The joy of fishing

Joey Haung with a 25.41lb striped bass. Did I hear someone say, "There are no fish to be had during a Northeast blow." Nice fish, Joey and congratulations to everybody that weighed-in a fish this first week of the derby. — Janet Messineo

Don’t you just hate it when … you’re fishing in a channel and you hook up on what feels like the bonito of your dreams, and through the corner of your eye you spot a 25-foot Whaler with a pair of 150-hp Mercury motors, heading full speed between your fish and your rod?

You scream, “Fish on! Slow down, move away!” to no avail. You spy the “No wake” sign, and you scream, one last-ditch effort, “Can’t you read?” Your line wraps around his prop and the last 100 yards of line zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing from your reel. Snap. No fish. No line. Time to go home.

Don’t you just feel foolish when … you arrive at your favorite secret fishing spot at 4 am. It takes 10 minutes to get dressed in your foul-weather gear. Sweaters, windbreaker, heavy socks, waders, and lucky fishing hat. You reach on top of your fishmobile and realize you forgot your rods. Ugh! Might as well go back to bed!

Doesn’t it ruffle your feathers when … the weather repeatedly reports that the wind will be 20 to 25 knots northwest. You arm yourself with the rod that you refer to as your machine gun. It can handle casting into a strong wind that wants to blow you off the beach. You drive over a four-mile-long bumpy road to a north-facing beach. You get out of your fishmobile and the wind is from the southeast and moving about 2 knots; the water looks like the mill pond. You wish you had brought your fly rod!

Doesn’t it make you grit your teeth when … you’re casting shoulder to shoulder with 35 fishermen and the bluefish are blitzing. Everyone is fighting a fish. You cast, your plug soars through the air and just before it reaches the breaking fish, a seagull flies into your line and gets fouled by its ankle. After a tussle, you land the gull, rip your sweatshirt off to cover its head so he won’t bite you, free its foot from your line;, you look up and by that time all the fish are gone!

Doesn’t it bum you out when … you decide to take the long walk at Squibby. You grab your backpack with all your gear and head off for a long, rocky adventure. The sun sets, and it’s a pitch-black new moon night. A mile from the parking lot, you hook your first fish; you turn your light on to unhook a nice striped bass, but your batteries have gone dead! With difficulty you unhook and release the fish. You grope your way back to the car and arrive with a few new scrapes in the knees of your waders. More patches, and next time you won’t forget to bring extra batteries.

Don’t you just hate it when … it’s your first time out spring fishing. Armed with your fly rod, you wade out onto the flats. The water temperature is still only about 36°. You feel cold, wet spots around your thighs. You wade toward shore, and by the time you reach land, your feet and legs weigh twice as much as they did when you entered the water. Your jeans and heavy socks are waterlogged. It’s a hard way to find out that you need another dose of Aquaseal and a few new patches.

Doesn’t it make you want to cry when … it’s finally spring and you take a drive to Wasque Point. Your mouth is watering as you anticipate the first fresh bluefish of the season. You’re equipped with at least 30 different bluefish plugs. Lo and behold! The flavor of the day is that lemon-and-lime-colored Roberts that you left behind. Why do fish do that? The tackle shops are pleased with this finicky behavior.

Don’t you wish that you were anyplace else but here when … you’re fishing from the top of the Edgartown bridge. It’s a nor’easter and the channel is rolling with surfing waves that look like Hawaii. You hook a nice striper. You crab-walk to the end of the bridge and carefully work your way onto the jetty. Just one more step to solid ground, and you fall flat on your face. You lift your rod up high, so your reel doesn’t land in the sand, but you jump up spitting sand from between your teeth. Another striper finds his way to freedom!

Doesn’t it make you bonkers when … you’ve fished from sunset until sunrise because we all know those big striped bass are basically nocturnal feeders. Your bait is fresh, and your hooks are sharp, and you’ve checked your line for any nicks. You haven’t had a hit, pickup, or bump in 10 hours. It’s a bright sunny morning, and a good time to catch a couple of winks. The phone rings at noon. It’s your fishing buddy Ron. He tells you he heard some guy caught a 52-pounder right in the spot that we fished all night. It was 11 am, and he lobbed a Hopkins 12 feet from shore and reeled his fish in with his reel upside down! It turns out to be the truth!

Doesn’t it drive you up the wall when … you keep hearing “You should have been here yesterday!” “You should have been here a half-hour ago!” “You should have been here this morning!” “You should have stayed 10 more minutes. They came in like gangbusters right after you left!” Yes, I should have, and I would have, if I could have.

Isn’t it ironic when … you’ve arranged your life so you can fish every day during the Derby. You’ve been hitting one spot religiously, and the signs are there that the fish are around. A real-life responsibility arises. You miss one hour of the tide. They slam them! It feels like a conspiracy.

Doesn’t it make you think about taking up golf when … you go for an eye exam and just as you suspected, it’s time to start wearing glasses. You’re on the beach and it’s a dark and misty night. You need to tie a knot. You need your glasses. You dig through your pockets and find them, and that’s a miracle. You put them on and they’re covered with mist, you can’t see. You take them off, but your vision is bad, so you still can’t see. You fumble around for a while and then you spot a silhouette down the beach. It runs through your mind to approach him with tears in your eyes and ask him if he could tie a knot for you! The very next day you see your eye doctor and order contact lenses.

Don’t you wish you were home in your nice warm bed when … you’ve been out on a November night and the northeast wind has been blowing you around in the surf for more than three hours. You’re driven to find fish because you know the season is coming to an end. There are no fish, you’re cold and run out of energy. You hike back to the car and try to turn the key in the lock. Your hands are so cold that you don’t have the strength to turn the key. Just before you consider smashing the window and crawling in, you try the door latch and it opens! You thank the Lord that you forgot to lock it, and think, “Maybe it’s time to hang up my rod until next spring.”

Doesn’t it make you want to scream when … you’re slinging an eel, with an open bail, and you’re letting it drift in the current. Just as the line fouls around your hand, a fish hits it like a freight train. You hook it as it grabs your eel, and the line tightens around your finger. Another world-record fish drops the bait, and maybe it was for the better. You spend the next hour wondering if that fish will come back, and trying to decide whether you would have run to the weigh-in first or headed for the hospital with your finger in your pocket! A quality problem.
If that’s not enough … what about the time the Chappy Ferry cut off the biggest albie you’ve ever hooked? (It’s always the big one that gets away!) And the time the fish were boiling in front of you and with each hit your line parted, because you didn’t realize you had a nick in your guide. And the time you found some fish and before you could hook up on one of those lunkers that were rolling around right before your eyes, the doggone sun comes up and it was like a switch turned on and the fish disappeared! Not to mention the plastic bag that blew by you on that windy night and made you jump out of your skin, or the skunk that held you hostage on the jetty in the middle of the night. Last but not least is that darned rotten squid that somehow went astray in your vehicle a couple of days ago. When a hitchhiker says, “It’s OK, I’ll walk!” you realize all those pine-scented trees can’t cover up that aroma.


It’s Derby time

The 73rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby is underway. It’s my 42nd Derby. Can that be possible?

Whether you weigh in a winner or end up with the best story of the big one that got away, don’t forget to enjoy our beautiful island. I hope you experience many sunrises, sunsets, and make new friends and memories as you fish your Derby. Remember that we are stewards of the earth. Please leave the beach and the ocean cleaner than you found them. Be kind to the fish, and be kinder to fellow humans. Don’t forget: “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.