Gone Fishin’: Wade carefully, and carry a big rod

Our fishing columnist learns it takes very specialized tackle to land a big brown shark from the beach.


In 10 more days, the attention of the majority of Island fishermen will be firmly fixed on the start of the 71st Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby on Sept. 11. In the lead-up, with water temperatures high, there is still time to experience the thrill of battling a big brown shark that weighs in excess of 100 pounds (and feels like 500 pounds) from the beach.

On Sunday afternoon, I gained some firsthand experience. Here is what I learned is needed by way of specialized tackle: a very stout rod, and a reel that holds at least 400 yards of 65-pound braid line; a six-foot length of 300-pound mono leader attached to a 24-inch, single strand of 130-pound wire attached to a 8/0 circle hook; a large slab of bluefish or bonito for bait — and most important, if you are over 60 years of age, a teenager who thinks hanging on to a big brown shark is fun, and a bottle of Aleve.

It was Sunday afternoon. I thought I might relax, then Cooper Gilkes called: “Be at my house at 3,” he said. “We’re goin’ sharkin’.”

To be fair, I had stopped at Coop’s tackle shop the day before, where Coop was rigging up a shark leader for Ron Redmond, a longtime seasonal visitor from Darien, Conn., who with his family had gone out shark fishing with Coop earlier in the week, and was bit by the bug. Since I had never actually caught a shark from the beach, I expressed an interest. Despite his age, Coop has boundless enthusiasm and energy for any fishing trip that holds out the possibility of watching me become a piece of toast.

We arrived at the offroad vehicle entrance to Norton Point to find a cork in the stopper — a new, shiny BMW SUV stuck in the sand — as vehicles lined up, unable to get off the beach or on the beach. Taking matters in hand, I walked over with four of Coop’s nifty automatic tire deflators to assist the embarrassed-looking vehicle owner (I think he was embarrassed because his female passenger was sitting in the vehicle with all the windows up), and he and I and another anxious beachgoer deflated his tires down to 15 psi — actually, I think I might have gone lower than that, but hey, not my vehicle.

Properly deflated — literally and figuratively — the BMW guy drove out of the sand, and traffic on and off the beach began to flow. Not having been on Norton Point all summer, I was dumbfounded at the mile-long bikini, barbecue, and beach block party, which I learned is pretty standard.

We arrived at Wasque, where Coop found just the right spot to set up. He hurled a big slab of bluefish into a seam in the current and gave me a sly, knowing — I got you where I want you — smile. It was not long before I heard him yell, “Nelsonnnn, get over here quick.”

LIne was screaming off the reel, the sound an uninterrupted zzzzzzzzz, as Coop handed me his 10-foot rod. Line continued to fly off the reel as Coop instructed me on the finer points of not getting my fingers amputated by the flowing braid. “Is there a plan,” I asked Coop, “for when there is no line left?”

I attempted to regain line in the conventional drop, pump, reel method, but as Coop pointed out to me, “That only makes him mad.”

I am not sure why Coop pronounced the shark a him instead of a her but I figured he was just being chivalrous. I walked down the beach as the shark used the current to its full advantage. I will not bore you with the details, because it took more than one hour before I was able to bring in what after 30 minutes felt like a recliner couch with fins.

Since it was only late afternoon, there was a fairly nice crowd watching us. If it had been dark, based on what I was doing to my lower back and shoulders, I might have cut the line when Coop was looking the other way, but I dug deep and hung on. To be honest, Coop did spell me several times.

When the shark got close, after several failed attempts, Coop got a tail rope on it, and we hauled it up the beach to general applause that added a nice touch of the Coliseum to the outing. Had we been closer to the truck, Coop would have tagged the fish, which helps biologists gain a better understanding of these sharks, which are protected and must be released. But he was anxious to get the fish back in the water and do it safely — it was, after all, a shark.

We returned to the truck about 100 yards up the beach. Once again, Coop rigged up, and with little wasted time he had another bait in the water. Within 15 minutes he was hooked up again, much to the amazement of a wide-eyed little kid who had tussled earlier with a shark and lost it. “Connor,” Coop yelled (he knew better than to call my name).

Connor Redmond, 15, was on the beach with his family. He had fished with Coop earlier in the week, and with his dad, but had yet to land one.

Connor took the rod with the enthusiasm of a 15-year-old who still has a lot to learn. I watched with the satisfaction of someone who already knew what I needed to know, that sometimes it’s just fun to be a spectator.

Albies have arrived

There are lots of reports of false albacore off East Beach, Edgartown Harbor, State Beach, and Vineyard Haven Harbor — all the usual spots. Bonito and lots of bluefish are reported off the southeast corner of the Vineyard between Squibnocket and Gay Head. The fishing action can be expected to heat up as the water cools off, just in time for the start of the Derby.

$1,000 reward for shark tag
A 6-foot mako shark tagged in May off the coast of Ocean City, Md. as part of the Guy Harvey Research Institute’s ongoing shark tagging and tracking study, is presumed to have been caught near Martha’s Vineyard in mid-August, according to a press release I received. The satellite tag attached to its dorsal fin was recently traced to the North Falmouth area and the researchers are looking to get it back.

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, a non-for-profit organization that conducts scientific research and hosts educational programs aimed at conserving the marine environment, is offering a $1,000 reward for the return of the satellite tag. These transmitters are extremely valuable (cost is approximately $4,000 each) and are used to research mako sharks’ migration patterns and population, according to a press release. About 30 percent of the makos that are tagged are caught or killed by commercial or recreation fishermen, a practice that is prohibited unless a specific permit for highly migratory species is issued by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

Contact Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Executive Director Greg Jacoski at greg@guyharvey.com, call (954) 424-6389 or use the contact information on the tag.