A striped bass made all the difference in the Island Cup rivalry

Nantucketers and Vineyarders squared off over the weekend in the Islanders Cup fishing tournament. Left to right: Dennis Dias (Nantucket Anglers Club), Peter Sliwkowski (MV Surfcasters), Lonell Rodgers (Nantucket). — Photo by John Piekos

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket fishermen went wader to wader this past weekend in the annual Islanders Cup fishing tournament, a catch-and-release contest determined by weight.

The final tally was Nantucket Anglers Club, 72 pounds, 14 ounces, Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association (MVSA), 61 pounds. The critical difference was one striped bass.

Try as they might, the Vineyard surfmen could not hook a sizeable bass among many bluefish. Or perhaps they were just being gracious hosts.

Any way you look at it, a bad day of fishing beats a good day of watching soccer. Last week my wife was surprised to see me watching a World Cup soccer match. “What are you doing,” she asked, “I thought you didn’t like soccer.”

Assuming my serious journalist inflection, I explained that I was watching the game in an effort to try and understand why so many people around the world go bonkers (as in rip out stadium seats, riot and kill each other) over the game. “Maybe I’m wrong,” I said. But I digress.

Each season, members of the respective Island fishing organizations fish, eat and generally have a good time. Last year, the Nantucketers hosted the Vineyarders. This year, it was our turn. Organizer Victor Colantonio of Chappy provided me with a blow by blow of the action, or lack.

The inter-island Hy Line ferry arrived at 4 pm, Friday from Nantucket with 11 top anglers from the Nantucket Anglers’ Club. They were met on the dock by 11 stalwart Vineyarders. “After an hour at the Sand Bar restaurant meeting, greeting, snacking, and doling out tally sheets, the groups paired off, one-on-one,” Victor said in an email to me. “They dispersed into dark wet, cold, forbidding island haunts in a 40-hour competition to land the heaviest striped bass and bluefish.”

The prize was bragging rights and “the Island Cup, a sorry-looking pewter trophy that can’t hold a shine.”

Friday night, Victor and Scott Whitlock of Nantucket hammered bluefish on East Beach, north of the jetties “landing 27 fish and dropping nearly as many in 4 hours. Whitlock put a 9-pounder on his scorecard.”

Saturday was uneventful, with mostly small bluefish. “The score was essentially tied at 50 pounds per team,” Victor said. “The hardest working anglers working the best holes still had their needle stuck at nil. Both teams knew that the 2014 contest would hinge on who would land a bass. Pressure mounted and team MV sent its four ablest bodies to the north shore to work the rocks and pools of Makonikey, Menemsha Jetty, and Gay Head. The rest headed to Chappaquiddick to froth up the breach, Wasque, East Beach, and Cape Poge. Suspense was matching exhaustion in the 31st hour of the contest.”

Hmm, tie, lots of running around,no big score — sounds like soccer.

Early Sunday, at 12:40 am, Nantucket’s Lonell Rodger was fishing East Beach with his Island counterpart, Pete Sliwkowski. “First cast a bump, second cast a ‘blam’ and 10 minutes later Lonell has his 17-pound bass landed, weighed, off the scale and back in the water, none the worse for wear,” Victor said. “Big trouble is brewing for MV without a big fish.

“Sunday morning passed with the anglers in the doldrums, swarms of gnats and no fish.”

Hmmm, sounds like soccer in the rain forest.

At noon the fishing stopped. The trophy went to Nantucket and the fun and camaraderie, that was shared by all.

Jim Cornwell of Edgartown won the prize for the heaviest bluefish and Lonell Rodger’s bass took the largest (and only) keeper prize.

Fishing for the Vineyard were Victor Colantonio, Jim and Jonathan Cornwell, Jim Fraser, Jim Mullin, Peter Sliwkowski, John Piekos, Joel and Jason Graves, Matt Malowski, and Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs.  For Nantucket: Scott Whitlock, Peter Krogh, George Williams, Harold Wiggin, Lonell Rodger, Dale Gary, Dave Dauphinee, Tre Wullschleger, Dennis Dias, Bob Bechold and Bob Virta.

Contest postscript

In a followup email, John Piekos said, “Of the 22 hardcore anglers in this year’s contest, three didn’t land a single fish, which is remarkable. More remarkable is that only one angler landed a striped bass over 28 inches.  Maybe it’s time to think of eliminating the commercial season for these wonderful table fish and increasing the recreational ‘keeper’ length to 32 inches.  All the contestants were abuzz that if 22 skilled fisherman, using the best equipment and deploying proven tactics can not land more than one bass in one of America’s best fisheries in a perfect season that maybe the species is in a lot bigger trouble than we think.”

The inter-Island tournament now stands at Nantucket 4 wins, MVSA 3 wins. The action shifts to Nantucket in 2015.

“On a personal note,” John said, “I can think of no better way to spend a weekend than in the company of anglers, incredibly optimistic people, doing what they love to do in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As for the fishing, 2014 was tough but we looked back over the team weights for the past seven years and remembered, with a shrug, one year MVSA managed only 24 pounds against Nantucket’s 55 pounds and in other years where a team didn’t break 60 pounds, total. Then of course there are the wonder years of single team scores of 167, 155 pounds and 136 pounds tallied. We’ve come to realize that the Island Cup is less about fish on the scale than friendship from the heart.”

Fluke tourney date

Start tieing your fluke rigs and drafting team members, the VFW Fluke Fishing Derby is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13. This is a fun Island tournament. More information will follow.