Gone fishin’: Weather warms up but bass fishing stays cool

The new fish pier is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Is it just me or has the fishing for striped bass been considerably off this season. If it is just me, I am having very poor luck. Last year, by the end of May, I had caught several keepers. I have yet to catch a sizeable fish.

But fishermen remain optimistic. The fisherman’s chant — one more cast — was not intended to be muttered by a pessimist. The prevailing theory is that a cold spring and successive east winds set us back several weeks. We will see. This time of the year is when we would typically be experiencing our best striped fishing along Lobsterville Beach, the breach, and East Beach on Chappy.

Regarding the last two fishing spots, I had a conversation with Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations. Each fishing season Chris must balance the needs of competing constituencies, which include state and federally protected shorebirds, the state and federal biologists who enforce those regulations, fishermen, beach-goers, and the people who sign his check and would not be pleased if a bird were to be squished by a tire or some kid running for a Frisbee.

Each season, The Trustees are required to protect nesting shorebirds. Once their chicks hatch, the protection is ramped up to include no over-sand vehicle travel anywhere the birds may be feeding or traveling. That prohibition is extremely restrictive on narrow sections of barrier beach, for example the elbow leading to the gut, a popular fishing spot and currently not accessible from Cape Poge.

On Sunday, Chris met with several fishermen, members of the Surfcasters Association, who questioned what might be done to ease some of the closures. Chris said that in response to that meeting The Trustees moved fencing to open up several hundred yards. Not a lot but it helps.

“It was all predicated on the fact that this is where the chicks are now and if they move tomorrow we are going to have to move the fence line again,” Chris told me in a phone conversation Tuesday. “What we are trying to do is find some middle ground where the birds have adequate protection and as much beach as possible is opened up.”

Chris said several fishermen had questioned the number of chicks based on the lack of visible exclosures. The group took a ride. Chris pointed out some of the nesting sites, not all of which are marked by an exclosure.

What is an exclosure? Think of it as the crow, gull, and skunk version of a plover refrigerator. Well-meaning biologists erect wire mesh tents around plover nesting sites to keep predators out. Landowners are required to be earnest about protecting plovers or run the risk of being found liable by wildlife officials for a take — From Section 3(18) of the Federal Endangered Species Act: “The term ‘take’ means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

Crows are pretty smart. Smarter than a feral cat.

When God created plovers he designed their natural coloring to blend in perfectly with their beach environment. Even a crow or gull might have trouble spotting a plover chick against a sand and pebble background. Big wire exclosure? No problem. Caw. Caw.

Chris said that increasingly predators sit on an exclosure and wait for the adult or the chick to emerge from the exclosure. “As they [predators] get smarter you have to change your tactics,” he said.

The Trustees are now erecting exclosures around the more vulnerable nests, Chris said, those that are out in more exposed areas. Those that are near beach grass are left to survive on their own, and they are having some success.

Currently, the stretch of beach from the windmill house to the gut is closed. “We have five plover chicks running around out there,” Chris said.

A portion of beach is closed between Arruda’s Point and the bathing beach and between Wasque and the bathing beach, however the back trail is open to Wasque. One mile of the eastern end of Norton Point is closed to protect terns. The breach is accessible from the Chappy side.

Chris said the fishing for blues was hot on Chappy for several weeks but has slowed down. “Most of the guys now are just waiting for the bass to pick up,” Chris said.

Me too.

Thanks for the fish pier

I am looking forward to walking with an order of fish tacos from the Lookout restaurant down to the new fish pier to sit on one of the six wooden benches and watch some little kid pull up a scup, or a big kid hook an albie. Both are possibilities.

Last week, I walked to the end of the pier. A visiting couple, Wayne and Wendy Sedgwick from New Haven, Conn., were sitting on a bench reading “Poseidon’s Arrow” (him) and “Betting the Rainbow” (her). There wasn’t a fishing rod in sight, but that will change and the pier will take on some of the ambience of Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. It is all good.

The height of the pier is of some concern. Jack Sheppard, director of the Office of Fishing and Boating Access, said the new pier is the biggest one his department has built and reflects 25 to 30 years of engineering experience, including mistakes over the years.

Low piers are more vulnerable to storm damage. The height is a necessary compromise.

Fishermen down south commonly use pier nets, basically a round hoop net attached to a line,  to land fish. The Surfcasters Association or Derby committee might consider stocking the pier with a few nets. There would be some paperwork involved, but it is a possibility.

Jack told me the department has to okay any additions. That is a result of a bad experience with fishermen placing rod holders on a pier and attempting to “reserve” a spot. Now the department has a rule that nothing may be attached without department approval.

Hopefully, fishermen will take care of the new pier that their tax dollars financed. The benches are not for cutting bait.

A word about Jack. He is a fisherman and hunter who enjoys the outdoors. When he joined the department in 1986 there were 42 public access sites. That includes boat ramps, canoe slides, piers, and fishing access spots. Now there are 287 sites. Not bad for a nine-person department that in real dollar terms has seen its budget shrink over the past 10 years.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new pier is 11 am this Thursday, June 19.

Striped bass season opens

The commercial striped bass season opens Monday, June 25. In past years, the commercial season opened in July and closed in early August once the state’s quota had been reached, usually in early August. In 2012 and 2013, the season closed after only 16 days, in part due to a large congregation of fish off Chatham.

This spring the Division of Marine Fisheries announced that the 2014 season will open on June 23 and remain open until the 2014 quota, approximately 1.15 million pounds, is reached.

The change is expected to meet market demand for bass over the July Fourth holiday and give Island fishermen an opportunity to capitalize on local fish.