My favorite shorebirds


There’s lots of talk these days about shorebirds. They are beginning to nest, and sadly, their nesting sites often conflict with beachgoers’ desires to drive on Chappy’s shores. We all want the birds to thrive, so we grumble about beach closures and pray they fledge quickly. 

Plovers are cute, especially the chicks. Up until this past weekend, I would have told you that oystercatchers were my favorite shorebird. Sunday, I encountered the best flock of shorebirds ever. 

I’ve written a few times about Mike Carotta and his wonderful book, “A Long Cast.” I had mentioned to Mike how much I enjoyed his “Shore Birds” essay. I loved reading about the group of friends who migrated to the Vineyard every May from all over the U.S. to spend time together fishing and talking and eating. Their migratory pattern to Chappy earned the group of friends the nickname “Shore Birds.” 

Mike surprised me a couple of months ago with an email asking if I’d like to meet the Shore Birds on Chappy for an afternoon of fishing. “YES, PLEASE!” was my immediate reply. 

A few days before we were to meet, Mike sent me a brief intro to the Shore Birds I’d be meeting. Folks in their 90s and 80s, with a few youngsters thrown in, traveling to the Vineyard to fish and fellowship. This was my elder tribe, or should I say flock. I couldn’t wait to meet them!

Sunday dawned foggy and cool. My goal was to be in the Chappy Ferry line at 11 am. I made two stops on the way to gift friends with fresh-caught squid, then pulled into a surprisingly short ferry line. Mike walked over as I aired down my tires in line. I thanked him profusely and my anticipation surged. 

I followed Mike to Leland’s, where a line of cars and Shore Birds had gathered. A few were casting, waiting and hoping for bluefish. Mike introduced me to the senior member and his two friends: Sid, Dave, and Larry.

 Sid Siegel, a very young 97 who traveled up from Florida, showed me his ball cap that stated, “Fish fear me. Women want me.” I would’ve asked Mike to take a picture of me with Sid in his hat, but Dave Kasoff, a feisty four years younger at 93, said he’d never hear the end of it if I printed that picture. I acquiesced, but now I’m seriously wishing I had that picture for my memory box. 

Larry Bressler, who is Dave’s nephew by marriage, introduced himself saying, “I’m the one who forgot the wooden salad bowl.” The reference to Mike’s book gave us all a good chuckle, and led into many wonderful stories of friends and fish.

Dave pointed out that Larry at 73 is “the youngest, and does the heavy lifting.” 

Sid added, “We all have jobs. They cook and I clean.”

Sid and Dave first met in 1950. They worked together in construction their whole careers. When they weren’t working or spending time with their families, they were fishing. They grew up near Philadelphia, and surf fished at the Jersey Shore. When they heard there was good fishing at Cape Hatteras, they loaded up a station wagon and drove down to the Outer Banks. They fished at Hatteras for 15 years, until the commercial industry scooped up all the baitfish and the big fish went elsewhere. 

While fishing Hatteras, they met Joe Cefalo and P.J. Carr, two New Englanders extending the fishing season in a Southern state. “After the fish were gone, Joe said, ‘Come to the Vineyard in springtime.’ We started coming, and that’s when we met Mike and the others,” said Dave. 

My teammate Dave introduced me to Joe and P.J. on Chappy during the Derby five or six years ago. Last year I had the pleasure of writing about Joe’s Derby Grand Leader, a whooping 14.67-pound shore false albacore. 

Joe and P.J. have been friends for decades. Joe grew up in Melrose and P.J. in Charlestown. P.J. first went fishing at Cape Hatteras in 1981. And guess what he did: He borrowed Joe’s fishing gear. “Every year P.J, borrowed my gear, then one year I said, ‘I want to go too.’” That was 1987. Five years later, P.J. and Joe were both nearing their 50th birthdays. They decided to quit their jobs and fish together for four months, starting on Chappy for eight weeks around the Derby and finishing at Cape Hatteras. Sounded like a dream to me! Anyone else jealous? 

“The people we meet here show up every year at the same time. When we first met in North Carolina, they were the old guys, and we were young. Now we’re the old guys,” said P.J., 80, who fishes the Vineyard spring and fall with Joe.

One of the youngsters in the bunch is Bill Batterton, who just turned 60 last week. “We met Bill and his dad in 1994 at the Rock Pile,” said PJ. 

Bill’s parents honeymooned on the Island. He’s spent a lot of time on-Island, and tries to visit for three weeks in the spring and another two or three weeks in the fall. For many years, Bill came to the Island with his dad, and then later his father-in-law, also named Bill but nicknamed “Moe,” became one of the Shore Birds. 

As I stood with Bill, Joe, and P.J., I asked about their most memorable Vineyard fishing experience. All three chimed in with the same story:

“It was Memorial Day weekend. The wind had been blowing east for three or four days. One night, it switched to southeast,” said P.J., continuing, “We were leaving the Gut. We stopped at Aruda’s. The water was unusually brown. I threw a piece of metal [lure] in, and the water parted. Sand eels!”

Bill, Moe, Joe, and P.J. waited. “The fog came in, the tide changed, and the fish started hitting.”

I stood and listened in awe as Joe, Bill, and P.J. described the volume of fish they were catching and releasing. I could only imagine the adrenaline rush of that number of fish. 

“We were tired and ready to leave. Billy’s father-in-law said, ‘Wait, I need one more for 50.’ We all looked at each other. That meant we all had 50 or more fish.” 

“We caught fish,” Bill said with a smile and a nod. “Best night.”

“Best fishing story I have,” said Joe. 

Just WOW! I listened to a few more great fish tales, but I’m still imagining how incredible that night must have been.

I met Bill in 2017 or ’18 on Cuttyhunk, fishing of course. As I mentioned last week, Bill is known as Bucktail Bill. He fishes bucktails like nobody’s business, and also makes and sells bucktails. 

On Sunday afternoon, Bill showed us all how to get the job done. I heard there were four bluefish caught on Saturday, but Sunday afternoon was sunny and fishless. Bill Batterton was casting to my right, jigging one of his white bucktails sprinkled with a few streaks of blue and pink. While the rest of us cast and retrieved without a hit, Bill’s rod bent, and his line peeled. Making it look easy, Bill landed a nice-size bluefish, probably 12 pounds, and promptly released it. 

All his Shore Bird friends cheered. A few of us began casting in earnest, hoping to be the next one to land a bluefish. No such luck. I didn’t see or hear of another blue caught from shore, but Polly Alden, the only female angler in the flock this year, headed down the beach to change her gear and cast closer to the Rip.

Polly came to the Island with her family. Her parents bought a house in West Tisbury, and they vacationed there. As a teenager, she was happy in a little motorboat on Tisbury Great Pond catching white perch on her summer vacations. 

She met her late husband, Richard Millett, at Digital Corp., where they both worked, and married in 1986. Polly and Richard started traveling to the Island to fish, and quickly became part of the Shore Birds. 

“I’m always making new friends on Chappy. Friends are the best part of the trip. We share lures, share tips, and share stories. I look forward to seeing everyone every year,” said Polly. 

Polly and Richard used to fish the beaches of Chappy in May and again during the Derby: “My folks sold the house, so I don’t do the Derby anymore.”

I asked Polly what her favorite fish is. “Stripers,” she said with a laugh. “They don’t bite.” 

There was a trio of young guys casting on the beach while I was chatting with Polly. As I started talking with Jake Rudy, I discovered that the “boys” were his grandsons, Jeffrey, 25, Peter, 23, and Jacob, 14. Jeffrey and Peter had become members of the Shore Birds a few years ago. This year was Jacob’s first time. 

“I started coming with my brother. Now I come with my three grandsons. They love to fish. I couldn’t do this without them. They make sure I get where we’re going,” said Jake, 84. Jake also mentioned that his wife Rose joins him on every trip, but she doesn’t fish. 

As I listened to Jake’s memories of fishing, dating back to when he was 2 years old, I saw a sparkle in his eyes that I know so well. He talked about Shore Birds he learned from, those he misses, and the gratitude for the tradition he and others have created on Chappy.

“In Mike’s book, I’m the guy who fishes with his grandsons, fishes where we want without fighting the crowds, and has fun,” said Jake. Mike also noted in his book that Jake and his grandsons reel in more fish than most. 

As I talked with each of the Shore Birds, the one word repeated by each fisherman was camaraderie. “We stay in touch all year,” said Dave. 

“Cefalo and I correspond by mail, the real kind, handwritten,” said Sid. 

Mike shared that a few of the Shore Birds couldn’t make it this year due to health or family issues. The fondness in Mike’s voice told me without words how much he missed seeing them. 

We all know the Island is a magical place to live or visit. I can testify that the migrating Shore Birds leave a special set of tracks on the Chappy sand. Though perhaps not visible to the human eye, the energy of joy, love, friendship, sportsmanship, and a healthy dose of teasing and tales are a footprint we should all leave wherever we go.

Mike thanked me for joining them, but it is I who owe him a heartfelt thank-you. It was an honor to be invited, a blessing to hear their stories, and a delight to see these Shore Birds on the beach.

If you want to read more about the Shore Birds, you can purchase Mike’s book at Coop’s Bait and Tackle Shop or on Amazon. I’ve purchased over a dozen copies of “A Long Cast” as gifts, and everyone has loved it. You will too!

What did you do over Memorial Day weekend? Or should I say, where did you go fishing and what did you catch? 

The mackerel are still around, and the squid are in thick. One night last week I caught a bunch of squid in Edgartown Harbor, and then live-lined squid in the hopes of catching a keeper bass. One squid could have been entered in the Squid Olympics, if there was such an event. That squid swam on the end of my line for a solid 45 minutes, swimming back and forth, and masterfully avoiding any of the bass chomping through the squad, or shoal, of squid. 

I managed to fish every day last week, either morning or night, in search of a keeper bass. No luck on a keeper, but I’m feeling pretty darn good about not catching one yet, because all the bass I caught this past week were TOO BIG! 

I hope to see you on the beach. Fishing is great, but it’s really the people we meet and spend time with that make fishing as wonderful as it is.