Gone Fishin’: Look what the tine brought in

Far from the clamoring crowd, a man is celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary without his wedding band.

© 2015 Marc Bryan-Brown

There are a lot of different ways a man can lose his wedding ring in the ocean. However, there are not a lot of stories that a wife would believe — or that would make her happy.

Were I to lose my wedding ring, I’d better come home with a Derby-winning bluefish that bit my ring finger off. I raise the issue in this week’s fishing column because I may hold the key to someone’s marital happiness (and it is not his finger, or a bluefish).

Last week, my friends Laurel Durst and Ed Strong, longtime seasonal Chilmark residents, hosted a couple from New York City and wanted to do something with them unique to the Vineyard. Might I be willing to take them crabbing or clamming? she asked.

I think most of us who live on the Vineyard enjoy introducing people to the Island’s charms, be it fishing, a drive on the beach, or a walk on a conservation property, in part because it is so easy to have a good time. There is no need to set the bar too high. If you catch one small bass and the night is a disappointment, take someone fishing who has never stood under a starlit sky on a dark beach waiting for a rod to bend under the weight of a fish, and your perspective will be renewed.

I told Laurel that the crabbing had been poor; on a recent expedition my wife Norma and I had caught two crabs and fed about 30 mosquitoes. I said clamming might be a more enjoyable and productive option.

Since I had already harvested my limit in Tisbury for that week and publicized that fact in my fishing column, I suggested she purchase a family shellfish license in Chilmark and we try Menemsha Pond.

Being entirely unfamiliar with the pond for shellfishing purposes, I checked with some Chilmarkers who pointed me in the direction of Quitsa, the smaller upper pond connected by a channel to the main body of water. But how to get there?

I decided that the best strategy would be to trailer my boat up to West Basin, pick up Laurel and her guests, New Yorkers Marc Bryon-Brown and Florie Seery, at the Menemsha dock, and try the flats inside past the channel that leads into Quitsa Pond.

Once in my 18-foot Tashmoo I ran down the basic information I give everyone who steps into my boat for the first time, irrespective of age or boating experience. I pointed out the button on the right side of my aging 30 Evinrude that kills the outboard engine, and I showed them my handheld marine radio, and explained how to call the Coast Guard by pressing the channel 16 button — you never know.

Keeping to the channel in Menemsha Pond, even in a shallow-draft boat like mine, can be tricky under the best of circumstances, but on Saturday the exceptionally low tide required a close watch on the flats, easily visible on either side in the clear water.

The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to dredge the main channel this winter. It is a project that will improve circulation and provide an overall benefit to the pond. Once in Quitsa, we hopped out, and I anchored the stern in about 2 feet of water.

Raking clams is not difficult, but it does help to give those new to the game a little bit of instruction. Florie, visiting the Island for the first time, was new to the game.

I explained it was best to extend the rake so the tines remain somewhat vertical as you work them into the sand, then slowly pull back and work the same spot. I showed how I place the handle on my shoulder to gain more leverage, a handy technique in areas with a lot of gravel and rocks.

I scratched my rake over a clamshell, and called Florie over and had her rake in that exact spot so she could get the feel of the distinctive touch of the tines on a shell. Pretty soon she was coming up with clams, much to her delight.

“I was definitely successful, finding clams of different sizes, so I was feeling pretty good about myself,” Florie said later in an email. “Not to mention the fact that it was a beautiful setting, the sky was stunning and the temperature was just right. We were in water up to our knees. It was quiet and we were all focusing on our task.

“I started to feel that clamming was a rather meditative, peaceful experience. As I drew my rake up, with quite a few things in my basket, I saw this big gold gleaming ring, hooked to a tine. There was no mistaking what it was — a man’s wedding ring.”

We were lost in our thoughts when Florie called us over.

“Look at this,” she said, as she held up the gold band in her hand. What was most remarkable is that she had not spotted the ring lying on the sand. Instead, one of the tines had passed through the wedding band, and the ring had come to the surface lodged on the rake. What are the chances of that happening?

The name of the manufacturer and a date, presumably the date the owner was married, were inscribed on the inside of the ring, but no name.

How had it happened to be there, waiting to be discovered? Who was the owner? We had harvested a basket of clams and a mystery.

Did it belong to a kayaker who used too much suntan lotion and had it slip off his finger while he rowed furiously? A shellfisherman perhaps, out one day on the pond as we were? Maybe it was intentionally tossed there following a stormy argument between spouses. Or it belonged to a bluefish.

“I felt so great to find this ring but the story won’t be complete until it gets back on the right finger,” Florie said. “I am very hopeful about that.”

I would like to reunite the ring and its rightful owner. All he has to do is identify the date. He does not have to tell me the story of how the wedding band got there, but I would be interested in hearing it.

Fishing update

The 70th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins Sunday, Sept. 13. Derby buttons are now available at local registration outlets and tackle shops. For more information go to mvderby.com.

False albacore and bonito have appeared around the Island in all the usual haunts. Check with local tackle shops for up-to-date information.