The other day, I ran into Pat Toomey in Stop & Shop, and he very nicely said, “I’m determined to go fishing at sunset, do you want to go?”Everything in me wanted to say “YES!” except the part that knew I had to open the shelter, which replied, “I can’t.”
“Another day,” said Pat, avid fisherman and co-owner of Among the Flowers Café with his fabulous wife, Polly. “Definitely,” I replied.
That’s one of the wonderful aspects of fishing, there is always another day to look forward to.
Except when there isn’t.
Except when nature, or people, take away or alter a favorite fishing location. In the last few weeks, a lot of fishermen, both on Island and off, have been concerned about our beaches. If you read the paper (https://www.mvtimes.com/2024/01/17/edgartown-declares-emergency-south-beach/) or glance through Facebook for five minutes, you’ve seen pictures of the drastic changes in our south shore beaches. So much of it, heartbreaking.
As soon as the three recent storms subsided, fishermen (and Islanders) flocked to their favorite beaches.
Why? The answer is simple: Love.
Fishermen, and even those wonderful Islanders who don’t fish, love our Island beaches. This land, the place where we literally put our feet, often barefoot, is home, is peace, is the place where we cast our cares.
While the grains of sand beneath our feet may shift with the tides, our love of the land changes not. So when the sands shift, our hearts demand visual confirmation of any reports or rumors.
Before I made the drive to South Beach, I saw Michael Blanchard’s photos on Facebook—two before and after images. The barren wasteland that was once a lush green backdrop for many fishermen casting from sunset into first light was devastating to look at.
I have walked, rod in hand, from Left Fork down to Job’s Neck and back. Hours of casting and hoping, the tall dunes and waving beach grasses sentries in the dark of night. I called Michael, heart in my throat.
“How is it?” I asked. “It’s all gone,” Michael said, the catch in his voice unmistakable. “It’s sickening. It looks like South Beach was bombed in a war.”
Michael is well known on Island for his photography. He also happens to love fishing. For years, Michael has been photographing the Derby. His pictures have been used on Derby program covers and given as prizes to all the Grand Leaders.
“I went down to South Beach first as a photographer to record something pretty significant. Later on, I thought, holy s***, my beach is gone. I have so many pictures and stories I’ve written from South Beach. It’s depressing.
“The part that’s really concerning is that the town put down a ton of sand and planted all those grass seedlings that had started to take hold, and in two storms it is all gone. Brodie (Michael’s dog) used to love running through the grass trying to find moles. Now, there’s nothing there but sand,” said Michael.
Before Michael and I got off the phone, I promised to take him fishing. Every year he says he’s going to fish the Derby as well as take pictures. This year I’m not letting him off the hook.
No sooner had I said goodbye to Michael, than I was texting Johnny Hoy. No one knows Tisbury Great Pond (TGP) better than Johnny. He watches over TGP as a loving father cares for his children. With South Beach in shambles, I had to know how TGP and Quansoo had fared.
Quansoo holds many memories, mostly fishing, but also quality family time. For years, I was blessed to have a friend who owned property there and shared the coveted key to the annoying gate.
Johnny called me with good and bad news. Like South Beach, the fifteen foot dunes that had marked the landscape at Tisbury Great Pond and Quansoo were gone. “The wind just kept blowing sideways, scouring the dunes. They’re obliterated,” said Johnny. “In the December storm, the opening had just closed and the dunes were still there,” said Johnny, who works with the town to open the pond as needed for the health of TGP. “In three weeks, the pond opened itself twice. The surges made a heck of an opening.”
I was curious about the surges, and Johnny explained that there is a digital tracking device recording the water levels and temperatures of Tisbury Great Pond. “The water level went over six feet, three times. I’ve never seen that before,” said Johnny. The surges are probably not a bad thing. I hope it cleans out TGP and oxygenates it,” said Johnny, adding, “The oysters will taste nice and salty.”
While the oysters will be tasty, the storm brought bad news for the sea clams and freshwater fish.
“Tons of sea clams got dislodged from the bottom. The south winds roll the sea clams and they washed up. Hundreds of bushels. They died or the birds got them,” said Johnny.
Those surges were also no friend of the adjacent freshwater coves. “The adjacent pond – Long Cove – hasn’t breached for thirty years. There are dead perch and pickerel. I’m finding sunfish up in the bushes,” said Johnny.
I had no sooner finished talking with Johnny when I heard, “What concerns me is our freshwater ponds that are taking on salt water,” said Cooper Gilkes, legendary fisherman and owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle Shop. Coop expressed concern about the white and yellow perch, the pickerel, and the trout that inhabit all the coves and ponds in close proximity to the ocean.
I shared with Coop that Johnny had just mentioned the dead fish in Long Cove. Immediately, he uttered, “I wonder about Oyster and Watcha.”
I’d been talking to Pat about perch fishing in February and, like Coop, wondered if the fish I loved to eat in the winter were still alive after the storm surges.
Coop also said the one word that can strike fear into the heart of every fisherman: “plovers.”
Where Michael had noticed the barren land of sand and no grasses for his dog to hunt for moles, Coop saw the sand through the eyes of a seasoned fisherman. “Plovers love the open beach.”
Without the beach grasses, we could see more plover nests all over South Beach, which could close down one of our Island’s most popular beaches to fishing and beachgoers for months—as in summer months. Time will tell, and every fisherman out there will be keeping his or her fingers crossed that the plovers nest elsewhere.
One of the ironies of the recent storms is that the beaches hit the hardest are not beaches open to oversand vehicle (OSV) travel. Fishermen and beachgoers have heard so much flack about how OSV vehicles can damage a beach on Chappy, but it’s been decades since South Beach, Quansoo, Lucy Vincent, or Squibnocket had any oversand vehicles on them.
I asked Coop what it was like thirty or forty years ago.
“When I was a kid, we’d drive from Edgartown to West Tisbury—all on the beach. It was a blast. I can remember driving around Gay Head,” said Coop, a smile lighting up his face.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Coop of the dispute on Chappy. “We might as well enjoy the beaches while we can before they’re gone. When Mother Nature wants to take them, she is going to come and take them.”
For me, the first place I drove to after each of the storms was Chappy. Though I could not drive north of the Jetties or out to Cape Poge, I visited as much of the beaches as I could. The breach that had opened in 2022 finally closed with a good amount of sand and beach present. Wasque acquired much needed sand by The Rip, but lost a ton by the fishermen’s stairs. I’m pretty sure all the sand lost near Wasque ended up on Leland’s and East Beach. Both beaches are wider and have more beach frontage—a big plus for all of us who drive out there to fish.
Someone had posted on Facebook that there were multiple breaches on Cape Poge. I had to see it for myself. I knew I couldn’t drive out there, so I traveled by road to North Neck. There were no breaches, thank God. Probably areas during the storm where there was wash over at high tide but nothing lasting. The Gut looked as magical as ever. I said to my friend who was with me, “Just think, in three months I’ll be standing in that water casting and all will be right with the world.”
Speaking of our beloved Chappy, this Wednesday, January 24, is the Edgartown Conservation Commission’s meeting, where they will review and discuss the two NOI’s presented by The Trustees of Reservations. All fishermen and beachgoers should attend that meeting via Zoom. Join the Webinar: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84642032818.
I hope to see you on the beach and at the Edgartown Conservation Commission meeting.