Gone fishin’: With Coop, there is always a plan — details come later

The sounds of Dixie at the Derby: Charles Klinck, Jim Smith, Sandra Smith, Cooper Gilkes, Heather Klinck and Gene Klinck. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Coop will have a plan. Coop always has a plan, I told a group of friends who arrived from Alabama on Thursday of last week. What it will be and how it will work out, I don’t know, but he will have a plan and we’ll have fun, I assured them.

Cooper “Coop” Gilkes is one of those individuals who can turn a trip to the supermarket into an adventure if the route goes by any body of water that could potentially hold fish. He wanted to take our Alabama friends out fishing, and since the weather ruled out a boat trip I figured we would hit the beach.

Charles and Heather Klinck, with Jim and Sandra Smith, had driven up from Union Springs, a rural farming community in the heart of Alabama where good manners and good hunting dogs are highly valued, for a quick Island visit. The Klincks, longtime seasonal West Tisbury residents, had some final details to attend to following the sale of their Island house and the occasion of their visit provided an opportunity for Coop and me to reconnect with people who exemplify Southern hospitality.

In January 2010, Coop and I made the first of two trips to Union Springs (Feb. 10, “Island hunters find fun, friends in Alabama”). The life-size bronze statue of an English pointer on a granite pedestal in the middle of the Bullock County seat not far from the courthouse and a banner over a hardware store welcoming deer hunters provided a sense of the town’s priorities. A dinner party Jim and Sandra Smith hosted in a steel barn on their plant farm introduced us to the community and the importance Southerners place on a well-cooked pot of grits.

I had just gotten home and my couch was feeling pretty comfortable when the phone rang. “Be here at 6:30 pm,” Coop said. “They’re going to come over after dinner and that will give us time to get the rods ready.”

The notion of getting “anything ready” at Coop’s, the home that shares space with his well known tackle shop off West Tisbury Road in Edgartown, is subjective. Everything at Coop’s is in a state of more or less semi-readiness. Duck and goose decoys sit by the shed. Rods for every purpose lean against the garage. Eel pots, buoys, clam rakes, lines, coolers, boats and all the assorted collected paraphernalia of a life spent outdoors is in the yard.

I learned long ago to open coolers cautiously. One warm summer day I asked Coop if I could borrow a small cooler. Coop, who is as generous to strangers as he is with friends, said, “Sure Bud, no problem. Just grab one outside by the driveway.” Inside the cooler were several eels left over from a fishing trip many days earlier — spontaneous generation in reverse.

Coop’s guiding schedule and my work schedule had made it difficult to fish together and I was looking forward to anything the night might bring. Jim Smith, Charles Klinck and his brother, Gene, who had stopped in Vineyard Haven on his way south by sailboat from Maine to Mobile, Alabama, joined us at Coop’s about 7:30 pm. The ladies, Heather and Jim’s wife, Sandra, had wisely opted to stay out of the howling, cold north wind. The first order of business was to sign up for the Derby.

Had I been in charge of this expedition I would have grabbed some bags of squid out of the freezer of which Coop has an ample supply. But that is not Coop’s style. The “plan” was to jig for fresh squid. “It makes a difference,” Coop said, and he was on a mission to see the southerners catch fish.

There is a knack to jigging squid. It takes time to develop a feel for the embrace of squid tentacles. Coop and I were delighted when after several misses the guys started landing squid, a primordial style of fishing that is plenty of fun, and comes with the risk of getting a shot of ink. It was getting near my usual bedtime when Coop decided we had what we needed and we left for Katama. Coop, who appears to be able to exist on 18-minute naps spread across a circadian cycle — often taken while he is standing up — was just getting his second wind.

We set five rods out in a line spaced about ten yards apart. Glow sticks on each tip danced in the wind. Each time a wave or wind gust bounced a rod one of the guys would start for his assigned rod. “Don’t worry,” Coop said, “you’ll know when you’ve got a real one on.”

My rod was at the end of the line, an old Fenwick I had owned for more than 25 years but which was still capable of bringing in a big fish in the surf. “I bet ya a buck you don’t have any bait left,” Coop said. Coop’s tackle shop wall is adorned with signed dollar bills and he wanted to add another one of mine to the collection because I was not using a float to keep my bait away from crabs.

I wisely refused the challenge but decided to check my bait. I rebaited the bare hook and had just walked back to the truck, which was acting as a windbreak, when Charles shouted that I had a fish. With instincts borne of many Derby nights, I ran to the rod. With some help from Coop I landed a 20-pound bass.

“I can’t believe you grabbed that rod,” Coop said to me in a disapproving tone.

I had not thought to do otherwise. Now I was faced with a horrible prospect. What if the guys didn’t catch a fish?

The rod went down again. “Quick, Charles,” I said, and half pulled him to the rod, even as he protested that it was my rod and I should reel it in.

The fish were moving past. Several hits followed. The guys ran for the rods only to be disappointed. But that did not last long. Jim and Gene each caught a small bass. But it was not long before the rod tip arced with the weight of a big striper. “Quick, Jim, that’s a good one,” Coop said. Jim, a plant farmer by profession, put his arms and back into the rod.

The striper, every bit of 20 pounds, slid up on the beach and earned Jim a daily pin that he was overjoyed to bring back to Bullock County. It was all just part of the plan.

Give it back

Jim Cornwell of Edgartown is a hard-fishing gentleman who, at 77 years of age, still out-fishes and out-catches fishermen half his age. Sunday, he returned from pitching eels into the surf at Quansoo and parked his Tahoe in the driveway of his house on Windsor Drive in Edgartown, a dead end. Normally, he takes his rods off the rod rack and puts them in his garage, but he started watching the Pats game and never went out.

The next morning, he woke up to go albie fishing but his surf rod was missing from the top of his SUV. He thought his wife might have brought it into the garage.

In fact, the PVC rod holder had been pulled off his truck, leaving only the stainless steel screws, and the outfit, a 10.5 foot St. Croix rod and Shimano wide-spool reel, was gone.

The rod had been a father’s day gift from his son last year. He had only bought the reel several months ago.

“It was like part of me being ripped out,” Jim said. “I cherished the whole thing because it’s light as a feather, and hey, at 77 I need all the help I can get. It’s just kind of a sad thing to have happen. And to think they’d come right on my own property and lift it off my vehicle, that makes it more irritable.”

This is just plain wrong. Someone on this Island knows something. Ask around. We need to get Jim his outfit back

Lost fly rod

A clear indication that the Derby is entering the home stretch is a report of gear left behind by a tired fisherman. Bob Green placed his Albright fly rod and Orvis reel on the side of the road at West Chop. By the time he realized he had left it behind and returned to West Chop the rod was gone. Please help him get it back. He can be reached at 617-899-2065.

69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Oct. 8)

Boat bluefish: Preston A. Butler, 15.00

Shore bluefish: Ryan J. Pinerio, 15.05

Boat bass: Vinny Iacono, 39.77

Shore bass: Creanga L. Cosmin, 38.63

Boat bonito: Norman E. Bouchard Jr., 10.47

Shore bonito: Kerry Leonard, 6.63

Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17

Shore albacore: Trevor C. Knowles, 11.95

(Daily, weekly, and division results are available atmvderby.com.)