Getting jiggy with it

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We’re in heaven! 

Granted, living on the Island is a slice of heaven in and of itself, but if you’re a fisherman, you’re in heaven right about now. The striped bass have been in, and they’ve been abundant all around the Island. 

I’ve fished multiple locations multiple times, and there are bass — sometimes schoolies, sometimes keepers, and sometimes cows. I’ve caught both ends of the spectrum, but everyone in my home is wondering when I’m going to bring home dinner. Maybe tonight. I’m going out for the sunset bite. 

The absolute most fun I’ve had fishing lately has been on Chappy. The bluefish still haven’t arrived. There have been a few caught here and there, but no one is heading over to Chappy at the moment with plans to catch a blue and make bluefish tacos on the beach.

Stripers, on the other hand, are swimming, feeding, and biting every night into the early morning hours. If you haven’t gone striper fishing yet, go. Now. Tonight. Tomorrow at the latest. LOL.

Last Sunday was a night for the memory book. I was at Leland’s for the afternoon tide, hoping the blues might show up. They didn’t. I was about to head to the Chappy ferry when a friend suggested I stay into the night, as the bass fishing had been great the night before. Took me all of two seconds to agree. 

As the sun was setting, I switched from bluefish lures to a white and red Billy’s Bucktail. The jigging began. Fishermen started populating the beach. I think almost everyone had on a bucktail. The energy was high, and the fish hadn’t even hit yet. 

Just as the sun went down, the fellow to my right hooked up. Suddenly, everyone was on. I didn’t have my phone/camera. It was up on the beach in my backpack, and I wasn’t leaving fish to take pictures of people catching fish. 

I cast, jigged — two up and soft down — and waited my turn. Jig, reel, jig, reel, jig — bam. Fish on! I set the hook, kept the tension on the line, and reeled in a gorgeous 34-inch bass. Years ago, Donald Scarpone, president of the M.V. Surfcasters, taught me to tape my rod with fish regulation measurements. The surf rod I was using still has a wrap of gold tape at 34 inches from the last year bass were in the Derby. That bass hit the 34-inch mark nose-on.

Keepers this year must be a minimum of 28 inches, and less than 31 inches. I released the “too big” bass, and kept fishing. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you that the gentleman next to me, who was visiting, was catching five fish to my one. I’m not kidding. It was so dark that I couldn’t study his retrieve as much as I wanted to, but he was definitely getting jiggy with it, far better than Will Smith ever did.

At one point, the bite slowed, and I wasn’t getting hits, never mind hooking up. I walked up to my backpack, which was too far away in the dark and fog, and I grabbed two soft plastics. I was walking back to my spot when I noticed my “neighbor,” who was still reeling in bass, had changed lures. “Hey,” I said, “you switched out to a swimmer.”

He laughed. “About 30 minutes ago.”

“I’m putting an eel on,” I said.

“Go with a swimmer,” he replied.

ARGH! I had plenty of those at home, but none on me. “I didn’t bring any,” I replied. Bass and swimmers are a tried-and-true combo — I know this, but I got a big reminder to never leave home to go bass fishing without at least one swimmer.

“I’ve got an extra,” my new best friend offered. He handed me a mag mackerel: “It’s not in great shape, but it should work.”

I cast, began the slow retrieve, bump, bump, strike, fish on! I landed a nice striper, too big to keep. 

My now best friend, who I found out later was named Dave, landed a fish and lost his pliers. I helped Dave, and he released the fish. “That’s 25. I’m done for the night.”

You read that correctly. Dave caught 25 striped bass in less than three hours. I asked him the time. A little after 10. I had to catch the last ferry before midnight. Still had an hour and a half to fish.

Dave’s swimmer worked. I caught fish. I can’t say that every cast had a fish, but it was close. My new used swimmer was a fish magnet. I knew other people were still on the beach, I could see headlights going on and off as fishermen unhooked a bass, but the fog was pea-soup thick, and the night was dark enough that I couldn’t see the closest person to my left or right. No matter; I could see the fish I landed on the beach. 

I hated to leave. I knew exactly how Cinderella felt at the ball as the clock struck midnight. I walked back to my truck in thick fog, grinning and maybe wishing I had at least one picture.

Since Sunday was so awesome, how could I not go back on Monday? I went out with the Prez, Donald Scarpone, and met Kevin Lord on the beach. The three of us, along with a few others, started jigging before sundown. Kevin hooked up first, then Donald, then Kevin, then Donald, then Donald, then Kevin. Yup. The three of us were standing side by side, with me in the middle, and we were all jigging white and red bucktails. 

Donald and Kevin caught fish after fish. We fished until Kevin and Donald were tired and ready to go home. I never hooked up. NOT ONCE!

I know there are times when the guys can outcast me when the fish are FAR out, and maybe that was the case on Monday night, but I didn’t think so. I couldn’t stop analyzing my retrieve. When I got home, I sent a message to Bill Batterton asking him for some in-person help with my retrieve. 

I know one thing for certain about fishing: What I know can fit in a thimble. I love to fish, absolutely love it. I fish as often as I can, and every time I’m out there, I’m learning. I’m learning from my own practice, and I’m learning as I watch and talk with fellow fishermen. I’m also learning at M.V. Surfcasters’ meetings and get-togethers, and learning every time I walk into Coop’s Bait and Tackle Shop and chat with Coop Gilkes. 

Asking Bill for help was smart with a capital “S.” He’s called Bucktail Bill for a reason. He was kind enough to meet me at a favorite fishing spot and talk me through jigging. As he explained the retrieve in detail, and I watched him and he watched me, I think I figured it out. I didn’t have enough tension on the line after the jig.

Bill explained that after we jig, and then let the bucktail fall, that’s often when the bass hit, and it can be super-subtle. If I/we have too much slack in the line, we won’t feel the bump and won’t be able to set the hook. I spent a good hour practicing the retrieve. I did catch bass, but the best part of the night was the lesson. Thanks, Bill!

I could write a whole column on jigging and bucktails, and just may do that in the fall when Bill returns to the Island, but what I can share with you now is what Bill said to me: “Practice. Don’t have too much slack. Practice. Practice. Practice.” He taught me more, but the most important thing I need to do is practice. Bill suggested that when I get into fish, I should put on a bucktail and practice with fish in front of me, so I can see and feel what works. Yup, practice. 

I’ll be out practicing, and hopefully catching, on Thursday night — rain or shine.

When I’m not jigging, Big Bridge, or Jaws Bridge, is always an easy option for those of us who live down-Island. Sunrise and sunset, with soft plastics, have proven productive. Tides matter, but I’ve only stood on the jetty casting at sunrise or sunset because I wanted to fish but didn’t have time to drive to Chappy or up-Island. Truth be told, I simply love fishing at sunrise and sunset — best way to begin or close out a day!

The bridge and jetties are also a great place to watch families fishing. I love seeing kids catch fish. Their excitement can’t be beat.

This past weekend, my friend Amie Grim went fishing with her husband and sons. Amie is one of the awesome volunteers at our Island shelter. Her husband, Nick Grim, is the officer in charge at the Menemsha Coast Guard Station. They arrived on Island last July 1, and immediately fell in love with the community and the landscape. Nick has already requested and received an extension on his three-year posting, so now the “Grimlins” will be here for at least four years. 

Amie and Nick’s boys love to fish. Sam, 10, and Ben, 9, can be found on the beach at Lobsterville, and around the docks and jetties of Menemsha, as often as their parents will take them there. 

“Ben enjoys it, but Sam takes it very seriously. He lives for it,” said Amie.

Amie told me about Sam’s lure wish list. He mows the lawn to make money, and then purchases one of the lures on his list. I found out he just got his blue Deadly Dick crossed off his list.

“He bought blue over pink?” I asked, mildly incredulous. 

“Yes,” said Amie. “A friend of Nick’s suggested a blue one.”

I immediately knew who that friend might be. “Any chance that friend was Bob Beal?” I asked. It was Bob. Bob is an avid fisherman, veteran, and Coast Guard dad. And Bob’s wife Brenda, who probably fishes harder than Bob, is as big a fan of blue Deadly Dicks as I am of pink ones.

I’m going fishing soon with Amie and the boys, and I’m bringing Sam a pink Deadly Dick. Everyone needs a No. 2 Pink Deadly Dick.

I hope to see you on the beach, with or without your pink lures.