Fishing the ‘holdovers’


Have you seen The Holdovers?

I did. Just this past Sunday. 

It was amazing!

Beautiful sky, the bump, the strike, the set, the first visual, the head shake, the moment you’re face to face, and the satisfying release as a strong, healthy holdover striper swims away.

Yes, I’m talking about fishing.  

I realize there is a lesser known “Holdovers” that played at the MV Film Center this past winter, but I’m talking about the magnificent striped bass. Paul Giamatti is a funny actor, but he is no Morone Saxatilis.

I have so many friends who have raved about winter fishing for holdovers for years, but I was never convinced. I really dislike the cold. I try to avoid being outside too long in the cold – the house to the car is far enough. Therefore, fishing for holdover bass was never a priority for me in the winter months.  Normally I follow On the Water’s striper migration map and eagerly wait for the schoolies – and warmer weather – to arrive. 

This year, my life changed.

Enter my friend Polly Toomey. 

Polly volunteers at the Harbor Homes shelter. You probably know her from Among the Flowers Café in Edgartown, which she owns and operates with her husband Pat. If you love their quiche as I do, thank Polly. Last season, whenever conversations about fishing would come up at the shelter, Polly would say, “You have to meet my husband Pat.” 

Ironically, Pat and I have many mutual fishing friends. Somehow, we were never with our mutual friends at the same time. And I didn’t meet him last season.

One night in December 2023, Polly mentioned that her husband would like to cook for the shelter guests. I said, “great,” and we picked a date. 

The night Pat made dinner, everyone at the shelter was subjected to an hour or so of fish talk.  I’m not sure if anyone else appreciated the conversation as much as Pat and I did, but everyone ate well. Pat had so much fun that night, he asked if he could volunteer at the shelter too.  I said, “Of course,” and we spent many hours talking about fishing.

Pat shared numerous stories of fishing for holdover bass and showed me pictures that convinced me I was missing out.  A few nights over the winter we tried to go, but it rained or was too windy or was a full-blown nor’easter. 

But Sunday night was the night. I was ready!

The temperature was around 40 degrees when we set out in Pat’s bass boat. Forty before the wind chill.  There had been a small craft advisory in the morning. The wind was supposed to die down to a mild eight mph by 6 pm, but that didn’t happen.  I’d say we were in a chilly 10-12 mph wind the entire time. Truth be told, we didn’t much care.  We were fishing.  And we were layered up.  I had on long underwear, sweatpants, and thick waterproof pants, as well as a turtleneck, sweatshirt, a winter jacket, and a ski jacket.  Yes, two jackets. I may look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, but I am warm. Warm and fishing.

As Pat motored to a good spot out of the strongest winds, he regaled me with every detail of his very successful fishing adventure the night before. He’d gone to his favorite spot in more open water and had great success, including one bass around 18 pounds. He’d texted me pictures the night before while I was at the shelter, but hearing about Pat’s experience firsthand gave important details to the photos I’d already seen. 

We tucked into a cove and came to the area Pat thought would be productive. He was right. We cast and talked and drifted with the current until . . . . bump. I felt what I hoped was the telltale bass bump: a curious but not yet fully committed fish. I started to tell Pat, “I think I got a…” and before I finished my sentence, my rod bent. I may have giggled with joy. 

I reeled and the fish pulled, and finally came into view. One of life’s beautiful moments is the first visual of a fish on your line. After a head shake or two, I lifted the bass into the boat, with Pat taking pictures. My first-ever holdover!  

I removed the Savage Sand Eel from the corner of his mouth, thanked him, kissed him goodbye, and released him back into the salty depths.  My day was perfect.

 A few minutes later, Pat was on. He reeled in a nice size perch and put it in the cooler. He cast again and hooked up. This time he reeled in a nice bass, bigger than mine. Here’s the best part, Pat loves fishing as much as I do, maybe more. When a fish is on his line, Pat’s smiling like a kid at Christmas. That’s what makes fishing great. Not the size of the fish, but the pure joy of fishing. 

As Pat released his bass, the sun began to poke through the clouds. For a good thirty minutes we were casting beneath a gorgeous blue sky with puffy white clouds dotting the skyscape.  We didn’t catch another bass, so Pat motored us to shore, and we walked a short distance to a perch hole. We had four rods – two with bait in sand spikes and two in hand. The perch didn’t get the memo of our arrival and never graced us with their presence.

As we reeled in our lines, and pulled up the sand spikes, I noticed a pink haze behind the line of trees to our left.  The sky grew brighter and prettier as we motored back to the boat launch. God painted the perfect ending to the perfect first holdover adventure.

As I was driving away from the loading ramp, I noted an aroma in my car. I sniffed, sniffed again, and smiled. I’d almost forgotten that aroma: My hands smelled of fish. It was awesome. Hands that smell like fish are hands that were taking fish off of hooks.  

I couldn’t stop smiling the whole drive home. I pulled into my driveway and reached for my phone. I sat in the dark, in my car, in my yard for about twenty minutes texting pictures of my fishing adventure to friends. When I finally went inside the house, I was thrilled to put my clothes in the washer. They smelled like fish!

I did shower, sadly washing away the aromas of the fishing success, but nothing could wash the smile off my face. 

I’m still smiling, over twenty-four hours later, as I type this column. I can’t wait to see Polly on Wednesday and thank her and tell her I’m now a holdover convert.  What’s a little frigid weather when the sky is beautiful, the breeze carries a taste of salt, and fish are on my line!

I hope to see you on the beach or motoring slowly in the ponds casting for holdovers.