Nantucket visit inspires some inter-island rumination
Folks unfamiliar with Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket often assume that the two islands are similar. They are not.
I was reminded of that fact on a recent trip to the nearby sand spit. That is not meant to be a derogatory description. A close aerial inspection of Nantucket reveals that it is one big expensive pile of sand sticking out of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the Vineyard, Nantucket's terrain is relatively flat and featureless, unless one considers as features the large, shingled mansions that sprout up out of the moors and grasslands.
Barry Thurston, owner of Barry Thurston's, tackles a line of customers in his shop in downtown Nantucket. Photos by Nelson Sigelman
There is no stretch of beach comparable to the Vineyard's rocky north shore. On the positive side, Nantucketers appear able to drive on the beach pretty much around their island.
I have not fished the Nantucket shore for more than 20 years, but I have gotten close. A few years ago I fished the island's south side for bonito along a rip known as the bonito bar.
Nantucket is a popular destination for Island boat fishermen intent on catching the bonito and big bluefish that seem to congregate in the rips and shoals off that island.
In the past few weeks there was no need to travel that far. Vineyard fishermen have been doing very well catching bonito in the area of the hooter, the buoy that marks the entrance to Muskeget channel off the southeast corner of Chappaquiddick.
I received an e-mail on Tuesday from Phil Cronin describing an exceptional day of bonito fishing on August 25 with his son Jay and Jeff Sayre.
He wrote, "Within the first hour of fishing we had landed 20 and decided that perhaps we could bring in 30. When we surpassed 30 we wondered if a 50 bonito day was doable. We passed 50 and started to rationalize whether or not it was possible to catch 70. As the number of 70 became a distant memory we threw caution to the wind and reestablished our day's goal at 100. By this time the boat was covered in blood from the ones we kept. We had decided that any fish brought to the boat that we felt would not survive a release would become dinner fare as all of us wanted to keep a few and one of Jeff's friends had a smoker that could handle 8 at a time. By the time we reached a count of 85 bonito, we had stowed away 9 to bring home and released 76 in survivable condition. We didn't keep an accurate count of the number of lost fish but it is safe to say that number must have been in the low teens."
Captain Lynne Burchell Heyer was behind the counter at Cross Rip Outfitters on Nantucket last week. The shop specializes in fly fishing.
A boat trip out to the hooter or beyond to Nantucket should not be taken lightly even on what might appear to be a calm day. The waters between the Vineyard and Nantucket can become frighteningly rough quite fast when the wind picks up and the tide begins to run through Muskeget Channel and over the surrounding shoals.
Last week I accompanied some Island selectmen on a flight to Nantucket (those can be frightening as well). The Vineyard officials wanted to see first-hand the distributed antenna system, a system of short antennas mounted on telephone poles, which Nantucket uses to provide cellular telephone service.
After the tour I used the time before my flight to check out some of the local tackle shops, eat lunch, and observe Nantucket. The large downtown area struck me as a blend of Edgartown, Menemsha, and Disneyland.
It is neat, the storefronts are attractive in a themed sort of way, and there is the distinctive feel of an upscale port community. Compared to the Vineyard, I also saw fewer people walking around with tattoos, at least on display, and more people walking around talking on cell phones.
There are also a lot of nice places near the water to eat outside. I had lunch at a spot called the Tavern that served thick goopy chowder that tasted of onion. I was reminded that I have found few places that make chowder that comes close to the exceptional chowder served at The Bite in Menemsha
Barry Thurston's is set on a corner in downtown Nantucket. As far as I know it is the oldest tackle shop on the island. The shop has that atmosphere of authenticity that is found in small town hardware stores. That is something I like in a fishing shop.
I walked in, looked around. Despite the confined space there was a stool so I sat down. I was curious and wanted to watch Nantucketers buying tackle.
As I expected on a late Monday morning, the people walking in were mostly visitors and summer people. One fellow said he had lost several lures casting a rented surf rod.
Barry's immediate diagnosis was that the fellow, a guy who looked to be about in his late thirties, was casting too hard. I would have also suggested his knot tying abilities might be lacking, but no one was asking me and it was not my place to say anything.
Another guy standing in the shop had no inhibitions about interjecting. It was clear he had a high opinion of his fishing skills.
When Mr. Swing and Fling asked Barry for some suggestions on replacement plugs, Mr. Knowledge immediately provided his unsolicited recommendations.
"Have you tried this?" he said picking up a metal lure, "This is great ... now you know this fishes the surface ..."
I have to give Barry Thurston lots of credit. He was patient. Having imparted his fishing wisdom, Mr. Knowledge left the shop, as did the hapless caster with his bag of replacement plugs.
Meanwhile, an actual line of people had formed in front of the counter. A guy with his son, who admitted he knew nothing about fishing, wanted to rent some rods and fish off the dock. Barry provided a pair of loaner rods rigged for scup and gave specific directions - twice - about how to open the bail and drop the line.
"Where do we get bait," he asked, although my guess is that he would have fished with bread had he been given it. "Right here," said Barry, and off he was sent with a package of squid.
A woman waiting patiently holding a Nantucket basket worth the price of a good surf rod and reel said she was there to pick up a reel left to be fixed. "You mean you're picking up a reel that hasn't been fixed," said Barry, explaining that the reel had been out of production for years. Sounding like a veterinarian talking to someone with an ill pet, he said, "Sooner or later he [her husband] has to think about putting this reel aside." She left with the family's old Penn reel.
"What's good these days?" asked the next guy in line, sounding like John Kerry trying to talk goose hunting in the mid-west with local hunters. He said he had a sailboat and wanted to troll for blues and stripers.
"There are plenty of bluefish out there," said Barry. "Trolling for stripers is probably not going to work out."
The fishing sailor wanted a recommendation on a lure. Barry walked over to the wall and picked up a metal lure and advised him to try it.
The guy picked up a metal sand eel. "I used something like this before." And I am sitting there wondering why someone would ask for a recommendation then proceed to ignore the advice.
But Barry was good. "Oh yeah," he said, providing a monosyllabic answer loaded with meaning.
"What about these," said the sailor holding up a tube lure commonly trolled on wire line for bass.
"Used those on a sail boat before?" asked Barry. I translated in my head. Sure, go ahead smart guy and try something else that won't work.
"How about these," he said pointing to a Spofford's Ballistic missile, one of the best surfcasting lures for blues, "I've never caught anything on these."
"No kidding," said Barry in a flat tone. I was enjoying this. I translated in my head. Of course you didn't catch anything, you were probably casting at the dune.
"How about this one?" said the sailor picking up another package off a wall peg.
"You've got to add some lead," said Barry.
"And that orange is a good color?"
We were down to one-word answers. Did he get the hint? No.
"What test should I be using?"
The sailor left in search of wind and fish. I asked Barry if he needed lots of patience. "Sometimes," he said with only a trace of a wry smile, but most of the time, he said, it was fine.
After 29 years in the business he had not lost his enthusiasm for the shop or fishing, particularly he said, the excitement of catching false albacore.
"It drives me crazy," said Barry. "It's enough to get me out of bed every morning."
That is something many Vineyard fishermen would surely understand.
Fishing picks up
There are scattered reports of bonito off Menemsha, in Vineyard Sound, and off Chappy. There is no question that the summer run has yet to happen.
The theorists among us say that the fish are not moving in close to shore because there is so much bait in deeper water.
Striped bass fishing remains good off Gay Head. Whit Griswold said he and his son, Sam, during the day Sunday encountered schools of bass feeding on krill-like creatures off the cliffs.