Monthlong Bass, Bluefish Derby Will Come to an End Tomorrow
By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
The water is swirling in the narrow channel connecting Cape Pogue Pond to the Edgartown outer harbor. Minutes before the tide hit bottom, the pond was as low as gets, and now the waters of the ocean are running back in.
The fishing spot, called the Gut, is well-known to anglers. During the day, they catch false albacore and bonito there. At night, they catch striped bass and bluefish.
On this cloudless cool autumnal morning, six fly-fishermen line the shore. They are participants in the 61st annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that ends at 10 p.m. tomorrow, and there is urgency in their efforts. The end of the month-long contest is near, and more than $350,000 in prizes will be awarded. It has been an especially tough tournament for these shore fishermen, for this year it has been mostly a boat fishermen's contest.
The fly-fishermen at the Gut are methodical. Each angler is rhythmic when casting. Each is hopeful that a false albacore will grab their fly and inhale it.
False albacore, a fish that looks like a miniature tuna and swims at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour, is a thrilling fish to hook. One of the four species of fish targeted in the month-long contest, false albacore is the most scarce.
Beneath the surface on this tide, thousands of little fish, less than three inches in length, swim together within the swirling eddies. Near shore they are so tightly packed as a school that their presence blocks clear sight to the bottom. Every once in a while, a feeding "albie" swims through the water, causing the water to boil.
To Ally Moore, 46, of Oak Bluffs, one of the six anglers, fishing the Gut is like fishing a river. The water moves swiftly and the activity below the surface can at any moment be explosive. He steps away from the other anglers and finds a quieter spot farther up into the pond.
Mr. Moore is highly regarded by anglers fishing in this year's derby. Back at the start of the contest, Mr. Moore took the leader board with the largest striped bass caught from the shore by a fly-fishermen. He caught his 26.78-pound fish on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 17.
But that is not the only reason he is so well-regarded. Mr. Ally has been an avid fly-fisherman since a child and fishing in the derby for as long. His brother, Andrew, is another spirited Oak Bluffs angler. His father, Allen, is an avid fisherman and so was his grandfather, with the same first name.
The family legacy lives on with every cast.
During the workday, Mr. Moore is a graphics designer, though his earliest memories are of his avocation.
"I remember taking up fly-fishing when I was seven or eight years old," he said. "I was taught by my dad, and my grandfather. And I fished all the time with my brother."
His brother, Andrew, leads the flyrod division with the largest false albacore caught from a boat on Sept. 27. The fish weighed 10.10 pounds.
"When I was 12, my grandfather gave me Nelson Bryant's book Fresh Air, Bright Water: Adventures in Wood, Field, and Stream," he says. Mr. Bryant is a celebrated New York Times outdoor columnist who lives in West Tisbury.
"I read it cover to cover," Mr. Moore recalls. "There is a story in the book about catching a native trout in Mill Brook." The stream runs from Chilmark into West Tisbury.
"I bugged my father to take me fishing. My father didn't think there were any native trout here," he says. The earnest boy prevailed: "We went up-Island one afternoon in June."
To his father's surprise, the boy hooked and reeled in a 10-inch fish, caught in a small still pool fed by the stream. Recalling the beautiful color of the little fish, he says: "It was the most spectacular piece of nature you've ever seen. As pretty as a little striped bass."
Fishing is only partly about catching. To Mr. Moore, he sees it as an ancestral need to connect to nature: "I think people need to go fishing, the same as people need to go to church."
There is the spirit and culture of fishing. Every time an angler puts his foot in the water and casts a line is an opportunity to reconnect.
"There are two reasons I think people fish," he said. "The first is to get a fish and compete, but I also think it is about trying to restore the soul. For fishermen it is critical to connect to nature, to the bait, to the rhythms of tide, the water and wind and sometimes to the actual fish. These experiences are so different from the things you experience in the workplace and in family life."
That singular moment of actively listening and looking hard to get a feeling of what the fish are doing is so much a part of being a fisherman. For the fly-fisherman particularly, feelings are in the fingertips.
When Mr. Moore speaks of his fishing exploits, he easily connects to the anglers he knows and respects. At the Gut this morning, he knows a few of the anglers. Many more anglers know him.
Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury is not far down the beach. The two speak briefly of the issues of the morning. There is also Tarry Horrock and W. Brice Contessa, both leaders in the flyrod division of the derby.
On the Sunday Mr. Moore landed his big striped bass, he knew well in advance it was going to be an important night of fishing, whether or not there was going to be a fish. He had been thinking all summer of going to this special spot when the tide, currents and wind were most favorable.
"I cleared the deck with my wife, Michele," he said. "She said she would cover for the kids (seven-year-old Emily and four-year-old Nina) for dinner. I went right at dusk."
In those last moments of daylight, he noted an area of clear sand on the rocky bottom in front of him.
"There was this emerald green patch," he said. "I fished it for a while and caught and released an 18-inch striped bass. It probably weighed two pounds. Then it got dark."
Before walking farther down the beach to explore another fishing area, he took a stick and marked the spot where he had just fished.
After catching nothing in his new spot, Mr. Moore walked back to the stick and waded out into the water. On about the tenth cast, while he was retrieving, a strong tug came on the line held by his fingertips.
"This huge explosion happened and the fish started thrashing on the surface," Mr. Moore says. The drama was an immediate sharp contrast to the quiet of the night. Of that fish's initial hit, he said, "It scared me."
"The fish thrashed for three or four seconds and then took off down the beach," Mr. Moore said. All the while, his fingers, his rod and reel were connected to the 26 pounds of energy by a thin fishing line.
Mr. Moore is about as selective about where he fishes as he is selective about every other aspect of the pursuit. There are special places on the Vineyard shoreline that fit the angler as snugly as a baseball glove fits the hand of a baseball player.
The place he fished that night, Mr. Moore said, already was a perfect fit. The 26-pound striper was a pleasant and wonderful addition.
Mr. Moore is one of 257 flyrod fishermen participating in the derby. As of yesterday, 3,003 fishermen overall had registered in the month-long contest.
The leaders of the contest so far who are eligible to win the grand prize are as follows, along with the weight of their fish. Boat bluefish; Francis Fisher, 17.36; shore bluefish, William A. Pate, 13.87. Boat bass: David C. Hearn, 43.86; shore bass, Leo B. Lecuyer, 40.19. Boat bonito: Steve J. Baccelli, 9.31; shore bonito: Martin S. Fox, 7.96. Boat false albacore: Geoff K. Codding, 13.25; shore false albacore: Richard N. Hall, 14.63.
If no bigger fish are weighed in before 10 p.m. tomorrow, these fishermen are in the drawing for a 19-foot Boston Whaler Montauk, with an outboard and trailer and a 2006 Nissan Titan extended cab pickup truck. The boat fishermen will be in a drawing for the truck. Shore fishermen will be in the drawing for the boat.
An awards ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday at Outerland, the nightclub at the Martha's Vineyard Airport.