The Bluefish Dance

Landing a bluefish at Wasque can involve some tricky choreography.

Once the bluefish start hitting, it's game time. — Bob Shellhammer

“The Bluefish Dance” is excerpted from a collection of stories I wrote in the early 90s under the title, “Washashore, scenes from the life of a Martha’s Vineyard transplant.” And it somehow seemed appropriate to run now when we’re being teased by spring and bluefish are on the horizon.

In early spring, someone will come up to you and say, “They’re out at Wasque,” and you’ll need no further explanation and you’ll feel a little twitch in the back of your neck.

The bluefish are back. They’ve returned from their winter haunts down south. 

Now, I’m not a huge fisherman. I’m not one of those diehards who camps out all night on South Beach, who plans vacations around the Bass Derby or has a bumper sticker that reads, “A bad day fishing still beats a good day working.”

But there’s something about that first wave of blues. It’s a hopeful sign of spring on an island where spring is a precious commodity. Someone once described spring on the Island as a glorious, albeit short season, “I hope it falls on a weekend this year.” 

My friend Bill is a big fisherman. And he’s the one who gave me the heads up that morning when I saw him getting a paper at Conroy’s: “Hey Geoff, they’re running at Wasque.” Wasque is a beach on Chappaquiddick that often gets the first of the bluefish in the spring. I went back and got all my work done in the morning and picked up my son after school. He and his buddy piled into the back of the Jeep and we were off to Chappaquiddick.

At the time we could drive out to Chappy in a four-wheel-drive-vehicle by going out to Norton’s Point Beach and heading east up the beach for a few miles and there’s Wasque right at the bend. When the fish are running, it’s the place where all the trucks, Jeeps and SUVs are parked.

The Wasque rip is unique because of the way it’s situated; currents collide creating a huge washing machine effect under the surface. On the bottom there are a lot of holes where the big fish can hide while baitfish get swept over them, it’s a bubbling buffet for stripers and blues.

As we pulled up to the bend, the tide was just beginning to ebb. There were about a dozen fishermen casting out into the surf and equally as many laying back and waiting for some action.

I pulled the Jeep over and immediately got my line wet, claiming what I thought was a good spot on the beach. The boys were busy messing around in the dunes, collecting driftwood and chasing seagulls.

Occasionally, someone would get a hit but for the most part there was just a lot of casting going on. Blues travel in schools so generally you either get skunked or you need a wheelbarrow to get all the fish home.

Suddenly the pole of the guy to my left dipped down to the water like a dowsing rod. I heard someone way off to the right yell, “Here we go!” People were hooking up all up and down the beach.

Now here’s the tricky part. You’ve got twenty or thirty fishermen elbow-to-elbow, in various stages of casting, retrieving and reeling in fish. As you hook up with a fish you have to run the gauntlet, so to speak, walking down the beach in front of the other fishermen, and here’s where the choreography comes in. 

Depending on whether another fisherman has a fish on or not you have to make a decision whether to go over or under the other person’s line and the prospect of me zigging where I should have zagged and getting tangled up with a bunch of fishermen’s lines in the midst of a bluefish blitz terrified me. 

As you walk down the beach in front of all the other fishermen, they lift up their rods so you can pass underneath, performing in a way a kind of salute. Perhaps I’m reading too much into what was a very practical procedure, but after climbing up the dune with a fresh catch and looking down at the strange promenade below, there was something very ceremonial about it all. 

“Ahh, the bluefish dance,” said a voice from behind me. It was my friend Bill who had just arrived and was heading down to the dancefloor.

“I could dance the bluefish dance all night,” he said heading down to the surf…“I could dance the bluefish dance all night long.”