Long weekend kicks off Island’s fishing season


The Memorial Day weekend is the chance for Islanders and visitors to wet a line for the first time. By all reports, it appears that the striped bass and bluefish will hold up their side of the bargain and participate in the fun.

For local Island tackle shops the first long holiday weekend is the kickoff to the summer fishing season. And every new season brings new optimism and products to entice fish and fishermen.

I checked in with Cooper “Coop” Gilkes at Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown on Tuesday afternoon. “Busy,” Coop said when I asked him how things were going. “Busy. Lots of bass, oh gosh, lots of bass. It’s been an incredible week. And the bluefish are in too.”

Coop said he would tell me where he was catching fish but he did not want me stepping on him. I asked Coop where he might point people this weekend. He identified a spot I planned to fish. “Give me a plan B,” I said.

“It looks like Lobsterville is about to bust wide open,” Coop said. Of course, that is one of the wonderful aspects of fishing on the Island this time of the year — fish are liable to appear most anywhere and the consistent spots remain consistent.

Coop had no breaking news regarding lures new this season. Pressed, he said the Spiro herring imitation was doing well with bass.

Coop spends a lot of time behind the counter dispensing fishing advice and an equal amount of time on the beach guiding fishermen of all stripes. The fly fishing and spin fishing had been productive.

Coop told me he had taken out a husband, his reluctant wife, and another guy. The woman had been undecided about going along on the trip until the last minute, he said. Laughing, he said, “She ended up outfishing the two guys.”

Stevie Morris and his crew at Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs are gearing up for the shop’s long standing Memorial Day weekend tournament. The fishing contest attracts visitors and hard core fishing Islanders.

This is the first contest of the season for the big boys and provides an opportunity to play “king of the hill.” With the blues arriving daily and big bass filtering into Island waters, I expect there will be plenty of competition.

I spoke to Steve Wednesday morning. He was looking forward to great weather and good fishing. “It looks like we are going to have a nice weekend and there’re a lot of fish around,” Steve said.

The rod and gun club began the tournament. Steve said he began hosting the tournament after the rod and gun club dropped it, and a lot of fishermen expressed an interest in the competition. That was 18 years ago and the early fishing has gotten better. Steve said there seem to be bigger fish around and more people are fishing. It is the right combination for a successful tournament.

I gave Larry’s in Edgartown a call. The affable Don MacGillivray answered the phone. “Business as usual,” Don said, when I asked him how things were going. “The bass are getting bigger and bigger and there are plenty of blues if you know where to go.”

Don said the shop has some new products. He mentioned a big Hopkins spoon that had produced results trolled off Gay Head. Don said he expects a booming weekend.

Many fishermen will load up the four-wheel drive and head with their families to Norton Point Beach on the Katama side of the breach or to East Beach on Chappaquiddick where there is ample room to spread out. The advantage of course is that the barbecue grill fits in nicely with the cooler and the fishing rods.

The aroma of salt air and burgers on the grill is a wonderful combination. I have been out on Chappy when all I had to eat in the car was a Milky Way candy bar. On such occasions a sighting of a black Weber dome grill is similar to finding an oasis in the desert.

The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) manage most of the beach along Chappy and the two halves of Norton Point. It is a complicated job that requires balancing environmental regulations, enforcing rules intended to protect nesting shorebirds so that gulls, crows, and skunks can feast on their eggs and young, and managing fishermen and nonfishermen.

Dave Babson, Chappy superintendent, emailed me with good news. “The fish are finally in! Great weekend of fishing on Wasque with many big blues caught on the afternoon coming tide,” Dave said.

One of my first experiences on the Island was a fishing trip to Chappy. Standing on East Beach casting to rampaging blues remains one of my favorite things to do.

Unfortunately, it has gotten a lot more expensive to do it. The cost of a seasonal Chappy beach permit is $180. Still, I would advise any visitor that it is well worth the cost of admission.

The scenery is beautiful and the fishing can be spectacular. But even if the fishing is slow the experience is still unique. There are few places in New England that afford the same sense of isolation and beauty.

This weekend the early morning and evening tide should provide good bluefish action.

I recommend a black or green needlefish with the front hook removed. It casts like a rocket and generates lots of exciting surface hits. I prefer to replace the treble with a single hook so I can grab the plug like a handle and easily remove the bluefish.

There is also no need to stand in the line of surfcasters at Wasque Point to catch fish. Often, there is plenty of action up the beach towards Cape Poge and there will definitely be more elbow room.

License needed

With some exceptions, fishermen must register with the federal National Saltwater Angler Registry to fish this season. The federal registration requirement is a prelude to a state license that will go into effect in 2011 when Massachusetts will move to fully implement the provisions of a new law that created a Massachusetts saltwater fishing license.

In Dec. 2008 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA) announced plans for a national registry of saltwater anglers. NOAA said that better national surveys of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers will provide important economic and fisheries data.

Registration is easy and can be done online at www.countmyfish.noaa.gov, or by phone at 1-888-674-7411 (This is a correction from the print version).

Fishermen will need to provide their name, date of birth, address, and telephone number. They will receive a registration number that will allow them to fish immediately. After about 30 days they will receive a registration card in the mail, according to NOAA.

Not required to hold a license: Non-resident fishermen who hold a valid recreational saltwater fishing permit from another state, fishermen under 16 or over 60 years of age; disabled fishermen; and fishermen on licensed charter boats.