Fishermen should walk softly and carry a big stick

Army specialist Dylan Waugh, 21, of Lebanon, Virginia checked out the Derby leaders Monday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Over the years I have written much about the camaraderie of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. While I admit it is a wonderful part of our annual fishing contest, I have to admit that I hate to find other fishermen in my fishing spot.

What is the definition of “my fishing spot?” Well, pretty much any place I decide I want to fish. And I know many fishermen share the same view.

I want to be a better person. I really do, but I cannot help myself. The irony is that as much as I dislike finding another fisherman in my spot, I have also argued strenuously for public access.

I just wish the public would use that access elsewhere. Fishing, like democracy, is very messy. We all believe in free speech until we hear or read something we don’t like.

The topic of fishing access is on my mind because of recent conversations I had about the rumored loss of fishing access to two Island fishing spots. These sorts of stories often start as a black and white tales overheard in a tackle shop. In my experience, the issues are seldom clear cut once you hear from both sides.

There are numerous spots tucked around the Island that provide informal access to fishermen who know how to find them. In all cases, the property is private but the landowner or association is willing to cut Island fishermen some slack.

Several weeks ago, I spoke to a young guy who was regularly driving down a long dirt road throughout the summer and parking in a small association lot in order to gain access to a prime Tashmoo jetty. One morning, another young fisherman, whose family lives on the road and has himself taken advantage of many Island nooks and crannies, suggested to the visitor he should be more mindful of the fact that the lot was private.

Under other circumstances the two might have fished together. One thing led to another — suspicions and allegations — and police became involved. It sorted itself out without any harm done, but each man went away feeling slightly bruised by the experience.

This summer, a parking lot in a Chilmark subdivision on the north shore formerly open to fishermen was closed. In that case, trucks rumbling along a dirt road late at night and fishermen talking disturbed the owner of a nearby property who had recently built a guesthouse. To its credit, the association is looking for a way to put some rules in place that would continue to provide fishermen with access.

I think there are several lessons to be learned. The first is don’t overdo it and be discreet. A vehicle parked in a private lot on a summer weekend attracts more attention than a weekday in June or even July. Always remember that you could be next, so try to be generous and stand up for access.

And be considerate. Listening to Snoop Doggy Dog with the windows down while you drive out of a parking lot at 2 am is a sure way to find a locked gate the next time you arrive to fish.

The Colonial Ordinances, enacted between 1641 and 1647 by the Great and General Court, as the state legislature was known at the time, retained the rights for the public along the tidelands to “fishing, fowling, and navigating.”

Of course, that does not give one the right to trespass to get to those tidelands — or listen to Kiss.


When gas was cheaper, there was no gap in Norton Point beach, and I was more ambitious in my pursuit of fish, I often headed out to fish Chappaquiddick from Wasque Point to Cape Poge gut.

Driving along the beach provided a sense of detachment from the rest of the world and any cares that remained in two-wheel drive. It was easy for an entire day, and often an entire night, to float on by if I had enough snacks packed in my old Isuzu trooper.

One of the pleasures of spending time on the beach was meeting members of the small community of like-minded fishermen at odd hours of the day and night. Don Mohr might have been the mayor of beach town.

Don could holler like a Marine sergeant or a coach — he had been both. But he always had an encouraging word for any fisherman he met on the beach.

Don, a former Derby chairman, hooked me onto the Derby committee when he decided the souvenir book needed an upgrade. Like any committee, there were the doers and the talkers. I remember one night when only a few hands were raised to help with a particular chore. Don barked that the committee was not a debating society. Don expected everyone on the committee to pull their weight or make room for someone who would.

Don, in poor health, and his devoted wife, Marian, left the Island in 2010 to be near family

Word reached me Monday that Don Mohr died Thursday at his home in a retirement community in Roosevelt, Georgia.

Derby fishermen are not known for being gregarious. Don was never one of those solitary figures skulking around the beaches, avoiding people. He liked people, and he liked fishing around people. His idea of heaven was 40 people crossing lines and cursing each other during a bluefish blitz at Wasque Rip.

I know he is having a good laugh in heaven.

Meet the boat maker

From noon to 4 pm this Saturday, Scott Landry from Eastern Boats in Milton, New Hampshire, will be at the Derby Headquarters in Edgartown to talk about his fine line of boats.

If you expect to be among the four grand leaders who will have a one-in-four chance of winning an Eastern boat, the derby shore grand prize, or you are interested in getting a boat the easy way — with cash, not nerves and fingernails — you might want to stop by for a chat or take a test ride in last year’s Derby grand prize Eastern 22, won by Steve Morris.

There will be hot dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks and tee-shirts and hats. Eastern is also giving up to $1,000 off a new boat, with the showing of a Derby button.

For more information, contact Scott Landry at 603-817-1914.

Generous Jen

Quinn Keefe, 11, loves to fish. Most afternoons and most weekends he follows in the footsteps of Derby champs and fishes from the Menemsha dock, beach, or jetty.

On Sunday, Quinn’s mom, Lori, was rushing him along so they could welcome the visiting soldiers who were arriving at the Beach Plum Inn. Quinn forgot his rod and tackle box. When he returned, he found only his rod.

Initially, he was pretty sad. He had won or bought all the tackle. When charter captain Jennifer Clarke heard the story she gave Quinn a stocked tackle bag she had won in the Derby.

I talked to Quinn Tuesday, a nice, polite young man. He wanted to thank Jen and Amy Coffey at the Derby weigh station, who also provided some gear, and thought the best way to do it was in this column.

After meeting the soldiers, many with severe physical injuries that have failed to slow them down or quench their spirit, Quinn told his mom that losing his tackle box was not such a big deal. “It’s amazing,” Lori said, “Even a kid can get it.”

Anyone who may have picked up the tackle box by mistake can return it to Menemsha Texaco.

No java

Ed Lepore called and said he found two thermos bottles on the dock at the Tashmoo Landing Monday. He did not report what was in the thermoses, but if you would like them back call Ed at 508-693-3595.

One more

It is the season of tired, harried fishermen and lost gear. Chris Adler left his surf pole leaning against his truck when he left Gay Head early Sunday around 3 am. The pole is a 10-foot St. Croix with a Stradic 8000 reel. If it was your pole you would like to get it back. Anyone who found it is asked to give him a call at 508-245-0369.