Last week my wife and I traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., to visit our insanely cute newborn nephew and, of course, his parents. Meeting my nephew and seeing our family was amazing, but traveling in the heart of the Derby was tough. My wife, being the incredibly thoughtful person she is, arranged for me to meet up with some extended family to go out on a fishing charter between California’s central coast and the Channel Islands, a group of eight islands located in on the other side of the Santa Barbara Channel.
I had never fished the West Coast, and was really looking forward to the opportunity to try for for some new species. We woke up before dawn and made our way down to the marina. The boat was large, and there were about 15 people on the charter. Everyone onboard had some experience, had brought their own gear, and several of them had been on this particular boat before. The trip to our first designated fishing spot was about an hour and a half from Santa Barbara, where we were going to “try” for some lingcod, a rather ugly fish that is not actually a member of the cod family (it’s in the same group as sablefish, Pacific rockfish, and scorpionfish), and is greenish blue in color.
Our captain and crew proved to be very efficient. At their order everyone dropped their bait on a structure about 250 to 300 feet deep. Within about an hour everyone on board had caught their limit. As quickly as we had arrived, we were off to our next location to try for another species. When it was all said and done, I had caught six different species of fish, and the boat had caught its limit on everything that was legal to catch. Though I enjoyed the opportunity, there was something totally impersonal about the experience. The crew were all very experienced, kind, and well-informed, but there was no skill or knowledge by the individual anglers needed. Every time we dropped bait we hooked up on fish, and it was more of a race to catch the quota than an actual fishing expedition — at least the challenging, strategic and thought-provoking type we’re used to around here.
Obviously, as soon as we got back to the Vineyard, I was itching to get out and fish the way I know and love. I longed to load up with some eels and walk several miles down the beach to wait patiently for the bass to come in. I missed the solitude, the anticipation, the peaceful calm of being just one insignificant person standing in the ocean hunting for a prize fish. As soon as we arrived home, I packed up my gear and headed out to find the coast just as I had left it. Miles of untouched beach and rocks ahead of me, with the occasional red light of a headlamp glowing on the beach.
Before I had a chance to wet a line, I was approached by a woman who was in need of some help. She was relatively new to fishing, and had lost her lure and leader to the school of small bluefish that was running up and down the beach, wreaking havoc on everyone’s tackle. Not long ago I would have been at a similar loss myself, but I found myself in a position to be able to help, and it felt good. Luckily, I had extra gear with me, and was able to get her back on the water in a matter of minutes. A few moments later I ran into Tim, a newfound fishing friend I have now run into a dozen or so times on the beach. We caught up quickly and I got to fishing. Though I didn’t catch any Derby-winning fish, I had a great night fishing, and it was great to be back in familiar waters. I felt much more reward for the work I had put in, and a tremendous amount of respect for the sense of community that is on our beaches, jetties, and piers. I have realized that it is not simply going fishing that I love, it is fishing on this Island that has truly taken ahold of me.
Doug at Dick’s Bait & Tackle told me I didn’t miss much while I was away (phew). The winds have been changing almost daily, driving the bait from place to place, making it nearly impossible to predict exactly where the fish will be from day to day. He said they might be in one spot one day and gone the next. There is still plenty of bait around, with squid beginning to show up, in addition to all the other species. Small bluefish are still in Vineyard Haven Harbor, Menemsha, and Chappy, and if you are willing to fight through the small ones, there are some sizable blues mixed in. He also mentioned that the albies and bonito are here, but they are still elusive to catch from shore. The bass are around, but we haven’t seen many large bass coming in from shore. If you’re looking to take a spot on the leaderboard in the last week of the Derby, it will be well-earned. I hope to see you there.
Gavin Smith began fishing when he moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2014. He is a self-admitted novice, but a truly avid one, eager to learn and share as much as he can. Gavin is a private chef and passionate foodie who appreciates the bounty that Vineyard waters provide, and likes nothing more than sharing his passion with his clients. He is a regular contributor to the Fishing Report.