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The Trustees of Reservations have no plan to increase off-road vehicle permit fees in the coming fishing season, and the breach has narrowed.

Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations Martha's Vineyard superintendent, provided an overview of changes fishermen can expect to see this season. –Photos by Nelson Sigelman
Chris Bruno is The Trustees of Reservations new Chappaquiddick superintendent.
Chris Bruno is The Trustees of Reservations new Chappaquiddick superintendent.

The Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association held its annual banquet and awards ceremony Saturday in Edgartown. The winter gathering affords an opportunity for members and friends to catch up on news, retell fishing stories, and generate money for the organization, which is dedicated to recreational and community fishing interests.

Guest speaker Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, updated the large group of people gathered in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church on the condition of beaches open to off-road vehicles on Chappaquiddick and Norton Point Beach, most of which are owned and/or managed by The Trustees and provide some of the Island’s most spectacular and beautiful public-shore fishing opportunities.

Mr. Kennedy said the breach in Norton Point Beach might be more accurately referred to as “the closing.”

Bob Jacobs and Kathi Pogoda listen to a report on Surfcaster finances and contributions.
Bob Jacobs and Kathi Pogoda listen to a report on Surfcaster finances and contributions.

The current cycle of erosion began in April 2007, when a one-two punch of storm-driven ocean waves and powerful spring tides knocked open a cut in Norton Point Beach. The result was two long narrow spits of sand stretching east and west toward one another. Over the course of the past seven years, the cut has continued to migrate eastward to Wasque Point, in a repeat of a natural cycle that appears to be reaching its conclusion.

Mr. Kennedy said the opening now ranges between 50 and 75 yards, and the spit has begun to turn toward Wasque Point. “It’s getting very, very close,” he said.

Based on past experience, Mr. Kennedy said he does not expect the beach to close suddenly. Instead, it will open and shut several times before it closes permanently. Mr. Kennedy said that once the land link with Chappy is reestablished and is safe, it will be reopened to off-road traffic.

He provided no specific estimate, only reason for optimism for those who would like an alternative to the three-car ferry that now is the only means to get on or off Chappy. “We are on the short end of things at this point,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy also told fishermen there will be no increase in the cost of off road vehicle permits. TTOR will however increase parking and walk-on fees at Wasque from $3 to $5.

One problem in recent years has been an increase in dog complaints and party complaints, particularly on the county-owned Norton Point Beach, managed under contract by TTOR. Mr. Kennedy said he has increased ranger staffing to clamp down on abuse and late-night parties.

TTOR will also be meeting with county officials, he said, to review its policies with regard to alcohol and dogs. “We’re trying to get control over parties on the beach,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We’re not trying to block access to fishermen.”

Mr. Kennedy also introduced Chris Bruno, the new Chappy superintendent. Mr. Bruno, 34, a native of New Orleans, formerly was a land manager for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. “It’s good to be here,” Mr. Bruno said. “I look forward to meeting everybody out on the beach.”

He is married to Caitlin Borck, TTOR southeast-region ecology assistant and part of the land trust’s shorebird management program.

In the association’s business report, president Don Scarpone and treasurer Phil Horton reported that the group had contributed more than $3,000 to various Island causes and scholarships. In one of the highlights of the annual event, Kathi Pogoda skillfully raffled off a long list of items generously donated by local Island businesses and merchants to replenish the club’s coffers. For more information on the Surfcasters, go to mvsurfcasters.org.

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Fishermen who would like to shake off the winter chill by sharing fishing stories and hot chowder are invited to attend the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association annual meeting at noon Saturday, Jan. 24, in the Baylies Room at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

The meeting will include a buffet lunch, a fundraiser raffle and silent auction, and an update on Norton Point and Chappy beach conditions by Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations island superintendent. New and prospective members are welcome, according to a press release.

The club charter states its purpose is “to encourage the sport of surfcasting; to gather for entertainment and good fellowship; to promote and uphold sound conservation practices and laws, and to see that these laws are properly carried out by members; to further good sportsmanship; and to seek and protect public access to fishing areas on Martha’s Vineyard.”

For more information, call 508-627-1269.

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A prized bounty, the fruits of this harvest ripple through the Island economy.

Edgartown scallopers shoot the breeze following a morning on the water. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Aquipecten irradians, the scientific name for the bay scallop, is a species in low supply but high demand on dinner tables across the Island and country. Utilizing a lot of science, a healthy dose of ingenuity, and some help from Mother Nature, fishermen and town shellfish departments, supported by a considerable investment of more than $700,000 in taxpayer dollars this year alone, help sustain a bay scallop fishery on Martha’s Vineyard that is worth more than $1 million annually, sometimes much more.

Last year, commercial scallopers hauled 8,814 bushels baskets of the tasty mollusks out of local waters, according to figures reported by town shellfish departments in the five Island towns where scallops are harvested. The catch was worth $846,144 at an estimated wholesale price of $12 per pound of shucked scallops.

Depending on the size of the eye, or scallop muscle, on average one bushel produces about eight pounds. The price at wholesale and retail levels fluctuates dramatically during the season, as demand rises and falls.

Thousands of recreational scallopers used dip nets, scallop drags, snorkels and scuba gear to harvest another 1,131 bushels of bay scallops. At an estimated retail price of $18 per pound, that’s $162,864 worth of scallops that went into freezers, straight onto the supper table, got bartered for other goods and services, or were given as a cherished holiday gift.

The 2013 annual town reports provide a breakdown of commercial and recreational (family) shellfish license sales. Recreational or family license holders are generally limited to less than one bushel of clams, oysters or scallops per week. Fees vary for residents and non-residents.

Edgartown issued 20 commercial shellfish permits ($350 fee) in 2013, and 33 free commercial permits to residents over the age of 60; 306 resident family permits ($50 fee), and 632 free family permits for residents over the age of 60; 129 non-resident family permits ($250) and 119 one week non-resident licenses ($50).

Oak Bluffs issued 10 commercial licenses ($350 fee); 323  resident senior licenses ($5), 220 resident licenses ($40 fee), 47 free family licenses to veterans;  and 79 combined non-resident permits for various time periods that ranged in cost from $30 for one week to $400 for one year.

Tisbury issued 25 commercial shellfish permits ($350); 284 resident family permits ($40); 196 senior permits ($5), 5 non-resident family permits ($400) and an additional 190 non-resident weekly and monthly short-term permits.

Chilmark issued 22 commercial shellfish permits, and 162 resident recreational permits.

West Tisbury issued 15 commercial permits, and 55 recreational permits.

A breakdown of permits issued in Aquinnah was not available.

Commercial scalloper Mike Maseda arrived at Tisbury's Lagoon landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels. – Photo by Steve Myrick
Commercial scalloper Mike Maseda arrived at Tisbury’s Lagoon landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Money in mollusks

The estimated value of the commercial and recreational harvest last year, according to estimates, was just over $1 million, from a season considered poor to average by fishermen and shellfish constables in most towns.

For every dollar that goes into the pockets of scallopers, as much as $3 ripples into the Island economy, according to economic multiplier estimates used by state fishery regulators.

“The multiplier factor on fisheries is extremely high,” said Rick Karney, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group (MVSG). “Fishermen tend to live here, buy gas here, get groceries here, get their boats fixed here.”

Paul Bagnall, shellfish constable and biologist for Edgartown, valued the bay scallop fishery another way. “Priceless,” he said.

Each year, Islanders wait with anticipation and hope as the season begins.

“Bay scallops — people go crazy,” Danielle Ewart, shellfish constable for Tisbury said. “Absolutely nuts.”

About nine out of every ten pounds of scallops harvested in Vineyard waters is shipped off-Island to mainland fish markets and restaurants, according to people familiar with the market.

At The Net Result fish market in Vineyard Haven, Louis Larsen and his crew ship 400 to 500 pounds of bay scallops to Boston distributors every day during the first two months of the bay scallop season.

“We’re starting to slow down now,” Mr. Larsen said Monday, three days before Christmas.

He said bay scallops are in high demand in the first few weeks of the season at his retail counter. “It’s a good seller when it first happens.”

His brother, Edgartown Seafood owner Danny Larsen, deals only in local retail sales. He buys directly from scallop fishermen. “I got a few guys that catch me really nice scallops, I buy from them,” Mr. Larsen said.

Mr. Larsen said demand is the biggest factor in setting a price. He said scallops are probably the most popular item this time of year.

Stanley Larsen, owner of the Menemsha Fish Market in Chilmark, said he buys directly from six or seven scallop fishermen. “They’re all getting their limits pretty quick, it’s a good crop this year,” he said. “A little bit more affordable for the consumer.” Mr. Larsen sells locally and ships.

Helping hand

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are among the few places left where a sustained bay scallop fishery still exists. In other areas, such as Long Island Sound, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod, the once plentiful bay scallop harvest is sporadic and small. Even here, the harvest is a fraction of what it once was. This year, Aquinnah closed its commercial scallop season due to a lack of adult scallops.

“I started working for the town in 1984,” said Paul Bagnall, Edgartown shellfish constable and biologist. “We routinely sold about 180 licenses. Now we sell 80 to 100 licenses. Back in those days, a really good year was around 20,000 bushels. Now a good scallop year is around 5,000 to 6,000.

Beginning in the late 1980s the bay scallop fishery declined precipitously. No one is quite sure why, but Mr. Bagnall and Mr. Karney strongly suspect it has something to do with a decline in coastal water quality.

Over the years, the MVSG and town shellfish departments have developed propagation programs, growing bay scallops in a controlled hatchery environment, and releasing them in local waters. When bay scallops were plentiful in New England waters, Mother Nature helped smooth the boom and bust cycle in local fishing areas. Scallops in an early developmental stage could be carried in on tides from other areas, to repopulate a local fishery after a poor year. That does not happen any more.

“Scallops only live to be two years old,” Mr. Bagnall said. “So if you have two bad years in a row in the ponds, you’ve lost your scallop spawning population in that pond. If you put spawning stock out, by manipulating them in the hatchery, a couple million seed adds up, if it’s a bad year like last year. That’s when you really need a propagation program, because that’s when spawning stops.”

Paying the cost

Propagation programs come at a cost, but Vineyarders love their shellfish, and have shown a willingness to pay for the privilege of recreational and commercial shellfishing. Town meeting seats are sprinkled liberally with family and commercial permit holders.

In 2014, Island towns each contributed $35,000 to the MVSG, which also receives grants and state funds.

Mr. Karney said the group spends about $300,000 annually on various shellfish propagation programs, about $200,000 of that on bay scallops. Last year the group distributed more than 20 million scallop seed. Biologists don’t know how many survive to harvest size.

Taxpayers in the six Island towns contributed more than $786,000 this fiscal year to fund shellfish departments. Only West Tisbury does not have a scallop fishery. Local shellfish departments are responsible for propagation programs that, depending on the town, include clam and oyster programs, and enforcement of regulations.

For example, in the current fiscal year Edgartown budget, salaries for the three full-time and two seasonal workers total $201,012, and expenses for the department total $25,760. In separate warrant articles at their April town meeting, voters authorized $48,500 for a new oyster propagation project in Sengekontacket Pond, as well as $35,000 to fund the town’s share of the MVSG.

The price of bay scallops at the wholesale level, or at the fish store, is easily quantifiable. But those involved in the fishery say it is difficult to put a value on being one of the few places in the nation where anyone can get a recreational shellfish permit, and with a little (or a lot) of hard work, put a meal of bay scallops on the table.

“It’s historically boom or bust,” Mr. Karney said. “There’s a lot of excitement around that. It has kind of that gold rush aura about it. For a lot of Islanders, it represents independence, making money that’s not tied to catering to anybody else.”

Island towns issue more than 2,000 family or recreational shellfish permits each year. For some it is a cherished part of summer vacation to harvest clams for dinner; for others, it is several meals a week in the lean winter months when income is scarce.

“The benefit to the town is the 1,000 family permits that we sell,” Mr. Bagnall said of Edgartown. “Shellfish and natural resources are very high on the town’s agenda. We’re lucky, we have a huge amount of area to be able to develop these things.”

Commercial scallopers Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer enjoy the work and the money. – Photo by Steve Myrick
Commercial scallopers Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer enjoy the work and the money. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Hard work, good pay

Two weeks ago, Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer were waiting somewhat impatiently for the air temperature to nudge up another degree on Edgartown harbor. She is a flight attendant for Jet Blue, he is an Island builder. Both take time off from their regular jobs to scallop.

It was the first day of a regulation change, requiring that no scallop fishermen leave the dock until the air temperature reached 30 degrees. It is a measure to protect seed scallops, which can freeze and die before they are culled and returned to the water. The previous threshold was 28 degrees, the approximate freezing temperature of salt water. The extra two degrees gives the seed stock a little cushion, but that Friday, it was keeping about 10 boats from heading out to Cape Poge Pond to begin the day.

Edgartown regulations allow commercial fishermen to keep three struck 10-gallon wash baskets of scallops per day. The wash basket is slightly larger that the widely accepted steel bushel basket, or eight-gallon crate measure used in other Island towns.

Together, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Sauer can get a limit each day they go out. So far, the season is shaping up pretty well, with most people able to catch their limit in a couple of hours.

“It’s a great income, while it lasts,” Ms. Thompson said. “The (wholesale) price started at $18 a pound, then it went down as low as $11, and it’s back up to $16. In three or four hours, we can make $600 to $700.”

Scalloping is hard work. Very hard work: towing and hauling scallop drags, culling through the haul to separate seed scallops from adult scallops. Anyone can get a commercial license, but not everyone is cut out for a December day on the water when the wind picks up and the temperature dips. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ms. Thompson said. “It can be rough out there. When I’m up in the air and it gets really rough, I’m not scared. When it gets rough on the water, it’s a little dicey. It’s not like everybody can do it.”

It can also be a fickle income. If scallops are plentiful, the price goes down. If the harvest is down, they are harder to catch, and there are fewer to sell.

“When it’s good, it can be most of my income,” said John “Con” Conlon, who has fished Edgartown waters for 36 years. “Everybody has to have something else. Two years ago, it was half the price it is now.”

In Lagoon Pond, Mike Maseda had just arrived at the landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels, to be checked by Ms. Ewart. The recreational limit is one bushel per week.

“They’re getting a little harder to find, but they’re still out there,” Mr. Maseda said.

Managing the scallop population in the Lagoon is a tricky thing. Last year, Ms. Ewart closed a large portion of the salt pond early in the season, because fishermen were pulling up too many seed scallops and not enough adults.

“A lot of people were upset with me, but I had to do what I had to do,” Ms. Ewart said. “They were coming in with large seed, so I closed it down. This year, this is where they’re all fishing, in the area I closed last year. Closing things down lets Mother Nature do her thing.”

Fickle fishing

Aquinnah is a good example of how mercurial the bay scallop fishery can be. For the past two years, fishermen have taken an abundance of scallops out the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Pond, so much so that the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries granted the town an extension to fish well into the spring. This past summer, fishermen predicted another good harvest, based on the amount of seed they observed in the water. But when it was time to open the commercial season, test drags landed very few adult shellfish ready for harvest. The town’s shellfish committee decided to close the Aquinnah side to scalloping.

On the Chilmark side of Menemsha pond, there seem to be plenty of scallops for harvesting, further confounding those trying to figure out what is happening.

“We looked at a lot of stuff, considered a lot of stuff,” Mr. Karney said. “There are very few scallop diseases that would do that kind of a thing. If it was a disease, it would also be on the Chilmark side. It’s possible there could be a toxic spill, but that seems pretty unlikely. The shells I looked at didn’t look like a predation issue. They were concerned about some algae, we sent that off to Roger Williams University, they said there was no indication that it would have any toxic effects.”

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) works in conjunction with the town on propagation programs and management of the fishery. Tribal natural resources director Bret Stearns said the economic impact of the closure is significant.

“The community gets hit by hundreds of thousand of dollars, easily,” Mr. Stearns said. “The trickle down economy of scallopers is actually robust. People are upset, and trying to find other means of income. People set aside time to do it, especially this time of year, and they really depend on that income.”

Mr. Stearns said the length of the scalloping season, predator control, and the amount of seed released in the pond are all issues that need to be examined closely. “We need to figure out how to work more closely together in monitoring throughout the year, not just before the season starts,” he said. “It’s better for people to know early.”

The MassFishHunt licensing system is now mobile-friendly for the purchase of all Massachusetts recreational fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses, permits and stamps, wildlife officials announced.

“Sports enthusiasts can now purchase all recreational fishing and hunting licenses and permits using an iPhone or Android smartphone,” said Mass Wildlife Commissioner Mary Griffin. “Purchase of a 2015 fishing, hunting, or sporting license also makes a great holiday gift for a family member or friend to enjoy the outdoors.”

Recreational fishing and trapping licenses and permits have been available via mobile devices since the spring of 2014. The latest system improvement expands mobile-friendly licensing to all recreational licenses and permits sold by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and Division of Marine Fisheries, including hunting and sporting licenses and non-commercial lobster permits.

An electronic signature feature allows customers to download licenses and permits to their mobile device. For all license purchases, mobile customers must provide a valid email address. MassFishHunt will send a confirmation email message with licenses and receipts attached. License buyers can also obtain duplicate permits for free via email if they are lost or damaged, according to a press release.

Electronic images of licenses and permits can be downloaded to mobile devices and shown to law enforcement personnel provided that the images are complete and legible. However, deer, bear and turkey hunters are reminded they are required to print and carry paper copies of licenses and permits with tags and they must follow all tagging requirements per existing regulations.

For questions or for help using MassFishHunt, contact the Active Outdoors Help Desk at 1-888-773-8450 or email mahfwebmaster@als-xtn.com.

All 2015 recreational licenses, permits and supplemental stamps are now available for sale via the MassFishHunt licensing system. To purchase Massachusetts fishing and hunting licenses and permits online, go to the MassFishHunt website at mass.gov/massfishhunt.

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
My wife has a significant birthday coming up, and she wishes to celebrate by spending a long weekend on a foliage tour in New Hampshire. The dates coincide with the best Derby fishing according to historical records, and I feel certain that I will miss out on a winning fish if I accompany her. Years ago I suggested that we postpone our wedding until after the Derby and she simply ignored the question. What is your advice about asking her to postpone her birthday until October 19th?
Confidentially Yours,
Derbyguy

Dear Derbyguy:
Answer quickly: what’s more important to you, winning the Derby or making your wife happy?

If you had to think about that for even for a nanosecond, then you are such a diehard fisherman that you might as well go ahead and ask her. (If you’re not one, don’t ask her. Really. Not for a “significant birthday.”)

So perhaps the question really is, how will you respond to her saying no? Trust me on this: she will say no. Her ignoring your request to postpone your marriage for Derby season implies either (a) she thought you were joking, in which case she will think you are joking again, or (b) she knew you were serious, and but had to convince herself you were joking so that she could bear to go through with marrying you.

Speaking of her marrying you: if your wedding conflicted with the Derby, then your anniversary must as well. Stop reading this right now, and go buy her a nice card. Avoid any fish imagery. Maybe get her some flowers too. I think dahlias are still in bloom.

Once you’ve done that, I guess you can go ahead and ask her about delaying her birthday. Spoiler alert: She’ll still say no. But at least you’ll have gotten it out of your system.
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:
How long should I wait between picking something up at the Dumptique and selling it at a yard sale?
Confidentially Yours,
Rags

Dear Rags:
I can only think of three reasons why you would be asking this question:

One: You are so broke that you are trying desperately, from genuine need, to literally get something for nothing.

Even if you’re that hard up, don’t rob other needy people of their chance to get decent free clothes. If you’re done with the clothes, recycle them back to the Dumptique, or donate them to one of the Thrift Shops.

Two: You’ve come up with a rather sleazy way to game the system, and get something for nothing. In which case: Boy, are you pathetic. You’re robbing needy people of their chance to get free clothes. At least confine your unethical schemes to things that don’t harm people in genuine need. Target those with disposable cash. Sell seashells to tourists or something.

Three: As a frugal Yankee, you’ve gotten due use out of an item, and want to continue to wring maximum benefit from your thrift.

In that case, wear it until it’s in tatters. And then return it to the Dumptique because really, who’s going to pay for that thing at a yard sale?
That’s my take.
Nicole

Will Wagner of Cambridge holds a 13.5 pound bluefish that he pulled out of the rocks while casting for bass near President Obama’s vacation house last week. Photo by Phil Cronin. — Photo by Phil Cronin

Fishermen like to complain when they are not catching fish. They complain about the fishing, the weather, the lack of bait, other fishermen, their spouses, their boss and global warming or global cooling.

Fishermen also practice the art of rationalization and they are nothing if not philosophical about their sport — in a bumper sticker sort of way: “A bad day of fishin’ beats a good day of working,” is a popular bit of fishing wisdom you will find affixed to rusting trucks and flashy SUVs.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is not alway true. An Australian fisherman named Tran Van Lanh had a bad day of fishing and I bet he wishes he had stayed at work. You see, Tran got eaten by a croc. Honest.

On Martha’s Vineyard we don’t have to worry about crocs, or snakes or head hunters. We have it pretty good. Our biggest risk is hooking ourselves in front of our friends. A bad day of fishin’ on the Vineyard is no fish. Not so in Australia.

According to the Outdoor Hub news service, which provides me with a steady stream of news stories that make me happy to be on Lobsterville beach, the 57-year-old fishermen was killed last Monday after he was ambushed by a crocodile in Australia’s Adelaide River.

The partially albino croc, according to the Australian news service SBS, had a white head and was well known along the river as “Michael Jackson.” Guess the Australians didn’t get the memo, or maybe it is too far away for Al Sharpton to cause a fuss.

SBS reported, “The man was taken when he got into the water to unsnag his fishing line.”

Not a good idea to try and unsnag a line in a croc-infested river.

“Police and rangers scouring the crocodile-infested river by boat on Monday night shot and killed a 4.5 meter crocodile (that’s almost 15 feet) and the man’s body was recovered later that night.

“The Adelaide River is well known for its Jumping Croc tours, where boats travel the river and crocodiles jump for meat attached to hooks.

“Michael Jackson was one in a million, and unfortunately being an albino would have been picked on by all the others, it’s a big pecking order,” said Rob Marchand, owner of Wallaroo Tours, which runs Jumping Croc cruises across the river from where the man was taken, the news service reported.

I do not think Mr. Marchand is an objective expert. One-in-a-million? So the next 999,999,999 fishermen who jump in the river to unsnag lures should get out just fine?

Mr. Marchand said that the crocodile had been in that part of the river for several years, “and that the crocodiles had been fighting a lot recently, jockeying for position and preparing to breed.”

He added, “They [crocs] know how to do three major things: eat, reproduce and aggression … if you’re not going to look after yourself, you’ll find yourself being eaten.”

By the way, he rejected the suggestion that the Jumping Croc tours were encouraging predatory behaviour on the Adelaide River.

“I’m sure crocs knew how to eat people a long time before we come along,” he said.

So next time you’re complaining about a bad day fishin’, think of poor Tran and say a little prayer.

Striper hearings set

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a 15-member body responsible for managing fish species and implementing management plans along the East Coast, is beginning the process of revising the regulations that govern striped bass. In government speak, the ASMFC will take comment on Addendum IV to the Striped Bass Management Plan. “The Draft Addendum proposes new fishing mortality (F) reference points, as recommended by the 2013 benchmark stock assessment, and associated management measures to reduce F to a level at or below the proposed target within one or three years. It responds to results of the 2013 Atlantic striped bass benchmark assessment indicating F in 2012 was above the proposed F target, and female spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been steadily declining below the target since 2006.”

Of course, F is pretty much what recreational fishermen on Martha’s Vineyard have been saying for years as they’ve watched the quality of the bass fishing decline.

The Draft Addendum includes a suite of management options to reduce recreational and commercial harvest along the coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Specific options to be considered include bag, size, slot and trophy size limits for the recreational fishery and quota reductions for the commercial fishery.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will hold a series of hearings on behalf of the ASMFC the first week in September but does not plan to make state specific recommendations and hold hearings on them until later this year. One thing is certain: new rules will be in place when the bass return to Massachusetts next spring.

DMF is not planning to hold an ASMFC hearing on the Vineyard but will hold a hearing on Nantucket on Sept. 2. That makes no sense to me. Nantucket has a small commercial fishery, a much smaller number of recreational fishermen and is in the middle of the ocean.

Other hearing sites include: Massachusetts Maritime Academy (Sept. 2); Gloucester (Sept 3); and Braintree (Sept. 4).

Now is the time to comment. Yapping in the tackle shop means nothing. Public comment will be accepted until 5 pm, September 30, and should be forwarded to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703-842-0741 (FAX) or at mwaine@asmfc.org  (Subject line: Draft Addendum IV). For more information, contact Mike Waine, at mwaine@asmfc.org or 703-842-0740.

Derby approaches

The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby (mvderby.com) is only weeks away. The Derby begins on Sept. 14 and ends October 18. More later.

Reeling against the drag and other hazards of boat fishing chronicled.

Michael Faber from Memphis, TN with a Vineyard bonito caught Monday out fishing with charter captain Phil Cronin. — Photo by Phil Cronin

There is a common misperception that charter captains “get paid to go fishing.”

That is not true. They get paid not to lose their minds, or in extreme cases, kill their clients.

I am not a charter captain. I have no plans to ever become one.

Twice last week, I had occasion to take people fishing in a boat. At the request of a friend, Saturday morning I took two of his visiting guests, a mother and her adult son, fishing on Vineyard Sound. I was not ambitious. My goal was to see them catch some fluke and sea bass.

The wind was stronger than predicted, as it almost always is, and the Sound was pretty choppy off Chilmark. We were drifting in about 90 feet of water. Another boat was perhaps 100 yards away. That was it.

Up the sound comes a guy full throttle in what appeared to be 32-foot cruiser. Did he make an arc around us? No. He went between us. And mom, a resident of Florida, yelled at him and made what we in the respectable writing trade refer to as “an obscene gesture.” Wow.

“Please don’t do that,” I said to her as calmly as I could. I learned long ago at Five Corners that you never know who you are shouting at.

She was justified, of course. But I knew she would go back to Florida, where I assume all boaters travel armed and an obscene gesture is considered a mild rebuke as opposed to opening fire, while I would be left to deal with the nitwit boater.

Inconsiderate boaters come with the territory. They power through a group of drifting fishermen — is there a big rush? They tie up the launch ramp or dock — why not load your boat before you are on the ramp or wash it down at home?

The fishing was slow, which surprised me. The big sea bass that seemed everywhere just a few weeks ago were scarce. With the seas getting rougher, I decided to call it a morning.

The next day, Sunday, I met my cousin’s son, his brother-in-law who was visiting from France, and his friend, at the Tisbury town dock at 7 am. I was still recovering from my previous outing, but I was determined to make good on an unfulfilled promise last summer to take the trio fishing.

They had driven from Worcester and hopped on the 6 am ferry from Woods Hole. They brought a cooler and expected to catch some fish. What they did not bring was the remotest idea of how to do it.

My Tashmoo-18 is adequate for three people but not four, so I borrowed my friend Tom’s boat. Given all the possibilities for disaster, I do not like to borrow boats. My immediate concern was not to sink Tom’s boat.

Off middle ground I rigged up three bottom rods and provided basic instruction — don’t lift the fish out of the water or it will shake out the hook (happened); lead the fish to the net with the rod (didn’t happen); lift the fish with the rod and don’t reel, reel, reel (didn’t happen, happen, happen).

My immediate concern was that one of the guys would hook a decent fish and lose his rod. We caught several fluke, one big enough to keep. I decided to liven up the action. I rigged up two spinning rods, one with a swimming plug and the other with a needle fish, and began to troll along the rip in search of bluefish. Within five minutes a blue hit the swimming plug. I reeled in the other rod and handed the rod to the Frenchman.

He immediately began to reel and reel for all he was worth. At the same time the fish pulled line off the reel. This is what is known in the business as reeling against the drag. Every crank of the handle puts another twist in the line. Enough twists and the line resembles a Slinky.

I tried coaching. “When the fish pulls stop reeling,” I said.

“Move the fish with the rod,” I said.

But the excitement had him in its grip: Crank, crank, crank. I could stand it no longer.

“Stop!” I yelled.

He froze. I could see slack in the line. “No, reel, keep reeling,” I shouted.

The bluefish was now close to the boat. I grabbed the net. The bluefish dove and surfaced again. Netting a fish requires a bit of choreography. The idea is to put pressure on the fish so it swims in the direction of the net.

My fisherman waved his rod tip and extended it over the side of the boat which kept the fish far enough from the side of the boat and my waiting net The fish went to and fro. My only chance was to grab the line and lead the fish to me. I had just taken hold of the line when the fish shook the hook. Gone.

“Did I do something wrong?” my Frenchman asked.

“Sometimes fish get away,” I said.

We would lose three more bluefish. Catch a few more fluke and sea bass. And on the way back to the dock one of the guys leaned over the side and puked. He claimed he was fine but he looked a little dazed.

I may have been frustrated, but my cousin said he and his friends had a great time. And that is what it is all about.

Kayakers unite

Martha’s Vineyard’s salt ponds and rocky indentations are tailor made for nosing around with a kayak. Matt Malowski of Oak Bluffs is the latest kayak convert. Matt wants to gauge how much interest there is in an informal M.V. kayak fishing club that would meet on a regular basis to talk fishing, share tips and get together for fishing trips. Interested fishermen should email Matt (matt@mvfishing.com). “I’ll create a list serve and begin coordinating an initial meeting to generate some ideas on how to proceed,” Matt said. “People will need to have their own kayaks and fishing gear. The hope is once we get a few people together we can start sharing ideas and knowledge, set dates and places to meet to go fishing together, and perhaps generate more interest for those who would like to learn more and get started in the adventure.”

For those who don’t want to share their email or don’t have one, Matt can be reached at 508-274-0320.

Fishing slobs

There is a small parking area off Beach Road that provides access to the culvert that connects Trapp’s Pond with Sengekontacket. I was there Sunday to look for blue crabs (pretty slim pickin’s). It appears people use the area to dump fish carcasses and shells. I also saw discarded bait that included eels, squid still in a plastic bag and other assorted trash. There is no excuse for dumping a baggie full of squid in the bushes. None.

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Catch a movie and maybe a fish on Menemsha Beach Tuesday.

A chart-topping 180-pound bigeye tuna brought it in at last year's Bluewater Classic.— File photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 3 pm, Friday with news of Cape Poge beach closure

By most accounts, The Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic (OBBC) held last weekend went off without a hitch. No shark heads adorned boats, no protestors provided targets for beer cans and if there were arrests I did not hear about it. Pretty tame now after the Monster Shark tournament swam out of town.

Damon Sacco of Bourne, owner and operator of Castafari Sport Fishing and organizer of the Hyannis Tuna Fest, was the organizer of the first Bluewater classic. Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown helped out.

Participants on the boat Mulberry Canyon pose next to their 180-pound Big Eye Tuna after it topped the charts on Saturday.
Participants on the boat Mulberry Canyon pose next to their 180-pound Big Eye Tuna after it topped the charts on Saturday.

A total of 25 boats entered the contest. In an email, Mr. Sacco said the 2014 Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic raised over $14,000 for charity. Proceeds went to the Island Autism Group and the MGH Colon Cancer Research Fund in memory of Kevin Glynn, he said.

Sixteen billfish — four blue marlin and 12 white marlin — were released. One bigeye tuna was landed, as were “a ton of yellowfin and mahi-mahi.”

Captain Al Gagnon of Brennans Grin took first place. Second place went to Captain Ted Rosbeck of Bad Martha. Captain John Galvin of Mulberry Canyon was third.

The biggest tuna was an 180-pound bigeye landed by Mulberry Canyon. Most billfish points went to the crew of Brennans Grin with two blue marlin. Mr. Sacco said there were 46 yellowfin tuna caught up to 95 pounds.

Steve Morris, owner of Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs, participated in the tournament. Steve told me, “It was definitely a lot calmer. Not a lot of yahoos. The guys were nice and it seemed like they were just here to fish.”

The banquet was held at Dreamland. Everybody seemed to be really happy with it, Steve said.

Steve said offshore fishing is an addiction and he admitted he is “totally hooked.”

The tournament weigh in attracted a crowd of spectators to Oak Bluffs harbor.
The tournament weigh in attracted a crowd of spectators to Oak Bluffs harbor.

He explained, “You never know what’s going to be out there, a white marlin or a bigeye tuna, there’s so much out there to catch. We spent the night out there, we turned the lights on and there were squid and bait all around the boat. You just never know what’s going to be out there.”

I suggested it might also be scary to be a little boat in a very big, dark ocean far from land. Steve laughed. “This is true, this is true, that’s why you go in a big boat.”

Steve said they put the lines out Friday night to try and catch a swordfish. Crewmembers took turns sleeping. “There’s usually someone up tending the rods,” Steve said.

“And looking out for a Korean oil tanker?” I asked.

“Well you stay out of their way, for sure,” Steve said.

But they were not alone. They were part of a small fleet all hooked on offshore fishing. That is part of the fun, he said.

First bass of the summer

Matthew Strem of Edgartown holds a 15 pound striped bass he caught Friday night on his new fishing rod.
Matthew Strem of Edgartown holds a 15 pound striped bass he caught Friday night on his new fishing rod.

While the big boys were fishing offshore, Matthew Strem, 10, of Edgartown was trying out his new bass rod on South Beach with his mom and dad. On Friday night Matthew caught his first striped bass of the summer. It was 34.5 inches long and weighed in at 15 pounds.

His mother Lynn provided the details: “We drove on to the beach and used squid on his new bass fishing pole, bottom fishing. Matthew was the first one that night to catch a bass. He was so excited he couldn’t wait for dad to get the tape measure to see if it was a keeper. And it was, 34 inches long and weighed 15 pounds. It was also about 11 pm that night. He caught his fish and reeled it in all by himself, but I wasn’t surprised because Matthew has been fishing for a long time, catching many different fish. Nothing compares to the look on his face when that fish came ashore and it was a huge bass.”

Matthew did very well to land a bass on the beach in the surf. It is no easy task. It takes timing to ride the fish up on a wave. Better yet, he caught a bass. Most reports describe tough fishing for stripers from the shore. Congratulations.

Movie night on Menemsha

All fishermen should be concerned with the state of our oceans. On Tuesday night, fishermen will have an opportunity to learn just how concerned they ought to be — and go fishing.

Documentary filmmaker Bob Nixon, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, and Fisher Stevens have produced a new documentary, MISSION BLUE, which describes the life of oceanographer Sylvia Earle. The filmmakers will show their film at 8:30 pm, Tuesday on Menemsha Beach in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. The event is free.

Bring popcorn for the film and a fishing rod for later.

Dennis Harvey offered this description in a review for Variety Magazine: “A compelling human-interest hook and spectacular underwater photography are the highlights of Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon’s documentary.”

Mr. Harvey said, “The majesty and imperiled status of the world’s aquatic life are vividly captured in “Mission Blue.” Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon’s documentary also serves as a biographical portrait of internationally renowned oceanographer and eco-activist Sylvia Earle, whose trailblazing career and inspiring ongoing efforts provide compelling human interest, while Bryce Groark’s spectacular underwater photography offers eye candy aplenty.”

Cape Poge beach closure

Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge is currently closed for over sand vehicle access from the Dike Bridge to the gut, Chris Kennedy, Trustees superintendent said Friday. “On Tuesday, two plover chicks moved from the outside beach, north of the Dike Bridge to the bayside trail to feed,” Chris said in an email Friday.  “The next day they moved back to the outside beach but now appear likely to continue moving back and forth between the narrows and East Beach. These chicks are due to fledge in two weeks but under state and federal law we will be required to keep all of Cape Poge closed until these chicks fledge. We encourage property users to call the 24 hour recorded beach hotline at 508-627-8390 for updated information. All of Leland Beach and Norton Point Beach are open for OSV access. Permits are required.”

The ground pounders fought the tide and sea bass in the VFW fluke derby.

The VFW Fluke Derby was a boatload of fun for the kids. Left to right: Elizabeth O'Brien, Katherine O'Brien, David Packer, Nathan Packer, Jack Simpson, Jake Mundell, Molly Menton, and Charlotte Packer. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

I fished a four-aspirin, two-Aleve weekend. After two days of bouncing lead weight in 80 plus feet of water in Vineyard Sound for two days in the VFW Fluke Derby held Saturday and Sunday my body felt like Poseidon had gone over every muscle in my back and arms with a hammer.

The key to catching fluke is to stay in contact with the bottom where fluke lie in wait for prey. That takes weight. How much depends on current and water depth.

Kid champs. From left, Kendall Nerney, Corbin Buchwald, Tate Buchwald, Darien Kral, and Joseph Medeiros.
Kid champs. From left, Kendall Nerney, Corbin Buchwald, Tate Buchwald, Darien Kral, and Joseph Medeiros.

On Saturday, the wind was calm and the fishing was relatively easy. Most of the competitors worked hard to pick up a fluke amid the carpet of sea bass. Sunday, conditions changed. A strong southwest wind coupled with the fast flowing easterly tide made it tough to hold bottom.

Many of the boats worked the deep water holes off Seven Gates, between Cape Higgon and Cedar Tree Neck, where the water depths range between 80 and 108 feet and the big fish always seem to lie. By about 11 am, Sunday it took an engine block to hold bottom.

Saturday, my teammates, Barry Stringfellow and Nathaniel Horwitz, met me at 5 am at Tashmoo landing. I wanted to get an early start so I could take full advantage of the morning rising tide. On Sunday, my major concern was not getting caught on Vineyard Sound about noon when the tide would begin to drop against the wind. Sea conditions change rapidly once the tide turns and the ride back would have been quite uncomfortable and wet in my 18-foot Tashmoo.

Team MV Times held the lead Saturday night. But I knew it was tenuous and that a big fish on Sunday would determine the winner. With teams led by Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown and Bill Dreyer of West Tisbury on the water we were hanging on to the lead with a frayed piece of braid.

On Sunday, Billy caught an 11.39-pound fluke that earned him the fluke king crown and lifted his team Breakaway (Roger Kubiak and Joe Altavilla) into the winner’s circle. It was a sweet victory for Billy, Roger and Joe, who have lost in the past by just ounces.

VFW fluke tournament impresario Peter Herrmann with his grandchildren (Darien, Dylan and Emily Kral) and new eagle.
VFW fluke tournament impresario Peter Herrmann with his grandchildren (Darien, Dylan and Emily Kral) and new eagle.

A cable news pundit Friday reporting on President Obama’s planned two week family vacation in August on Martha’s Vineyard described the Island as “ritzy and glamorous.” I suppose that impression would be accurate if one’s world only encompassed kiss-kiss cocktail parties and swank dinners in summer echo chambers. It sure does not describe the VFW Fluke Derby, and for that I am very grateful.

For the past ten years Roger and Joe have come up to fish the fluke derby with Bill. Joe is from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Roger is from some town in New Jersey he kept, as near as I could tell, saying was “Metouchem.” I could not get the spelling straight in the noisy dining room and since it is New Jersey I did not really care.

I asked the two winning team members why they like fishing the fluke derby other than the fact that Billy takes them out and shows them a great time.

“They do a great job for the kids,” Joe said.

“Basically for the kids,” Roger said.

I had to ask, “Have you guys ever run for elected public office?” They looked at me quizzically. I explained that whenever someone starts telling me they’re doing it for the kids I figure he or she is running for office.

“These guys come up here,” Billy said, “They have a great time fishing. they fill their cooler full of sea bass and fluke, mostly fluke, and then they go home and look like heroes. They feed the town.”

Daughters, sons, cousins and family members they never knew they had text and call to ask about fresh fish. “It’s a good excuse to get together and fish for a long, long weekend,” Bill said.

Big kid champs, winners of the team competition. From left, Roger Kubiak, Bill Dreyer, and Joe Altavilla.
Big kid champs, winners of the team competition. From left, Roger Kubiak, Bill Dreyer, and Joe Altavilla.

John and Janet Packer of Vineyard Haven loaded up a boatful of kids Friday night. The kids sleep on the boat so that the only one who has to get up early is dad. The family has been a part of the tournament every year. Same for Bill and Kris O’Brien of Oak Bluffs and their two daughters. This year the family could only fish one day, but Bill said, “If I can only fish a day I’m goin’.”

The highlight of the awards ceremony is always the auction. Think of it as the anti-matter of every swank, high-priced Vineyard fundraiser. No celebrities. Just fun and spirited bidding.

Tournament organizer Peter Herrmann began the bidding for a set of wine glasses with the derby fluke logo at $30. $40 — $55 — $65 said winning bidder Janet Packer, who was determined not to be outdone.

A large stuffed bald eagle doll generated a bidding battle between Mark Morris and Jarda Kral. The three Kral kids urged dad to stay in the mix. But when the price hit $80 he stepped off the pedal. Mark peeled off $80 and then turned to the Krals. “You guys can have it,” he said.

The VFW Fluke Derby is that kind of tournament.

Largest fluke: 1. Bill Dreyer (11.39); 2. Cooper Gilkes (7.05); 3. Peter Cox (6.68).

Largest sea bass: Kendall Nerney (5.4)

Kids (12 and under): 1. Joseph Medeiros (5.5); 2. Tate Buchwald (4.18); 3. Darien Kral (4.04); 4. Corbin Buchwald (3.8); 5. Radio Goulart (2.42).

Teens (13-16): 1. Brendon Morris (3.91); 2. Richard Gibson (3.75); 3. Nathaniel Packer (2.80).

Teams: 1. Breakaway (Bill Dreyer, Roger Kubiak, Joe Altavilla) 39.28; 2. Sole Men (Cooper Gilkes, Rick Harvey) 33.85; 3. Austin O (Keith Olsen, Walter Tomkins, Galvin Tomkins, Michael Tomkins) 31.86; 4. MV Times (Nelson Sigelman, Barry Stringfellow, Nathaniel Horwitz) 29.84.

Derby Book launch

Hold a five-week fishing tournament on an Island with lots of crazy fishermen for more than six decades and what do you get? Lots of fishing stories.

Add the skills 25 years ago of a talented Edgartown artist who was devoted to the nonprofit organization and agreed to create a print each year to be sold to help fund the tournament and what are you left with? A series of images by Ray Ellis that captured the excitement, mood and beauty of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard.

Ed Jerome, longtime Derby president, has collected 27 Derby stories, many previously published, and put them together with Ray Ellis Derby prints into an anthology titled, “An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby, Twenty-five years of Paintings, History and Fishing.”

There will be a reception and book signing to celebrate the publication of the book from 5 to 7 pm, Friday, July 18 at Edgartown Books on Main Street in Edgartown. Many of the contributors will be present to sign books. For more information, call 508-627-8463 or go to Edgartownbooks.com.

Speaking of

Speaking of the Derby and books, Ron Domurat of Edgartown has published a collection of Derby stories in a self-published paperback titled, “Three Decades of The Derby, A collection of Stories from Thirty Years of Participation in Martha’s Vineyard Fall Fishing Classic.”

I always knew Ron was a skillful fisherman. Now add writer to his portfolio. For anyone familiar with the Derby the stories will evoke memories of great fishermen and good times with men that include Don Mohr, Abe Williams, Gordon Ditchfield, Al “Angie” Angelone, Marsh Bryan, and Walter Lison.

Last chapter

Henry “Hank” A. Schauer died on Friday, July 4, 2014, at the Arnold Walter Nursing Home in Hazlet, New Jersey. He was 85. His obituary said, “He lived to fish.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Saturday, July 19, at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Navesink. Interment will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the

Alzheimer’s Association, Greater New Jersey Chapter, 400 Morris Ave., Suite 251, Denville NJ 07934. Please visit Hank’s memorial website atwww.johnedayfuneralhome.com.

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Measured by what matters, the 23rd Catch and Release tournament was a great success.

Peter Sliwkowski managed to escape a stiff northeast wind Saturday night on the Chappy side of Katama Bay. — Photo by John Piekos

The northeast wind blew at more than 20 miles per hour and the temperature made it feel like the first day of March rather than the last day of May, making for less than ideal conditions for the 124 fishermen casting about in the 23rd Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament last Saturday night.

Army Captain Matthew Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, presented a flag he carried on a combat mission in Afghanistan to Rod and Gun club president Bob Delisle (left) and treasurer Cliff Meehan.
Army Captain Matthew Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, presented a flag he carried on a combat mission in Afghanistan to Rod and Gun club president Bob Delisle (left) and treasurer Cliff Meehan.

The fishing reflected the conditions — miserable by Island standards. About 184 bass, mostly small, were caught and released by fishermen who struggled from 7 pm until 2 am Sunday morning to find any spot facing the water out of the battering wind.

But a bad day of fishing in the catch and release beats a good day in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. One year ago, Army Captain Matthew Blair was in the hospital receiving treatment for the foot he fractured while on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

At the awards ceremony Sunday morning, Captain Blair, an Apache helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was happy to have the opportunity to fish on Martha’s Vineyard with his father, Jim Blair of Norton, his cousin Dean Blair and friends. And the more than 100 fishermen and guests sitting in the regional high school cafeteria were very happy to welcome him back.

For those who thought they were seeing double, they were. Matthew, 35, and his twin brother Army Captain Nicholas Blair, 25th Engineers stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where he is part of the Global Response Force, are a catch and release tag team pair. In the past seven years their schedules have only allowed the brothers to fish the tournament together once.

Last year, Nicholas fished the catch and release undeterred by a cast on the foot he broke during a training exercise one month earlier. Here is one of those twin psychic connection anecdotes. Nicholas broke his foot on May 2, 2013. One week later, Matthew sustained a series of fractures in his foot while on a mission (which he completed despite his injuries).

In conversation, both brothers are humble about their military service. Quiet, competent, and professional in demeanor, they represent their service well.

The highlight of the awards ceremony held Sunday morning came when Captain Blair presented an American flag he carried with him in his Apache helicopter during a combat mission in Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass to rod and gun club president Bob Delisle and treasurer Cliff Meehan. It was a way to say thanks, he said, for an organization and event that has meant so much to him and his family.

Mattered a lot

The tournament presented Captain Matthew Blair with an inlaid wooden Martha's Vineyard fishing flag donated by Brian Oneil of Rustic Marlin Designs.
The tournament presented Captain Matthew Blair with an inlaid wooden Martha’s Vineyard fishing flag donated by Brian Oneil of Rustic Marlin Designs.

I spoke to Matthew by phone Monday as he returned to the 10th Mountain Division base at Fort Drum, New York, after three days on the Vineyard. Matthew said that but for the tournament he would not have taken up fly fishing.

He said he values the tournament for the opportunity it provides to spend time with his father, to fish and enjoy the Island. “Just some good old American reset time,” he said.

Military service is a Blair family tradition. A sister, Kristen (Blair) Mayer, is an Air Force captain who for a time was stationed at a hospital in Kabul.

“This last deployment Kristen and I worked together,” Matthew said. “She was running a hospital in Kabul and I was outside Fenty by the Khyber Pass and she came up one day and I put her in the helicopter and I showed her around. That was a rare family experience meeting in a war zone.”

Matthew is married with two children, a four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. Between his military and family responsibilities, free time to go fishing is rare.

Last year, knowing Matthew was in the hospital, the fishermen signed a catch and release tee-shirt to wish him well. For most of us, war is a distant rumble of thunder, a snippet of news. I suspect few of us realized that the smallest gesture of thanks can often be quite meaningful for those who serve.

In one of the more emotional moments of the ceremony Sunday, Matthew thanked those in the room for thinking of him. I asked him about that moment.

Matthew said that the routine of deployment in a war zone pushes home to the background. “When you get injured and sent to Walter Reed or any of the military hospitals, it’s very antiseptic and you are separated from anybody you are used to working with, and you are separated from your family, so it is like a deployment unto itself.”

Professional military men and women share a strong sense of duty. Matthew said that sitting in the hospital for three months far from the battle was difficult.

“I had been working 12 hours a day,” he said, “flying my absolute maximums every day and night and then when I got hurt I felt like I had let the team down. Like I was failing the Army by getting hurt.”

The tee-shirt and the card he received from the rod and gun club reminded him that his service was appreciated. “It mattered a lot,” he said, “because it kept me from reinforcing my own apprehension that I was letting people down.”

The flag now in a case at the rod and gun club was carried during a night assault on two towns in conjunction with the 101st Airborne in an effort to capture Taliban supporters. “It was two big raids. There were a lot of moving pieces. Lots of helicopters landing at night. Lots of troops moving around at night.”

Matthew served three tours in Afghanistan for a total of 24 months, beginning in 2007. The changing tempo of the war and the push to shift responsibility to the Afghan forces has created new challenges for those trained to bring the fight to the enemy, he said.

The Apache helicopter is a lethal piece of military equipment packed with high tech weapons systems and capable of flying 171 miles per hour. It carries a pilot and a co-pilot gunner.

Asked if it is fun to fly, without adding the qualification of people shooting at him, Matthew said, “It’s true. It’s a lot of work to be a pilot, but when you get to do the real yanking and banking at high speeds at low altitude it’s the greatest fun in the world.”

He said the austere Afghanistan environment was challenging but did not deter from the thrill. “Flying in the mountains at those speeds is really great, I love doing it.”

The first time Matthew fished the tournament he had just returned from Afghanistan. Upon each subsequent return he fished the tournament. “My father would always be looking at the clock saying, remember, if you’re going to be home in May get June off for the tournament.”

Following a revolving cycle of deployments, for the first time in a decade, Captain Blair and his unit are not home preparing to leave. World politics could intercede, but for now he is enjoying spending time at home with his family.

It is a short hop by helicopter from Fort Drum to the Vineyard. I told Matthew that his unit would be welcome and with no scheduled deployment he could begin preparing for the 24th catch and release.

“I’m already looking at the calendar for next year,” Matthew said.

Results

Tournament co-chairman Cooper Gilkes (right) presenåted an Orvis Helios fly rod to awards ceremony host Nelson Sigelman in appreciation of 23 years of nonstop kidding around.
Tournament co-chairman Cooper Gilkes (right) presenåted an Orvis Helios fly rod to awards ceremony host Nelson Sigelman in appreciation of 23 years of nonstop kidding around.

Roberto Germani Trophy for the most striped bass caught and released by a team: 1. John Kollett, Sandra Demel (11 fish average); 2. Dave Thompson, Tom Carroway (Team Sprintless, 8.5 avg.); 3. Cooper Gilkes, Jackie Jordan, Pete Kutzer, Jess McGlothlan, Todd Cascone, Aaron Cascone, Tom Zemianek, Donald O’Shaughnessy, Jr. (Team High Stickers, 6 avg.)

Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy for the largest striped bass caught and released: Dean Blair, 72 inches (44 inches in length, 28 inches in girth).

Arnold Spofford Trophy for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly: 1. Seth Woods, Mac Haskell, Charlie Finnerty (Team Caddyshack, 2.3 avg.); 2. Jeffrey Stevens, Scott MacCaferri, Ed Tatro (Team Last Cast, 2 fish avg.); 3. James J. Jackson, Mark G. Wrabel (Team Bassholes, .5 fish avg.)

Larry’s Bass Blast

There is shore and boat competition striper action in this month-long tournament that ends June 30. Winners split the kitty. For more information, call the tackle shop at 508-627-5088.

Current tide charts are here.