This story might have ended up as the Martha’s Vineyard version of the Loch Ness monster, only in this fish story Nessie got eaten. But of course, Island fishermen don’t wear kilts.
This story is unusual, not for what Alex Bettencourt caught — although a 34.5-pound striped bass is quite a catch from shore any day — but where he caught it. The fact that he did illustrates what it takes to be among the top Island fishermen.
Alex, 31, a carpenter who works with his dad Troy Bettencourt, started out his night at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown looking for squid to stock his freezer. “I ended up snagging my jig on the bottom,” he told me. It was too early to call it a night, so he went fishing.
“I went to State Beach — Big Bridge, Little Bridge — and didn’t get anything, so I decided to go up to the herring run,” he said. It was about midnight.
The herring run is located at the head of Lagoon Pond. It was built as a result of the dedication of a group of volunteers who recognized the importance of restoring and maintaining the traditional herring run that allows fish to pass from the saltwater lagoon to the freshwater Upper Lagoon Pond.
Although fishermen are not allowed to take herring, bass and bluefish follow the bait, and it is still a good spot to fish. A causeway separates the two bodies of water.
“I was fishing Sluggos to start. The fish were swirling and the herring were there, but they didn’t want what I was offering,” Alex said. He switched to fresh squid and a bone-white Jumpin’ Minnow, with no success.
“As I was fishing on the saltwater side, I heard a splash behind me,” he said. “I thought it was a cormorant or a bird, but I went over to the freshwater side and took a cast, and my second cast I hooked up to a pretty big largemouth [bass] that I landed.”
Alex knew the pond holds some nice freshwater fish, but he was surprised to catch a big largemouth. “It was weird to catch it at night,” he noted. He kept casting, but soon returned to the saltwater side to look for a striper.
Once again he heard a big splash from behind. “I was thinkin’ to myself there’s gotta be something big back there,” he said.
A lesser man might have been spooked — Vineyard Yeti; gator-people; a drunk from New Jersey going for a late-night swim — who knows what might be lurking there?
Alex walked back and cast the Jumpin’ Minnow, a go-to lure with a rattle inside that when worked correctly, skitters on the surface of the water and resembles a struggling baitfish. “The second cast I worked it really, really slow,” he said. “It was glass calm. You could hear the rattle on top of the water as I worked it back and forth, and all of a sudden I hooked up and the line started screaming out: At that point I didn’t know what I had on.”
Alex estimated he fought the fish for about 10 to 15 minutes. Using only a 15-pound leader, he did not want to force the fish and risk breaking his line, but he was using a surf rod.
“It tired, and I took off my shoes — I didn’t have my waders on because I was being lazy that night — and I jumped into the water and I didn’t know what I was reaching down to grab. I thought it was a world-record largemouth, to be honest.”
I pointed out that a largemouth of that size would have had to come from the nuclear plant in Fukushima. I suppose it was the only reasonable that he would think it was a largemouth, because most people from New Jersey don’t have fins. To his surprise he had caught and landed a 43.5-inch striped bass with a 26.5-inch girth in the freshwater pond.
“I was shocked,” Alex said. “The first person I called was my brother, Luke, and he said, ‘Can’t it wait til the morning?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m comin’ over. You’ve got to see this fish.’”
Alex brought the fish to his brother’s condo, where they measured it and took photos. He tried to call his friend Doug Asselin, a good fisherman in his own right, who works at Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs. But Doug, who has probably fielded a few late-night calls from fishermen looking to weigh fish on the shop scale, didn’t answer the phone. The two men met up in the morning, and got the fish to a scale.
My first thought was that the striper was a fresh arrival, and had followed the herring into the pond. Alex suggested it was one of a number of schoolies he had heard about that people caught on the saltwater side and released on the freshwater side. Striped bass spawn in freshwater and have been introduced into a number of lakes and reservoirs across the country, where they grow in excess of 40 pounds, so he is probably correct.
“I think it’s been swimming around in there for about 13, 14 years, and I just happened to catch it.”
Dick’s tourney winners
The arrival of good weather and big bluefish attracted 74 entries in Dick’s annual Memorial Day weekend tournament, held to honor the memory of fisherman Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs, who died on May 8.
Bob may no longer be with us, but I have no doubt his spirit fished in the tournament he had joined every year since its inception. I figure he was right alongside his good friend and fishing buddy Janet Messineo, who won the shore division. The results follow.
Boat bass: 1. Eric Pachico, 31.6 pounds; 2. Steve Baccelli, 27.6 lbs; 3. Keith Olsen, 27.2 lbs. Sea bass: Keith Olsen, 4.9 pounds.
Boat bluefish: 1. Tyler Gibson, 13.3 lbs; 2. Kyle Lichwell, 12.4 lbs; 3. Bill Potter, 11.9 lbs.
Shore bass: 1. Janet Messineo, 26.8 lbs; 2. Joe Uva, 24.8 lbs; 3. Pat Toomey, 16.2 lbs.
Shore bluefish: 1. Kenny Silvia, 12.3 lbs; 2. Lisa Leonard, 11.8 lbs; Mark Leonard, 11 lbs.
Catch and Release is Saturday
The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club will host its 25th 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.
This is not a stressful event. Winning isn’t everything, and does not get you much of anything beyond a simple plaque. The idea is to have fun. Prizes include rods, reels, and gift certificates, and are won through a raffle. Prior to the start of the awards ceremony, all the registration sheets go into a big box. Irrespective of how many fish a fisherman may have caught, he or she has a chance to win a big prize in the random drawing that follows — but only if they are present Sunday morning.
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 on Saturday afternoon at the high school.