Fishermen participating in the 68th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby are already out plotting a strategy for success and nearly all of them will be visiting any one or all of four popular fishing spots.
Menemsha Jetty, Joseph Sylvia State Beach, Memorial Wharf and Metcalf’s Hole are areas that are both accessible and routinely produce big fish. They are destinations for participants of all levels of experience and ages. Anglers visiting these spots not only catch fish, they reel in nuggets of history and stories grounded in fact or elevated by rumor and exaggeration. It is fishing, after all.
Menemsha Jetty in Chilmark may be the most popular and the most productive fishing spots for all four species of fish in the derby — striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. The jetty protrudes into a thoroughfare for both baitfish and sport fish and often the water explodes with splashes from fish pursuing other fish.
Pick any morning, evening or any time of day, really, and there will be someone poised at the end of the jetty. That someone is often Bernie Arruda.
Sometimes as many as 50 anglers will be standing on the rocks, and there will be applause when an angler lands a fish. The jetty is a place where two strangers can meet, often because their lines become accidentally crossed. There is both yelling and whispering amidst a maritime fragrance of salt spray, seaweed and the occasional rotting thing.
Menemsha Jetty is the ultimate waiting place but no matter because the scenery is worth dreaming about. The channel buoy, bouncing up and down in the water, literally sings as the bell rings each time a wave passes underneath.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, of Edgartown, caught his winning bonito off the Menemsha Jetty during the 1987 derby. He stood with his son Danny on large stones by a revetment that today is no longer there. The fish won him a brand new Boston Whaler for his efforts. He named the boat The Click.
While swimmers lay claim to Oak Bluffs’ Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach in June, July and August, jumping off the Big Bridge [American Legion Memorial Bridge] into the channel, come September fishermen reclaim the area. Lures and hooks descend from the bridge and anglers also take up positions on either side of the channel, the quieter Sengekontacket pond shoreline on one side and the more often turbulent Nantucket Sound on the other. For nearly a decade, derby anglers gathered on the bridge to try and catch a striped bass they named “White Tail,” distinguishable by an odd feature on its tail. White Tail, a he or a she, knew its way around and would come back year after year and haunt the same feeding grounds. White Tail hasn’t been seen in years but perhaps its ghost is still out there waiting for the perfect lure. Memorial Wharf in Edgartown is perhaps the friendliest of fishing spots. It is handicap accessible. There is nearby parking. If hunger strikes the angler, there is a meal or even an ice cream cone snack nearby. If it is raining, there is respite under the roof. But when there is a big run of false albacore or bonito running in the Chappaquiddick ferry channel, the competition grows fierce as fishermen race to hook a fish. A lot of winning fish have been caught at the wharf. More than one false albacore caught there has won the derby. Eric Brown of Edgartown caught his derby winner, an “albie” at the wharf in 1995.
Already this week Robert (Hawkeye) Jacobs of Oak Bluffs was walking the dock, holding a light tackle rod and reel. Kathy Pagoda, of Edgartown and winner of many derby awards, is another fixture at the wharf.
At Memorial Wharf anglers have also caught big bluefish, along with false albacore and bonito. Schools of any one of the three species will swim the channel at high speed. The wharf can be quiet for hours, but all of a sudden all the rods will take a quick bend and point down towards the water.
Metcalf’s Hole in Edgartown generates stories far bigger than the hole itself. Its location is at the end of the three-mile long barrier beach that once connected Katama to Chappaquiddick. Metcalf’s Hole is at the farthest eastern end of the beach at Norton Point, within a few hundred yards of the break. At this spot there is a deep hole along the bottom of the ocean side of the water, a short distance from shore. Smart, or lazy, large striped bass are known to hang out in the hole, waiting for schools of bait to pass overhead.
The precise location of “the hole” is often difficult to ascertain as the area keeps shifting due to wind, currents and waves.
The hole is named after Raymond Metcalf, a beloved recreational fisherman from Edgartown. To many he was a well-respected plumber. But in the larger fishing community he was among the most highly regarded. In 1974 he won the derby catching a 51-pound, 14-ounce striped bass.
Mr. Metcalf caught the fish at 4 p.m., according to an article appearing in the Oct. 4, 1974 Vineyard Gazette. “He was bottom fishing, using butterfish for bait, in a deep spot that he has fished so long that it is known as Metcalf’s Hole by many of his fellow anglers. ‘I just fish for fun,’ Mr. Metcalf said. ‘I go to this one spot and don’t bother anyone.’”
Mr. Metcalf died in 1986.
Since Metcalf’s Hole is hard to pin down, anglers who have discovered its precise place have often placed a stick in the sand to mark the spot. In more modern day derby fishing, anglers with smartphones use GPS to mark the location. GPS guides have been available to boat fisherman for years but this is a fairly new feature for shore fishermen.
Experienced anglers familiar with these fishing spots may quibble about what time during the moving tide to fish. But there is universal opinion that the best time is early in the morning more than an hour or so before sunrise and up through the sunrise, and late in the day, an hour before sunset and several hours after sunset.
The transition from daylight to dark or from dark to daylight is most often the sweetest time.
Opinions about fishing a specific tide also vary but most say fishing two hours after the high tide and two hours after the low tide are good bets. This is when the water is moving and big fish are in pursuit of the little fish.
But then again, any time spent fishing is always a winner.
The derby begins at on 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.