Learning to fish all over again

Gary Stuber fishes at sunset. — Gavin Smith

For several years, I have thought about trying my hand at fly-fishing. Something about the intention and focus it requires just speaks to me. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself walking into Coop’s Bait and Tackle to ask some questions. My intention was to get set up with a fly rod, then ask some of my friends, and the Internet, to show me the way. Coop could see that I was serious about this endeavor immediately, and took the time to set me up with a proper rod and reel. We chatted as he spooled the line and explained why he had chosen floating line as opposed to sinking.

“I’ll make you a bet,” he said. It was only for a dollar, but he bet me that within a week I would catch a fish on a fly. With absolutely no idea what I was doing, and quite honestly looking for all the motivation I could find, I took the bet. As he finished, I grabbed my card to pay, with every intention of heading out to figure things out on my own. Coop said in his reserved but direct way, “We are going out in the side yard.”

He took me outside and began with the simple mechanics behind casting a fly rod. He watched and critiqued as I tried to emulate his motion. I was given a homework assignment, and told to come back. I spent all evening in my yard perfecting the motion, and eagerly returned the next day for another lesson. Coop patiently showed me how to double-haul cast, using your left hand to haul line in order to create a bend in the rod to give you a mechanical advantage and store energy in the rod. At first this was a little unnatural, and I went home again to cast at the treeline in my yard for a couple of days. Slowly the motion became more intentional, the line started to cooperate, and I was able to get quite a bit of line out in the direction I wanted to cast. I returned to Coop’s for my last lesson, and was told to go get some time on the water.

I called my good friend Gary Stuber, an avid fly-fisherman, and asked if he would like to join me as I got acquainted with this new discipline. We headed out to some shallow water on the north shore just before sunset, and began casting. As the sun began to set, neither of us could focus on fishing. It was hands down one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed.

We continued casting as dusk began to take its hold. I was a little nervous about casting in the dark. I was still relying heavily on visual indicators to complete my casts. Gary told me, “I think I cast better in the dark,” then immediately hooked up on a small striped bass. “I think you are going to catch your first fish tonight,” he said.

With renewed confidence, I kept casting, relying on the feeling of the rod, and giving up on my visual training wheels. My cast began to feel a little more natural, my retrieve began to feel intentional, and before I knew it, I was on. I hooked up on a small striped bass, very small, but still my first fish on the fly. I remembered Coop telling me that I wouldn’t forget the first fish I caught on a fly, and I didn’t understand why until that moment. Spin fishing equipment is more rigid, and the hooks on many lures are very easy to set. With fly-fishing, the equipment is quite flexible, and you rely heavily on small intentional movements and careful attention to observe a strike from a fish — at which point you must set the hook by hand. With the combination of an incredible sunset and my first fish on a fly rod, I don’t think I will forget the experience anytime soon.


I was proud to pay Coop the dollar, and frankly, I think he was proud to receive it. His instruction was half the reason I was able to catch a fish so quickly, and that too is an experience that I will not forget.

According to Doug at Dick’s Bait and Tackle, the fishing report hasn’t changed much. There are still small striped bass in large numbers all over the Island. Though people have been stacking up at Big Bridge, fishing has been good anywhere from State Beach. Bluefish are showing on Chappy, and in Vineyard Haven Harbor. Squidding from shore has slowed down significantly because there are so many fish around, but there are still squid to catch from shore. The big bounty recently seem to be the scup. “My scup guys are going crazy,” Doug said, pointing out that larger than usual scup have been caught regularly from shore in the last week. If you are looking to fish for these delicious fish aim for Edgartown Harbor.


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.