The quality of the fight trumps the quantity of the fish

Ned Casey, Nelson Sigelman holding his hard won fish and Tom Robinson, who closed his eyes to avoid looking at Nelson holding a fish. — Photo by Ally Moore

The wind was honking from the southwest and blowing from behind, over my right shoulder. Every retrieve pulled my lure through a barrier of weed known as red wool that lined East Beach.

It was tough with a spinning rod. Fly rodding in those conditions was a labor of love. But Justin Pribanic kept at it.

In the darkness I could see Justin, an expert fly fishing guide and fly tier who works at Coop’s in season, casting backwards. It is a technique fly fishermen sometimes use when the winds are not favorable and they want to avoid a self-inflicted new earing or piercing. Casting in that manner takes timing and lots of perseverance.

Justin was working awfully hard, I thought. I wondered how he expected to catch a fish amid the red, mossy gunk that I was continually cleaning from my lure. But the best fishermen persevere.

My attention had turned to a snarl in my line that I was trying to unravel in the wind while my lure, rolling in the surf line, continued to collect weed. I did not see Justin hook and land a very nice, healthy striped bass, one of two he would land that night.

Fishermen sometimes talk about the quantity of fish they caught on a particular night. I think it is those singular battles, the nights when you go toe-to-toe with a fish that stand out.

A few weeks ago, Ned Casey, Tom Robinson, Alley Moore, and I arrived at Menemsha Beach just at sunset. Small bass were breaking off the rocks and I quickly hooked a fish on a dark purple Sluggo fished on a light St. Croix 8-foot rod. As night fell, the action slowed.

I was just going through the motions when I felt a solid strike and the bass began pulling line off my reel with the strength of a heavy fish. I felt the line hesitate in fits and starts — I was around rocks.

There are a number of techniques for trying to free a hooked fish on the line from rocks. I walked up and down the beach to change the angle. I opened the bail and let the line go slack to relieve the tension. Nothing worked. The fish continued to pull line. I was concerned the line would break.

A set of beach stairs went up a high bluff behind me. Estimating how much line remained on my spool and with no other alternative I walked up the beach and up the stairs. The water was well below me.

It seemed strange to be so far back, but I put pressure on the rod and the fish began to move. I was off the rocks and able to retrieve line. Slowly, but surely I reeled the fish until I felt confident enough to run down the steps to the shoreline.

The whole battle had taken about 20 minutes. It was not the biggest fish I ever caught. But it will surely be one I will remember.

Renewed respect

On May 21, Joe El-Deiry and his son Luke, a fift- grader at the Tisbury School, traveled to Washington, D.C., where Senators Mary Landrieu, John McCain, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Lisa Murkowski hosted a premiere of “American Heroes Fishing Challenge,” a National Geographic documentary produced by Vineyard seasonal residents Bob and Sarah Nixon. It was attended by most of the soldiers featured in the film about their Vineyard trip to fish the Derby last fall, an important step in their healing process.

It was a quick 24-hour visit at a busy time for Joe, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee and the very busy general manager for John Keene Excavation in West Tisbury, but one he thought was important to make.

“We had an awesome time,” Joe said of the trip. “The best part was getting to see the soldiers again, seeing how they are doing with their healing.”

Approximately 300 people attended, including a contingent of Islanders. At the premier ceremony, Army 1st Lt. Nathan Rimpf, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, talked about how fishing on the Vineyard helped him acclimate back to life without limbs. Joe, on behalf of the Derby, thanked the senators for hosting the event and presented new rods and reels to the soldiers. “I told all the soldiers that the Derby committee wanted to makes sure that they all continued to fish for the rest of their lives,” Joe said.

I asked Joe what was the most rewarding part of the trip. “The best part of the whole thing was talking with them about how their trip to the Vineyard to fish the Derby changed their lives in a very positive way,” Joe said. “It helped all of them realize that they would still be able to be active and enjoy the outdoors. For some it was the beginning of their recovery. I don’t want to give names, but one of the Vets recovering from PTSD said it was the beginning of his healing. It really made him begin to smile again for the first time since returning.”

This fall, the Nixons will host the fifth American heroes Saltwater Challenge. As I think about it I find it terribly sad to think of another group of fine men and women, broken by war in a far away place, arriving this fall to fish the Derby. To help out, or for more information on go to

Catch and Release

The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club will host its 22nd annual Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament the weekend of June 15.

There are three prize categories: the Roberto Germani Trophy, for the most striped bass caught and released by a team; the Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy, for the largest striped bass caught and released; and the Arnold Spofford Trophy, for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly per team member.

The contest rules are simple. There is no fishing from boats. Fishermen may only fish from beaches that are accessible. The first cast cannot be made until 7 pm Saturday, and fishing must stop at exactly 2 am, Sunday.

The club hosts a breakfast in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria Sunday morning followed by an awards ceremony at 9:30 am.

The entry fee is $35. Money raised by the tournament helps support a variety of youth programs. For tournament information or to contribute, contact Cooper Gilkes at 508-627-3909. Sign-up early or Saturday afternoon, June 15, at the high school.