 pounds.
Lev's fish propelled him to the lead in the boat bass division. It is as familiar a spot for Lev as is the stage at the Derby awards ceremony. All three men are pals and were fishing together.
Tom Robinson, Ally Moore, and I arrived just after sunset on a rising tide. We had a bucket of fresh squid, generously provided by Tom's neighbor Don, and several bunker in various states of thaw.
We should have caught fish, even one fish, but we caught no fish. Midway through the evening our discussion, which had ranged across various topics, turned to Lev, who had been quiet so far in the Derby, Tom mentioned.
"Lev's not the kind of guy who brings in a 20- or 30- pounder," I opined (bait fishing lends itself to opining). "When he brings in a fish it will be a big one."
But our immediate concern was not Lev's Derby fortunes; it was our lack of any luck. We were sitting on one of the Vineyard's fabled beaches with fresh bait during the fabled "fall run" and after two hours not one of us had caught a bass, a blue, a scup, a skate.
Our rods were spread out across the beach tips illuminated with small lights so that should a fish strike the waving of the rod would be clearly visible. We sat together. Ally and Tom had the longer sprints but there would be no need for speed that night.
Photo by Louisa Gould
"We should make one of those reality TV fishing shows," I said. "But instead of "Deadliest Catch" we can call it "Most Tedious Catch."
The next morning my wife Norma asked me a fairly routine question. "Are you fishing tonight?" I said I was. "Maybe eventually you'll do some catching," she said encouragingly.
The truth is this Derby the fishing is slow. Many fishermen blame the persistent east winds. There is some truth to the saying, "West is best, East is least."
Long-time Derby president Ed Jerome agreed with my assessment. "It's been awfully slow, really slow," said Ed when I spoke to him yesterday. Every true Derby fisherman embodies the spirit of the hit play "Annie" and Ed is no exception. "Maybe things will change tomorrow," he said.
Lev told me that Tuesday night was the first time in five trips that he caught a bass. He said he had looked at hundreds of spots before he found a significant concentration of bass. "It's been horrible," said Lev.
I was surprised to hear he had only made five boat trips. But the reality is, said Lev, that the cost of fuel and bait has limited his boat trips. I suspect that is true of other Derby fishermen.
The slow fishing has put a dent in the Derby fillet program. Weigh master Roy Langley told me that a combination of fewer fish and more people keeping fish has resulted in a drop in the amount of fish the Derby fillet program has distributed to seniors.
I was reminded this week that the world is keenly interested in the fish that inhabit Vineyard waters. Fisherman John Murray of Edgartown, who still retains a hint of his native Ireland, stopped in with a copy of a story that appeared on the front page of the September 18 issue of The Irish Sun, which bills itself as "Ireland's No. 1 paper."
The front page showed the head of a toothy great white shark and carried the headline, "I escaped from Jaws." The story began, "An Irish newlywed told last night of her narrow escape from a killer shark - minutes from where Jaws was filmed." No kidding. It continued, "The terrifying beast closed in on Jess Benson, 28, from Drumcondra, Dublin as she swam on an island beside Martha's Vineyard in the U.S." I assume the reference is to Australia, anything for a headline.
The dramatic copy inside, under the headline "Great White wedding," is fun to read. "Her American hubby Dave Andrews watched helplessly from the beach as the monster honed in on her. But quick-witted kids spotted the predator and screamed at Jess to swim for shore. She made a break for it and managed to get to safety just before the monster could pounce...the 20-foot killer calmly cruised back out to sea after its dinner escaped."
No doubt the Humane Society of the United States, the national animal rights group that has been pounding Oak Bluffs because it is the site of the Monster Shark Tournament, will take offense at the story.
The Humane Society will likely be outraged that the kids interfered with the shark's normal feeding pattern and the paper's defamatory choice of the word monster to describe the fish.
John Murray told me he was in Ireland for his niece's wedding when he heard a report on the radio about an Irish couple that had a narrow escape on Martha's Vineyard. "And I said I didn't hear anything about this," he told me.
He went and picked up a copy of the Sun.
He told me the Sun is a very popular newspaper. "That doesn't speak very well for the country, John," I said.
According to John, the Sun is fairly representative of European newspapers. News on the front, breasts on page three.
I asked John, who works at the Harbor View Hotel, if he was worried about being eaten by a shark and ending up on the front page of his hometown newspaper. "Oh God, no," said John. "But me and my family got a big kick out of it."
The Sun is a British tabloid that prints an Irish edition. A quick look online revealed that the newspaper likes to mix politics with sex, animals, and lots and lots of cleavage. For example, yesterdays' headlines included "British camper eaten by a 20-foot croc"; "Gemma looks lank in leather"; and "Cameron's vow to fix broken Britain."
This on the same day that the Associated Press reported that the top member of the Nobel Prize jury thinks that the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.
Times Tide chart cover
Omar Rayyan's striking colorful image, which forms the cover of The Martha's Vineyard Times 2008 Derby tide chart supplement, perfectly conveys the excitement and mythical quality of Martha's Vineyard's annual fishing contest. To purchase a high quality print that will make a wonderful souvenir click here.