Gone fishin’: When good things happen to bad people

A bluefish caught at Wasque on May 22. More are on the way. — Photo by Wayne Smith

I pulled my truck into Tom’s driveway. He unclipped his fishing rod from the rod holder and grabbed his waders from the bed of the truck. I was tired and relieved that my house was just a short drive away.

“Well, that was successful,” I said, commenting on the conclusion of the night’s fishing trip.

“That depends on how you define success,” Tom said sardonically.

“Well, we didn’t drown, and we didn’t get into a car accident,” I said.

Tom agreed it had been a successful fishing trip.

Granted, we had not caught any fish. But we had not put any real effort into the trip. We are not type-A fishermen — determined, driven to catch fish, and disappointed when we do not. I would put us much further down in the psychological alphabet.

One of the benefits of living on the Vineyard is that fishing is easy to do. There is no need for extensive planning. Toss a rod and a handful of lures in the car and drive 15 minutes in most any direction. As long as you do not need to catch fish, the evening will be a success — taking the earlier caveats into account.

Tom and I fished Bend in the Road Beach in Edgartown last Thursday. In recent years, squid have been available just off the beach, and we wanted to see if they had arrived.The wind was stiff and cold, out of the northwest, and it was unpleasant, and there were no squid.

We decided to try the flats just to the north of Edgartown Lighthouse. We were somewhat protected by the wind, and it was not unpleasant. There was not a lot of current.

We cast as we walked toward the small point on the corner of Eel Pond.

“It just doesn’t look fishy,” I said. As if on cue, a fish hit the Sluggo Tom had just cast. Tom, his fishing rod arched, looked at me with a big grin.

The fish got free. Neither of us had another strike.

The late spring cold weather got my fishing season off to a late start. I only recently uncovered my basement workbench enough so I could start cluttering it up with fishing gear. I did a preseason inventory of what I needed most immediately to begin the season. My list included leader material, black Sluggos in the 7.5-inch length, and a new tape measure to stick in my pocket.

One of the new regulatory changes this season is a reduction in the daily bag limit for striped bass from two fish at 28 inches to one fish. It is a welcome, and many fishermen would say, long-overdue change in the face of diminished striped bass fishing. Of course, regulations are only meaningful when followed and enforced.

If you are a selfish, unlicensed charter boat captain, like David Botelho of Fairhaven, and you have a group of ignorant, equally selfish customers on board, seasons and limits mean nothing. You go out and you catch fish until there are no more fish. But sometimes, good things happen to bad people and you run into the Coast Guard.

Last Thursday, May 21, Mr. Botelho took a group of four fishermen from New York fishing for sea bass on his 23-foot boat the Ava May. “During a random safety boarding, a crew from Coast Guard Station Woods Hole boarded the vessel and discovered the master’s license had expired in 2008,” the Coast Guard said in a press release.

The Coast Guard crew also found a boatload of sea bass. The Station Woods Hole crew escorted the vessel back to the dock, where it was met by the Environmental Police.

I spoke to Environmental Police Captain Patrick Moran on Friday. Environmental Police found 107 sea bass on board, of which 19 were undersized. “The fish were seized by us and donated to a local veterans’ shelter,” he said.

Mr. Botelho was summonsed on charges of fishing in a closed season, possession of undersized black sea bass, and possession over the recreational limit of black sea bass. The four customers were also issued citations for possession of undersized black sea bass, and possession over the recreational limit of black sea bass.

Massachusetts charter boats attract a lot of customers from New York and New Jersey this time of year, Captain Moran said. I asked him what the New Yorkers said when caught. “They claimed they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong,” he said.

Sure, 27 fish apiece. Hey, I have a bridge for sale too, and it’s in New York.

Captain Moran said one of the challenges is to convince the courts that these are serious crimes and involve serious money. He said Mr. Botelho is currently out of business, but at the moment there is nothing that prevents him from renewing his expired captain’s license.

In order for that to happen, the Environmental Police would have to request an adjudicatory hearing with the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Mr. Botelho is not new to the game. “He has a history with us,” Captain Moran told me. “It’s all for overages.”

What do you know, Mr. Botelho is a recidivist. I don’t suppose that has anything to do with weighing the odds of getting caught, and the relative low fines.

Captain Moran said the Environmental Police and local Coast Guard units will look at how they can work together this summer to address poaching on the recreational and commercial level.

“We’re not going to stop it, but at least we can slow it down,” he said.

Catch and Release is Saturday

The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club will host its 24th annual Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament this Saturday.

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 at the high school.

Coop’s will host an Orvis Day this Friday afternoon. Stop by to win a new fly outfit, and feast on hot dogs and burgers.