Fishing buddies: Lenny Beford and Shawn Emin
They are both 25 years old (born two months apart), have been friends for 20 years, went to the West Tisbury School, graduated from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, and have been fishing buddies as long as they can remember.
Lenny Beford and Shawn Emin fish together from April, when migrating stripers arrive in Island waters through November, when the fish head south again. Starting in mid-May there's the Striper Cup, then comes the Derby in mid-September, and after that OctoberFish, organized by Larry's Tackle Shop. "Seems like the biggest fish come last, at the end of November," says Lenny.
The friends each brag about their fathers and claim they're following in their footsteps. Lenny's dad's biggest fish was 48 pounds, and Shawn's dad's two biggest were just under 50 pounds.
Lenny, who holds a 100-ton captain's license, keeps his 17-foot Boston Whaler in Tashmoo. But Lenny and Shawn are surf casters who prefer to fish up-Island - at Squibnocket, Gay Head, and along the North Shore. This year, they're focusing on becoming a winning team in the Derby.
During their eight-month season, they fish four or five nights a week. "One of us will call the other," says Lenny. "We meet, park one behind the other, and walk together to the beach. Sometimes, all we get is the pleasure of being together, watching the surf, the sky, the beach, weather moving in."
The best night they ever had was early this past May when they were fishing as a team in the Striper Cup, an all-New England tournament.
"There were four or five of us fishing the North Shore. We caught 120 fish, all keepers. We released most of them," says Lenny. "One of our buddies
almost won the Biggest Fish from Shore with a 40-pounder that night. We were using plugs, which seemed to work as well as bait."
The two know each other so well they pick up each other's stories.
"Every time we cast, we hooked a fish. They were running around 30 pounds," Shawn says. "The smallest was about 20 pounds. That was the best night ever. It was a night to dream about, fishing with teammates you like all night, from 8 pm until 5 am. Every time they cast, you'd hear the drag singing out. The night, the water, the fish, the dawn - it's a privilege to live here and fish."
They talk about the magic of being out there, the sense of a good cast, the whiz of line going out, the drag singing, the feel of the wind, and, depending on the weather, the roar or murmur of the surf. They talk about the magic of dawn after a long night of fishing. Or about waking up at 3 o'clock in the morning when the tide's just right.
"It doesn't really matter if we don't catch anything," Lenny says.
"Of course, we want to catch something," adds Shawn, "The big one."
About the worst thing that has happened to them is losing a plug - or letting The Big One get away. Lenny says, "We always stay in close touch. We fish together, buddy system, always carry a knife, so we can cut loose if we have to. When you're out there on a rising tide standing on a rock, you've got to know when to head for shore."
They consider themselves clean fishermen who observe good fishing etiquette: They release most of the fish they catch, keeping only the occasional fish for the dinner table.
"You see one of these guys on the beach with six or seven schoolies (the juvenile fish who legally should be released), all under the size limit. Don't they realize what they're doing to the future stock?" says Lenny.
Shawn works for Vineyard Gardens as a landscaper. Lenny works for his dad, also Lenny, at Yankee Dry Wall and Plaster. Their employers and their girlfriends, both Island girls ("They think we're cuckoo," Lenny says), understand their passion for fishing.
The Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby starts Sunday, Sept. 13 and runs through Oct. 17, and both hope to spend the next month fishing. If Lenny and Shawn aren't fishing side by side, they'll keep in touch by cell phone, checking the leader board, finding out how things look. During the Derby they'll live on candy bars, sodas, and Red Bull, and they'll sleep in the truck. Their formula:
"Ten hours a day of work, ten hours of fishing, four hours of sleep."
Listening to them it's easy to imagine a 40-pound fish that's struggling to get away, and the thrill of seeing see a surf rod seriously bent. "You have to be in pretty good shape," Lenny says. "No one's supposed to touch your fish except you. You get a big one and you bring it in anyway you can, bear hug it or gill it (grabbing it through the gills)."
Both seem to be picturing that winning fish, but they agree: If one gets a winner, no hard feelings. During their four months of not fishing, the two, who also hunt in season, like to search for arrowheads, or walk the beach looking for plugs.
"We don't party or do the bar scene," Lenny says.
"We're getting better at fishing all the time," Shawn says." One of these days, we hope we can put that 50-pounder on the wall."
And Lenny sums it up: "Fishing is totally pinnacle."
Cynthia Riggs of West Tisbury runs the Cleaveland House bed and breakfast, which caters to writers. She is preparing her 13th Victoria Trumbull mystery novel for publication.