The last day of 2023 began with a fun text conversation.
Friend: “What are you doing today?”
Me: “Going out looking for holdovers.”
Friend: “I think it’s still at the Film Center.”
Me: “What’s at the Film Center?”
Friend: “The movie.”
Me: “What movie? I’m going fishing?”
Laugh. Go ahead. But such is life when talking with someone who doesn’t fish, especially via text messages.
If you saw “The Holdovers” at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven, I hope you laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I enjoy a good movie, and love going to the Film Center, but the only holdover I wanted to see on New Year’s Eve Day was a striped bass.
I had heard through the grapevine that Mike Cassidy was still catching stripers in the ponds, so I reached out to him and asked if I could tag along the next time he went out. Mike is one of the most fun people to be around. He’s always got a great story to tell, and there’s plenty of laughter mixed in the conversations.
Mike Cassidy is most known in the fishing community for his jokes, smiles, and Spanish-style gaucho hat. Whether he’s working as weighmaster during the Derby or onstage behind the podium during the Derby awards ceremony, Mike’s trademark is his black hat, and a lot of jokes.
Mike first came to the Island in 1978 to work as a painter at the then new Mattakesett development in Katama. That first year, Mike caught the fishing bug. “The first week I was here, I walked down to Left Fork after work and watched a guy catch a nice striper. I went home that weekend and bought a 10-foot rod. I came back to work on Monday. Went to the beach that night, and landed a 39-pound bass my first time fishing,” said Mike, who entered his first Derby that fall.
Mike commuted for two years. In 1980, the builders offered him another six houses. He turned it down. Too much time away from his family. Six weeks later, his wife said they should all go.
Mike, his then wife, and three children, ages 2, 5, and 7, moved to the Vineyard and began the Vineyard shuffle — living in a pop-up tent trailer in the summer and renting a house in the off-season. After two years of shuffling, Mike built a small home.
Mike loved the Vineyard, especially the fishing. He began volunteering for filet duty during the Derby, and in the late ’80s was invited to join the Derby Committee. Mike was Derby chairman in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Now he serves as weighmaster, fashionably.
I arrived at Mike’s house, and we loaded up the Contraption. Mike’s fishing vessel is a modified canoe his wife Debbie saw for sale three years ago on MV Stuff 4 Sale. Mike added some outriggers for stability, attached chairs and a small battery motor, and presto: a “boat” named the Contraption.
“I used it first as a canoe on Tisbury Great Pond. It was kinda fun,” said Mike, adding, “Then one day I went out behind my shed — I’m not a hoarder, but I have stuff — and I had PVC pipe around. The homemade outriggers make it very stable. I need to add a splashguard to the front so the person up front doesn’t get wet.”
We drove to one of Mike’s favorite spots. It was a cool and cloudy day, but we were hopeful. “This is my favorite time to fish,” said Mike. “Two weeks ago the fishing was steady, then they disappeared. They’re still here; I just have to find them.”
We launched the Contraption, which I managed to hang onto as Mike dropped her in the water and pulled the trailer away. We paddled to deeper water until Mike lowered the motor, and we began our search for signs of bass.
The water was calm, almost too calm, but absolutely beautiful. Mike dropped a line into the water with a broken back lure and trolled. I cast a Savage Salt and waited for a tug.
We saw lots of birds — sitting on the water or standing on a sandbar. None were feeding, or hovering near fish who were feeding. We continued motoring through the coves, at least one line in the water.
As we moved around the back of the coves, we saw high-water lines on the reeds, evidence of how high the tides had been during the storm two weeks ago. Though little damage occurred in the pond, the fish that had been abundant prior to the storm had clearly moved to another area.
“Nobody knows where the fish are until they catch one, and then the fish move,” said Mike, chuckling.
We spent a couple of hours casting and looking. It was glorious, even if it was fishless. Few things compare to time on the water. The peace cannot be bought or created, only experienced.
As we motored back to our launch site, Mike showed me a picture of the 30-inch bass he’d caught earlier in December. A beauty. Definitely worth coming back for.
Mike’s goal in 2024 is to catch at least one striped bass a month. “January is pretty easy. February is tough. It’s good to get each month’s fish early in the month. I’m obsessed, but I don’t want to HAVE to be out there the last three days of a month because I haven’t gotten my fish yet.”
I left Mike’s house with a smile on my face and the promise that we would go out again next year, sooner rather than later. I danced into the New Year, literally, grateful to have spent a portion of the last day of 2023 on the water doing what I love most.
When 2024 dawned sunny and clear, I almost grabbed my rod after church got out, but quickly remembered that the Vineyard Conservation Society was hosting a Beach BeFrienders cleanup at Lobsterville Beach. Lobsterville is one of my favorite places, for fishing, beach walking, and picnics with friends, and a great place to spend the first day of the New Year.
My friend Maddie and I went up-Island. She brought the trash bags and I brought the construction gloves. We walked the short sandy path to the beach, and paused for a minute to enjoy the shades of blue before us. Sky and ocean both bright and sparkling. With a small contingent of other ocean lovers, we gathered trash and chatted.
While the time with friends was wonderful, we collected enough trash in about an hour to fill the back of a pickup. Not a goal I want to have, or want others to have to achieve. I’d love to prevent everyone from littering. Reality tells me I can’t. Perhaps we can all make a New Year’s resolution to keep our Island cleaner, even if it means picking up someone else’s trash.
I hope to see you on the beach — walking, fishing, or cleaning.
Happy New Year!