I have been a shore guide, taking people fishing and teaching surfcasting workshops, for the past nine years. My business, vineyardsurfcaster.com, kept me busy and connected as I searched for fish almost every day during the summer season. This year, I decided to take a break and get back to fishing for fun, instead of for hire. I didn’t realize I would feel so disconnected. My husband, Tristan, says I fish all the time, but it seems to me that I only fish a few times a week. I’m feeling the summer doldrums right now.
Lately I’ve been thinking, and I do a lot of that while standing in the surf under a star-filled sky in hopes of catching a striped bass. I just realized that when I cast my lure into the ocean, that’s the first part of fishing in the surf. That’s the technical part. I began to realize that the second I start to retrieve my line, that’s when the magic begins. That’s when I become filled with hope that I might catch a fish. That’s when I learn about my state of mind.
I might feel short on patience, and I begin to reel faster than my lure can swim. If I am not getting any hits from a fish, I start to feel every muscle in my neck and back begin to ache. I sometimes get a traveling itch. You know, that itch that goes from your ankle to your head and travels from spot to spot all over your body. That’s when I try not to lose faith that I will catch a fish. But then after some time of waiting and hoping and wishing, I get a bump.
That’s what striped bass do when they are getting interested in your lure. They bump it. Funny how one little bump from a fish can bring me back to being in the moment. A bump can wake me up and remind me why I am throwing a two- or three-ounce piece of wood or plastic with hooks on it into the abyss. I instantly refocus. I realize my mind has been traveling far away from the act that my body is performing, fishing.
I haven’t caught many fish lately. During the tourist season, I get locked out of some of the spots where I know I can find fish. Some of the places that give me parking permission get restricted because of summer renters. I gain access again once the summer tourist season ends. I’m afraid my days of walking a few miles over rocky beaches to get to some of the best striped bass habitat have come to a close.
I am fishing. I’ve taken the long drive from Vineyard Haven up to Lobsterville at sunset and stayed until almost midnight. Two weeks ago, there were plenty of fish at Dogfish Bar, but that night, I got a bump. I’ve fished Tashmoo a few evenings, and a few weeks ago there were plenty of fish, but now, I got a bump. I’ve borrowed a key to the locked gate at Quansoo and back- packed with my friend Randy Cameron. When Randy takes a break from his rooftop gardening business in NYC, we get together to do some fishing. We witnessed a beautiful sunset, but it was so weedy, we were unable to work a plug. We didn’t even get a bump.
I’ve taken the On Time ferry to Chappy a couple of times, now that some of the piping plovers have fledged and more of the beach has opened. Lisa Belcastro and I had a wonderful day on July Fourth. We fished for hours, without a bump. Once again, a beautiful sunset that filled our hearts with gratitude, but no fish.
I took another four-wheel-drive to Chappy with some friends of Cynthia Riggs, Chris Witherow and her daughter Sarah, visiting from Pennsylvania. They had never been to Chappy, and wanted to learn to fish. We had a wonderful evening. They caught on quickly to fishing with 10-foot surf rods and were casting like champs, but after a beautiful sunset and the tide threatening to trap us on the island for the night, we returned home happy but fishless.
I’ve been amazed that many of the beaches that I’m fishing on at sunset are void of humans. I feel sad when I see miles of pristine beach that only privileged people are able to enjoy.
Maybe fishing from a boat is a solution to this summertime dilemma.
I talked to Buddy Vanderhoop, charter captain of the Tomahawk out of Menemsha. Buddy says he’s busy taking people fishing and they are catching plenty of small fish, but his largest bass this year is a 28-pounder. He is usually catching bass in the 40-pound range. I can attest to that, as many of the 50-pound trophy fish that came into my shop, Island Taxidermy and Wildlife Art Studio, were caught from Buddy’s boat. Buddy said the water temperature is warm for stripers at 62°, and it was reported to him that they are doing well with bonito in Rhode Island; he was told a couple of bonito were caught off Dogfish Bar.
Capt. Porky’s has a new owner
Peter and Melissa Sliwkowski, owners of Larry’s Tackle in Edgartown, are now the new proprietors of Capt. Porky’s Tackle Shop on the harbor. Its new name is Lil’ Larry’s. They are aiming for Wednesday, July 18, to open to the public. We will miss Carol Koser and Capt. Porky, but wish Peter and Melissa lots of luck.
Ed Jerome called to tell me about a bonito that was caught on July 15. The angler, Art Lutschaunig, was on his boat Skunked, south of Wasque Rip. That’s the first one that is not a rumor. To his surprise, Coop presented him with a trophy, the Roberto Germani award for the first bonito of the season. I am pursuing the story for my next column.
I just checked the MV Surfcasters In-house derby results, and no one has weighed in a fish this month. The Surfcasters’ members are some of the best fishermen on the Vineyard, so I guess I’m not alone.
But I’m going to take my own advice and “never give up a minute before the miracle.”
Janet Messineo fishes the coastline of Martha’s Vineyard, where she’s lived since 1966. She is a retired surfcasting guide and taxidermist, former president of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, and both a Derby committee member and participant. She is a frequent source and contributor to newspapers and magazines. Her long-awaited book on fishing will be published by Pantheon Books in June 2019.