When the fishing is impossible, fish the possible

Geoffrey Gund holds up a wide-eyed squid. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Island living has many benefits, and challenges. Year-round Islanders learn how to be creative, particularly in the summer when they must earn a living, and conjure up stories to keep relatives from visiting.

Sooner or later, every Island fisherman faces a challenge unique to the sport. He or she agrees to take someone fishing and the pressure is on to find fish — reputations may be at stake.

Every year for more than 15 years Cooper Gilkes and I have agreed to participate in the Possible Dreams auction, the well-known annual fundraiser for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services that generates hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The premise of the Possible Dreams is that the so-called “dreams,” auction items really, are unique experiences that would not normally be found for sale on a shelf.

The big-ticket items generally involve celebrity and power-broker offerings to hobnob with people “in the club.” For example, golf with Washington insider and lawyer Vernon Jordan, and sushi with actor Jim Belushi.

And genuinely unique adventures, like landing on the USS Kennedy aircraft carrier for a two-day stay in the South Pacific — that went for $25,000 on auction night Monday.

In the past, any appearance and offer by resident songstress Carly Simon could be counted on to add several zeroes to a bid. I am looking forward to the day that Lady Gaga, rumored new Island resident, does her part and picks up the charitable mantle. Her appearance would really liven up an event working to maintain its old magic.

So where does fishing come into all this? Well, years ago the organizers decided to balance off all the glitter and excitement with several “Island” offerings. That is how Coop and I got roped into the good cause.

Last August, Geoffrey Gund of West Tisbury and New York City passed on an impressive list of offerings that included spending time with people who speak French, people who can draw, sing, play music, and hit balls, people who can describe microbes, even people who speak English-English, to go fishing with Coop and me.

Later, when I asked Geoffrey, a teacher at a private school in Manhattan, why he bid on the trip, he said, “I thought it would be fun.”

Geoffrey contributed a lot of money to community services to win the trip and we were feeling the pressure. Actually, it was Coop who was feeling the pressure, me not so much. I told Coop, “I’m like one of those embedded journalists, along for the ride.”

The truth is that Coop takes his fishing responsibilities seriously and if he agrees to take someone fishing he is going to do everything he can to put them into fish.

The trip description read: Island angler legend Cooper Gilkes and the MV Times editor and fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman will take you and three friends on a Vineyard Fishing Adventure and you can read all about it in Nelson’s account in The Times.

They used to call me a legend until I got the marketing folks to change it — the expectations are so much lower when you are a columnist and not a legend.

Unable to find a date last year, we had agreed to find a day that worked this summer. That day was last Friday, and as any fisherman knows, late July and early August, a period known as the summer doldrums, can be tough fishing.

Coop asked me to make the arrangements. I gave Geoffrey a choice. We could go out in the boat and look for stripers and bluefish, bottom fish for fluke and sea bass, or look for fish from the shore — a difficult prospect but a uniquely Vineyard fishing experience, and one they wanted to try.

Early Friday evening we met Geoffrey and his two sons, Tyler, 20, and Geoffrey R., 22, at the shop. The plan was to outfit them with waders. I hadn’t counted on Yeti-size shoe sizes so we went with boots.

We had arranged to meet early. Bass had been feeding on small herring along Lobsterville Beach before the sunset and we were hopeful we might find some fish.

On the ride up-Island I learned that Tyler and Geoffrey, who recently graduated college, live in the Bronx for the summer. Tyler is working as an intern for a congressman. Geoffrey has an internship at the Museum of Modern Art.

They said it was only their second visit to the Vineyard and they would return to New York on Sunday. I expressed surprise that anyone with access to a lovely house on the Island would not travel to the Vineyard every available chance.

Then it struck me. “Boy, am I stupid,” I said. Why would two good-looking young guys in their early twenties choose Martha’s Vineyard over Manhattan with its restaurants, nightlife, and beautiful women? Let’s face it, the Island is boring and not everyone wants to listen to the crickets.

Tyler, who is interested in politics and obviously has some diplomacy skills offered, “It’s nice to be on Martha’s Vineyard.”

That may be, but the boys kept a close eye on their smart phones. My guess is that they were receiving regular reports from friends in the Big Apple. What could Tyler have replied: “Catching sea robins with my dad and some guys named Coop and Nelson on Lobsterville Beach.”

And that was the truth. The bait was there when we arrived. Terns were diving. It looked good but the bass were scarce.

The guys plugged away, I will give them an A for effort. And they did catch some impressive sea robins.

Coop was clearly disappointed. I reassured him that he was doing all he could do and that it was all about the fishing experience, not the fish count.

We left and headed for Menemsha Beach. Maybe the fish were there. There were no fish, and the wind had picked up out of the south, eliminating Coop’s fallback plan to go to the Norton Point breach. The surf would have made fishing with novices too treacherous and we were not about to take the risk.

Did we give up? No way, we simply moved down the food chain. Coop introduced Geoffrey, Geoffrey R. and Tyler to the sport of squidding from the Edgartown dock.

Music thumped from the Boat House bar. Well-dressed men and women walked through the parking lot. It might have been Manhattan.

Geoffrey R. hoisted up his first squid. It was a Vineyard kind of night.

Tuna fever

The report from Justin at Coop’s is that “everyone has tuna fever.” The fever ranges from bonito at the Hooter off the southeast corner of Martha’s Vineyard to blue fin tuna a little further south.

Fishermen must comply with federal regulations when fishing for tuna. That includes a license for the boat and very specific size limits. The current limit is one bluefin tuna measuring 27 to less than 59 inches, per recreational vessel per day/trip.

The recreational yellowfin tuna daily retention limit is 3 yellowfin/person/day/trip. The minimum size for yellowfin and bigeye tuna is 27″ curved fork length. There are no recreational limits for bigeye, skipjack, or albacore tunas.

The shore fishing remains slow but there are brief flurries of activity. Wasque had a genuine bluefish blitz on the falling tide. I would also not discount Lobsterville.

All that bait is going to attract fish. Striped bass, bluefish, or bonito could show up at any time.