Gone fishin’: The long awaited striper run arrives

Several weeks late, striped bass began showing up in Island waters in better numbers.

Remick Smothers (left) holds one of two large striped bass he caught on a fly rod while fishing with Nelson Sigelman off Lobsterville Beach. — Photo courtesy of Remick Smother

Retelling fishing stories about how good the fishing used to be is a frightening symptom of aging that appears along with various other frightening signs that include aches that seldom seem to disappear, and hair disappearing from the right places and appearing in the wrong places. No one likes to sound like an old codger, even when codgerism is setting in.

In recent weeks, I had been living on my memories of how good the shore striped bass fishing used to be on Martha’s Vineyard, in particular Lobsterville Beach. In the 90s, when it was not unusual to see a line of fishermen stretching up and down the beach. I spent many nights casting to the sound of a large bowling ball dropping in the water, the sound a big bass makes when it hits bait on the surface.

Last season, Tom Robinson and I had each caught more than a dozen “keeper” bass, fish 28 at least inches in length, before the start of June. This season, I did not catch a keeper until late June. The last week in June, Tom and I fished Cedar Tree Neck on a rising tide just after sunset and caught not one fish for our efforts, not even a schoolie. Other fishermen were having equally dismal luck from the shore and on the water.

So I was pleasantly surprised last week to hear that the bass had started to show up around the Island. The boats were also picking up fish. But the best news concerned Lobsterville.

It is a magical spot for striped bass fly fishermen. The prevailing southwest winds blow right off the back and the fish are generally right off the beach. When it is hot it is one of the finest spots to fly fish for striped bass on the Vineyard (which means the world). I was anxious to get up-Island. What better excuse than a visitor who wanted to fish.

Every summer about this time I get a call from Remick Smothers. I began taking Remick fishing when he was about 7 years old. His family did not fish and he loved to fish so they gave me a call and asked if I wouldn’t take him fishing. I took him to Lobsterville Beach. He returned home and proudly deposited three big bluefish in his grandmother’s sink. I recall that she was as tickled by his catch as he was proud.

Remick is now 25 and a fine young man with lots of social obligations and a new job. Last week, I got the call. “Nelson, it’s Remick. I’m here for a week and I’d love to get together and do some fishing.”

My first free night was Thursday. Remick was off with his folks at 6 pm to a BBQ party off South Road in Chilmark, a fundraiser for the Y. No problem, I said, the bass fishing will not start until the sun goes down. I can pick you up at 8:30 pm in Chilmark.

Now there are people who like to fish and there are fishermen. Any 25-year-old guy who would leave lots of food, pretty women, beer and friends to go bass fishing is a fisherman.

The driveway looked like a Lexus, Mercedes, BMW dealership lot — not a pickup truck in sight as I did my best to avoid sideswiping any bumpers.

Remick and I arrived at Lobsterville and made a quick walk up the dark beach. Bass were delicately snatching bait from the surface. I cast to each expanding circular ripple on the surface of the water. Not far away, Phil Cronin of West Tisbury, tell-tale cigar in his mouth, cast to breaking fish.

An experienced charter captain, Phil said it was his first trip to the beach this season. Word filters around the Vineyard and Phil had gotten the word: Lobsterville.

Finding stripers and getting stripers to hit can be two separate challenges. The fish were there. The key turned out to be a small black fly and very slow retrieve.

Remick was casting an intermediate line that put his fly lower in the water column where the larger fish tend to roam. Remick gets excited about fishing, and he gets really excited when he is catching fish. “Nice fish,” he shouted to me as line rolled off his fly reel.

He slid the fish up the beach. The bass measured 34 inches, a fine catch on any night, but a particularly fine fish for a young man happy to be back fishing under the stars on Lobsterville Beach on Martha’s Vineyard and another good story for me to tell when I become a codger.

West Basin parking

Years ago, the state built a public boat launch ramp at the end of West Basin Road in Gay Head. The state failed to anticipate that the town would restrict parking to the extent that only residents could easily park a vehicle and boat trailer.

Years ago, a fisherman could park along the fence. The town now restricts that area to residents. There is a lot at the end of the road that is state property with about 12 spaces, used by beachgoers during the day and fishermen in the early morning and night. Out-of-town boaters can use one of those spaces to park a trailer. It is not a perfect situation but it works.

Unfortunately, I heard that several spaces had been occupied for more than a week by trailers. On Sunday, I saw three spaces occupied by trailers, one of which had a boat on it. Given the limited available spaces it seemed quite inconsiderate.

I spoke with Aquinnah Police Chief Rhandi Belain. He has always done his best to accommodate fishermen. Chief Belain said he was aware of the three trailers and was looking into getting them moved to free up the spaces.

The owner of the boat and trailer said he was waiting for a mooring. That was several weeks ago, Chief Belain said. The chief has ordered signs that state that overnight parking is prohibited. That may help. A little consideration would also help.

Fluke fishermen get ready

The VFW fluke tournament is this Saturday and Sunday, July 12, 13. The cost to enter is $20 for adults, $10 for teens and seniors; 12 and under are free but registration is required.

In addition to the individual competition there is a team division. That is an additional $20. The winning team gets half the purse — the glory is priceless. Four heaviest fish each day count to the team’s total. It does not matter who catches the fish. Weigh-in is from 4 pm to 6 pm at the VFW. There is a cook-out on Sunday followed by an awards ceremony. Register at Coop’s, Larry’s, Dick’s, Shark’s Landing and the VFW. This is a fun tournament. For more information, call Peter at 774-563-0293.