Gone fishin’: Striped bass proved elusive on a foggy night

The 25th catch-and-release tournament burned calories, and our fishing columnist tells insulted Jersey residents: Fuhgettaboudit.

Members of Nelson Sigelman’s stalwart fishing expedition pick their way along the shoreline of Menemsha Pond in the fly rod catch and release tournament Saturday night. — Jason Zimmer

Generally speaking, I can accept those nights I go fishing and do not catch fish. One of the benefits of living on Martha’s Vineyard is that I can safely assume there will be another opportunity. The pressure comes when I agree to take other people fishing.

About 10 pm Saturday night, I began to experience vertigo because the unexpected fog that had rolled in had covered my glasses, and I could barely see in the darkness‚ or perhaps my sense of balance had just naturally disappeared after clambering and stumbling over rocks and through the water for what seemed like a mile, but was probably only half a mile, on my ill-considered mission to try and put my teammates on fish.

For some years now, I have teamed up with a great group of guys who travel to the Vineyard to fish in the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Striped Bass Catch and Release tournament, a one-night fishing contest. Saturday night was the 25th contest, and I began it with a sense of optimism that soon melted away in the fog and darkness.

My plan seemed sound enough. We would park at a friend’s access point on Menemsha Pond, and then walk along the eastern shoreline to the channel that connects Quitsa and Menemsha Ponds, where I expected fish to be feeding as the tide dropped. My plan had two near-fatal flaws — I forgot how long a walk it is at high tide when there is no beach to walk on — which nearly killed me — and there were no fish, which meant that my teammates wanted to kill me after I led them on such a fruitless long walk. Oh well, after many years they have become used to it.

At the awards ceremony Sunday morning, I heard similar stories. The fish had seemed to evaporate. Certainly, some teams got into fish, mostly small and concentrated, but overall it had been a poor night of striper fishing. I am convinced that atmospheric conditions — on that particular night a wind shift — act like a switch that prompts fish to feed or not.

Almost 100 fishermen entered the tournament. At the Sunday awards ceremony, many of them walked away with prizes that included new fly rods, reels, gift certificates, a custom-made antler lamp, and a case of beer, all awarded at random. Everyone who fished and was present at the awards ceremony had a chance to win a prize, irrespective of whether he or she caught a fish.

The tournament is built on camaraderie, fun, and generosity of spirit. As they have for years, a team from Orvis provided lots of great prizes and declined any recognition. Many of the gift certificates came from teams and individual members. The largest contribution came from Ralph Norton of Oak Bluffs, who provided a new fly rod and reel in memory of his brother Tim, and donated $500 to the club’s spring kids’ trout derby in memory of his father, William (Billy) Norton, a fine gentleman it was my pleasure to know.

When all the slips were tallied, 98 fishermen had caught and released about 330 fish, a good share of them about the same size as the squid being caught off State Beach. Still, it was an improvement over last year’s tournament tally of about 70 fish.

Later that morning I received a text message from Jason Zimmer, a member of our group, who suggested, “Instead of measuring how many fish were caught, we could switch to how many miles walked, calories burned, and pounds dropped.”

Roberto Germani Trophy for the most striped bass caught and released by a team: 1. Matt Bienfang, Perry Harris, Mike O’Connor (Team Chilmark Kitties, 23.3 fish average); 2. David Thompson, David Nash (Team Squid Brothers, 18 fish avg.); 3. Charles Harner, Karen Amos, Mary Filiault, John Dropick (Lew’s Crew, 9 fish average); 4. Tom Goulet, Rob Manby, Jason Graves (Team Orlando and the Tashmoo Toms, 5.7 fish average).

Arnold Spofford Trophy for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly: 1. Scott Maccaferri, Ed Tatro (Team Last Cast, 11.5 avg.); 2. Ben Scott, Travis Keltner (Team Michael Duble, 7 fish avg.); 3. Ralph Norton, Ken Berkov, Jerry Ferguson, Thain Allan, Jim Holder (Team Norton’s Nimrods 6.6 fish avg.); 4. Ralph Carrieri, Dave Hoskyns, Randy Shea (Team Hooters — as in owl — 3 fish average).

Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy for the largest striped bass caught and released: Tim Sheeran, 55.75 inches (36.5 inches in length, 19.25 inches in girth).


Last week, in a column about a big striped bass pulled out of Upper Lagoon Pond, I poked fun at New Jersey residents and suggested they might be on a par with gator-people. I have never actually met a gator-person, but I suspect there are nice gator-people, and no one from New Jersey should be offended by the comparison.

Why did I make fun of Jersey? To paraphrase mountaineer George Mallory, “Because it’s there.” Who knew I would offend a former resident of New Jersey, and be accused in a Letter to the Editor of harboring anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti–Chris Christie, anti-intellectual sentiments.

Some of my best friends are from New Jersey — not really, but I bet if I stopped insulting them, they would be my best friends — and I loved the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys.” My column was meant to be fun. So I apologize to anyone from New Jersey I may have offended, and sincerely tell you: Fuhgettaboudit.

Sea bass criminals

Last month, in two separate instances, Environmental Police officers caught fishermen with black sea bass well in excess of the recreational limit, most of which were undersized. These characters should not be allowed to even be on the water — they are selfish, ignorant, and would catch the last fish in the ocean.

In Wareham, based on a tip from an alert harbormaster, Environmental Police caught a commercial captain and five fishermen with 209 sea bass, of which 122 were under the 15-inch size. The recreational limit is five fish. The captain, a Woburn resident police did not identify because he was issued a summons and had yet to be arraigned, had his boat, trailer, and fishing gear seized. Police also handed his passengers citations for fishing without saltwater recreational licenses and possession over the limit and of undersized bass.

In another case, Environmental Police arrested Belmiro Baptista of Pawtucket, R.I., in Mattapoisett Harbor. They said he had 150 black sea bass in a hidden compartment, 75 of which were short, and the season had yet to begin. Again, a tip from a harbormaster was instrumental.

In a random boarding, Environmental Police found three New Yorkers with an excess of sea bass on their boat. Coincidentally, a tip about a truck at a landing with coolers full of sea bass led police to conclude that the men had landed fish earlier. Police seized 143 sea bass, 84 of which were undersize, approximately 20 fishing rods, and five coolers, and issued the men a criminal summons.

In all three cases, a generous dealer processed the fish for free so they could be donated to charity.

Environmental Police Major Pat Moran said help from the public is important. “We’re very fortunate that the harbormasters and the public have become more aware of what’s going on in regard to environmental violations,” he said, “and we just ask that if you see anything, report it to us, and we’ll take action. We’re looking for the public’s help.”

The anonymous hotline number is 800-632-8075.