|A healthy catch of squid. Photo by Tim Johnson
Mixed fishing reports leave anglers puzzled
Fishing is never a sure thing. Recommending a hot fishing spot is risky. The fish may have moved on. The availability of bait and weather are only some of the forces that affect the fishing day to day. But generally speaking, over the past decade Islanders have been able to rely on good shore striped bass fishing during the last two weeks in June and sometimes extending into July. Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah used to be as near a sure thing for finding striped bass as existed. Not this year.
From the accounts I have been hearing from many Island fishermen the bass fishing at Lobsterville has been very slow compared to previous years. The same is true of other normally productive spots like Lambert's Cove Beach and Chappaquiddick.
Boat fishermen are also having a tougher time. Yes, the charter fishermen are still finding fish but some of them said they are working harder to do it.
Despite a favorable dropping tide and dark night during the recent catch and release tournament the fishing on Lobsterville was quite slow. Last Friday night I visited the beach and caught two shad, and on Monday caught a fluke; not what I would have expected this time of the season.
The tide will be favorable at Lobsterville the next several days. It will be interesting to see if the bass run we have come to expect this time of the year is simply late. Another measuring stick will be the commercial striped bass season that opens on Tuesday.
On Sunday and Monday I called around to see what other folks had to say about the fishing. Sunday afternoon at Coop's in Edgartown was a good time to catch folks. Cooper "Coop" Gilkes and his son Danny, a charter captain, agreed the fishing has been slower than usual. Jamie Boyle, a skilled fly fisherman and charter captain agreed. He said the fishing had not been consistent and the bad weather only compounded the problem because winds often made it difficult to reach spots he wanted to fish.
His assessment was that it had been his toughest spring ever.
Robert Morrisson, a shore and boat fishing charter captain who works in the shop, added his opinion: "Poor at best, nonexistent at worst."
The fishermen agreed that one factor was a lack of bait, primarily loligo squid, in Island waters. Coop blamed state fisheries managers for removing the daily trip limit this spring for the commercial squid fleet and boats fishing spawning grounds.
He is not alone. Several other fishermen commented on the lack of squid, a direct result they said of the pressure brought to bear on schools of squid that typically move through Vineyard and Nantucket Sound.
As of June 28 the state reported that 2,250,624 pounds of squid had been harvested in Massachusetts waters. That is a lot of squid but the fleet has a way to go before filling the quota of 6,550,596, according to the Division of Marine Fisheries web site.
Coop pointed to Lobsterville Beach as one prime indicator of the drop-off in shore bass fishing. He said the quality of the fishing and the size of bass has been on a downward slide.
At Dick's in Oak Bluffs, shore guide Matt Malowski echoed what others have been saying, that the bass fishing is slow and the bluefishing is one bright spot.
On Sunday Matt said he found a nice school of bluefish off East Beach, but the action did not last long. He said the bass fishing could be fun for those who want to downsize to small fish.
Matt said he and a friend fished Makonikey on the north shore recently, casting everything from plugs to eels. The catch of the night was one small fish on a soft plastic Sluggo.
On the bright side, Matt said he heard from someone he considers a reliable source about the catch of a seven-pound bonito.
At Larry's in Edgartown manager and charter captain Steve Purcell said that from time to time it has been a struggle to find fish. He said fishermen willing to move around are finding fish but it hasn't been easy. Steve echoed the view of others. "I think squid are getting over-harvested," he said.
Steve pointed to squid boats working in close to Edgartown this season and the lack of squid in some of the normally productive rips. While the fishing started out good in June it soon dropped off. Meanwhile he said the blues are proving more reliable.
Menemsha charter boat captain Scott McDowell provided a better report. Reached on his cell phone Monday he said he had two fish in the box.
Scott said fishing has been steady with bass in the 20- to 30-pound range. He said last year was no different with a brief lull and then better fishing.
Scott said he had also observed less bait than last year but added, "It's been good as far as chartering goes."
Fellow Menemsha charter captain Dick Vincent of the Flashy Lady said the spring started slower than in years past. "We are not getting the numbers for sure, but we are getting them," said Dick, "We are just working harder."
That includes some big fish like a 45-inch bass hauled in by Matt Brown of Vineyard Haven.
Greg Skomal, Division of Marine Fisheries sport fisheries biologist, said that what he is hearing is that the shore fishing is very slow and the boat fishermen are doing only slightly better.
Greg said the common complaint is a lack of bait but that is a hard condition to quantify. But Greg said there certainly must be something to it when people who spend a lot of time on the water are complaining.
He said a lack of bait would certainly explain why fish like striped bass are not appearing close to shore. Greg said the records he keeps of fish caught in the annual fall Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby point to declining shore catches.
Greg said the overall picture for striped bass along the coast continues to be good. For whatever reason, the Vineyard seems to be lagging, he said.
At the moment, many fishermen are looking south and east at schools of tuna. Greg said that with any luck and the right water temperature conditions schools of yellowfin tuna now south of the Vineyard could come within striking range of moderate size boats.
"It's an odd year from what I can tell," said Greg.
Highlighting the strange fishing patterns, Portuguese man-of-war have been showing up in Island waters and washing up on south facing beaches from Westport, R.I. to Falmouth the past two weeks.
The man-of-war is an attractive jelly fish (well, not really but...) with long tentacles capable of delivering a painful sting even when the tentacles are detached from the main balloon like body.
What does all this mean? Don't touch the tentacles; talk your friend into touching the tentacles.
I provide some talking points: 1. Hey, look at that cool balloon. Pick it up so I can get a closer look. 2. Hey, is that a strand of sperm whale DNA? Let's take a look at it. 3. Wow, I bet that's a giant squid tentacle. Let's put it on the fluke rig.
In preparation for watching your friend get a healthy shock it is helpful to have a common household item or a drink tea. According to Greg, there are three things that when applied immediately will help to neutralize the chemical reaction that produces a sting: meat tenderizer, a weak ammonia solution or urine, which may explain some strange behavior.
VFW Fluke tournament
The seventh annual Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) fluke tournament this weekend provides a great opportunity to take the kids fishing and win some prizes.
The fluke tournament will be held weather permitting Saturday and Sunday. Peter Hermann, VFW commander, said sponsors have been generous this year and there are some great prizes.
The regular entry fee is waived for kids 12 and under. Youngsters 13 to 16 years of age and folks over 65 pay $10. The rest of us pay $20 to enter.
In the team competition the Flukettes (Cooper Gilkes, Ray Long, Mike Amaral and Rick Harvey) will be trying to claim the crown won last year by Team Payback (Donny Benefit, Bill Bishop, Jim Cornwell, Jim Klingensmith) who came in with a combined weight of 57.9 pounds.
Any team of up to four people may enter this category. Each competing team will weigh in its four heaviest fish on Saturday and again on Sunday. The team with the highest combined total weight wins bragging rights and custom made T-shirts proclaiming the wearers to be the "Monarchs of the Deep," or something like that.
The entry fee is an additional $40 per team.
Fishermen can sign up at Island tackle shops or at the VFW on Towanticut Avenue. Peter can be reached at 774-563-0293 with any questions. The tournament will end on Sunday, following the final weigh-in, with hamburgers and hot dogs on the VFW grill.