It is the lull before the derby storm

A hooter grand slam by Joe Pilkerton of Charlestown, aboard the Wayfarer with Capt Ed Jerome. Joe’s sons, Julian and Giles, helped by holding the bonito and blue. — Photo courtesy of Ed Jerome

Yesterday was a beautiful day on Martha’s Vineyard. The sky was deep blue, the sun was shining, and a light northwest wind carried dry air across the Island. Eddy Lepore and Chris Windram sat at a wooden table outside The Net Result in Vineyard Haven eating lunch.

What does that tell you? It told me that the fishing was slow, very slow. Eddy and Chris, a professional (, are expert fly fishermen and fly tiers. They are very good at catching bonito and false albacore.

As I set out in search of a slice of pizza for lunch, I thought I might be missing something. I thought that the change in air temperature from subtropical humid to Canadian cool might have thrown a switch. I imagined albies and bonito breaking the surface of the water off State Beach, Tashmoo, and Menemsha.

It was a relief to know I was not missing out on the action. Both men said it was slow.

Last Friday, I saw Chris, wrapped up to avoid the damaging rays of the sun, floating in his new Lund skiff with the bonito flotilla off State Beach. I joined the party and quickly realized why I have little appetite for waiting out bonito.

A flicker of bait or whirl of birds to the right. We motor to the right. A flicker to the left and the entourage moves en masse. It is so much more fun when the fish arrive in numbers and the schools of fishermen break up into smaller groups. Yesterday, Chris said he had hooked one fish, an albie, since we last met.

I do not expect this pause to last. Shorter days and cooling water temperatures will be the signal for the fish to begin to cooperate. It is difficult to say whether the schools of bonito and albacore that had taken up residence around the Hooter off the southeast corner of the Vineyard will move inshore.

With any luck, the mini-tuna will soon show up in all the traditional spots: off Cape Poge, in the gut, Edgartown Harbor, State Beach, West Chop, Tashmoo, and Menemsha.

The 67th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins Sunday, September 9. Many fishermen will be quick out of the starting gate. The following is a cautionary tale embedded with two lessons fishermen would do well to remember over the course of the coming six-week tournament.

Captain Thomas Mello was at the helm of the Dukes County Sheriff’s department patrol boat on Friday afternoon, August 17, headed out on a routine patrol from Edgartown Harbor along State Beach to Oak Bluffs, when he spotted a guy swimming in the water off the flats of Eel Pond.

It was an unusual place to see a swimmer. There are no nearby beaches. Captain Mello ran over to investigate and make sure the man was fine.

“I’m okay, he said,” Mr. Mello told me in a phone call. “I said, you realize you’re only in four feet of water. He said, ‘no.’ I said, well, stand up. So, he stood up and he says, ‘Oh, that’s good.’

“I says, did you swim out from Eel Pond? He said, ‘No, I fell off a boat, and I guess they didn’t realize I fell off the boat.'”

The man had left a Cape port aboard a 52-foot sportfisherman. Their itinerary included a trip to Edgartown for lunch, a jaunt to Nantucket, and the OB fireworks later that night. The man was closing a fish door when he slipped, or something like that. Details were slim.

The man’s absence was not noticed for at least 30 minutes. he had been in the water for only about five minutes when Mr. Mello spotted him. By the time he had fished him out and delivered him to Memorial Wharf, his friends had put down their sandwiches and were making their way back to Edgartown.

The man was lucky for three reasons: He fell off just outside the flats; the direction of the current pushed him into shallow water; and Captain Mello was on the job and alert.

“He was very lucky,” Mr. Mello said.

“Do you have his name?” I asked.

“I do, but he wants to be anonymous and so does the boat and I respect that,” Captain Mello said. “There were no injuries. It was just one of those things that happened.”

So what are the lessons to take away from this story? The first is always wear a personal flotation device (PFD). I have a very comfortable inflatable vest. There are several varieties that inflate using a CO2 cartridge. A PFD in a storage locker is useless whether you fall off or the boat goes down without warning.

The second lesson is do not go out in a boat with people who would not notice if you were not on the boat, “Anybody see Nelson?”

Splash down

Last week, I described the addition of splash rails to my Tashmoo-18 (Aug. 23, “Dumb boat owner turns to smart rail for a dry ride”). It was a do-it-yourself job using a product called Smart Rail, which relies on a specially designed PVC rail and space-age adhesives.

On Friday, I took my boat for a spin. East Chop, West Chop, and the ferry wake provided a good test of the product. It was a success.

My boat will never be dry, but the annoying wash over the gunwales I had tolerated for years, even in a slight chop, was gone. Best of all, when I returned to the dock, the rails were still in place.