In Defense of Yo-Yoing
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
In view of the fact that I am already considered by many in the “sport” fishing community as one of those dirty commercial bass fishermen, it will do little to hurt my reputation to shed some light on the history and practice of yo-yoing that has been conveniently overlooked in the knee-jerk and poorly considered reaction to lead weights being found in several derby fish this year.
The Derby committee did an admirable job dealing with the situation of yo-yo weights found in contestants’ fish and established the proper rule to deal with this in the future. While probably well-intentioned, the petition to the state to ban an ethereal and poorly defined method of fishing by the Derby committee and the MV surfcasters displays an appalling lack of knowledge, research, and is indeed, in many cases, a sad display of hypocrisy.
It is difficult to take seriously an appeal to the DMF for a new regulatory law when very many of these same sportsmen and conservationists violate the laws we already have. The use of short scup for bass bait is widespread by Island sportfishermen and is against the law. I have personally observed many derby committee members and other well known sportfishermen using undersized scup for bait and knowingly fishing for striped bass beyond the boundaries of state waters, a violation of federal regulations. More stripers are killed by recreational fishermen using undersized scup around the Island before the commercial season even starts than are taken by commercial fishermen in the same areas. I started the practice of using scup for bait on the Island many years ago, and let me be clear that I don’t care how others fish, where they do it, or what they use for bait. I simply don’t like hypocrites and I hate fingers always being pointed at commercial fishermen.
To briefly touch on the point of lead weights poisoning stripers, this is sensationalism at its finest to achieve a desired goal. It is alleged that yo-yo weights are destroying our precious resource and causing a potential health hazard. Yet this is the very same fish that our government advises should only be eaten once every 2 months by healthy adults and never by children or pregnant women due to the high levels of pcbs and mercury. Yo-yoing has been going on for 40 years and no actual scientific study has ever shown significant levels of lead in striped bass. Lead is not soluble. A chunk of lead is not going to dissolve and seep into a fish’s flesh. A quick search of the internet will reveal that lead must be in a fine granular of gaseous form to enter our systems. More danger exists from lost lead sinkers being ground up on the bottom and entering the food chain through smaller prey fish than from yo-yo weights in a bass’s stomach.
To understand why yo-yoing is so effective, the feeding habits of striped bass must be examined. Stripers actively feed for no more than 2 hours a day, mostly at night. Optimum water temperature for striper activity is 55 to 58 degrees. As water temperature increases in summer, stripers get very lazy and less inclined to chase live bait. A group of very astute Rhode Island fishermen realized this back in the 1970s and developed a method of fishing in which a desired baitfish looked alive, yet never swam away from a resting bass. They called it “dunking” and it was deadly. Initially, spark plugs were used as weights and steel lightning rods for skewers. They guarded their secret so well they had it to themselves for nearly 20 years. I never wanted to be a yo-yo fisherman as I was able to catch my fish with live scup and eels, and pogies were not readily available on the Island. The problem is that not only does a yo-yo bait catch fish, it completely stops fish from feeding on anything else when yo-yo baits are available. As more people caught on and yo-yoers spread out beyond Quick’s Hole and Sow and Pigs Reef to enter areas traditionally fished by Vineyard fishermen, it became necessary to learn or go home. And learning is a long, hard process that no one is going to explain to you. Rigging the bait is only about 10 per cent of properly yo-yoing and that’s all I will say on that subject.
Much has changed and evolved with yo-yoing over the years. Contrary to popular opinion, many commercial fishermen are very concerned about the health of our striper population as we personally have more at stake than most recreational anglers. We bear the brunt of every fluctuation in striper stocks and every self-serving whim of sportfishing lobbies and associations. Yo-yoing has become the commercial fishing target du’jour while sportfishing still accounts for over 70 per cent of striper mortality (DMF estimates). I, and many other commercial fishermen, have developed methods of attaching the yo-yo weight to the hook, ensuring that it is always retrieved. Wooden skewers that soften are now used in place of metal rods. Virtually 100 per cent of bass caught yo-yoing are hooked in the upper lip, ensuring a safe release of unwanted fish. Compare this to the high percentage of gut and throat hooked fish caught chunking or bait fishing, very often with a treble hook, and I am absolutely convinced many more fish die an agonizing death from more traditional methods of bait fishing. I also believe the vast majority of stripers pass or regurgitate swallowed sinkers.
I am not callous and it bothers me as much as anyone to see a fish with foreign matter in its stomach, but it must be dealt with in realistic manner. Education is the key, not legislation. Anyone who wishes to practice the art of yo-yoing should use a wooden skewer with a retrievable sinker. How can anyone legislate the term “yo-yoing.” If I retrieve my sinker every time, am I yo-yoing? If I use steel or cement instead of lead, am I yo-yoing? If I use a head with no skewer, am I yo-yoing? Perhaps all lead (jigs, sinkers, tubes, etc) , not just yo-yo weights, should be banned from fishing?
It is my hope that the DMF will realize just how hopeless and unenforceable a law banning “yo-yoing” would be.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
The Vineyard Haven holiday raffle was a great success, and it encourages us to shop on the Island to help the economy. However, I could not help but notice that the tickets for the raffle were purchased at Staples.
I called daRosa’s and they said that they sell raffle tickets, so maybe the organizers of the raffle should shop on the Island as well. Just a thought.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
My story of late has been one of terror and miracles, and I could go on at length of such magnificent institutions as the U.S. Coast Guard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, without either of which I would not be alive today.
This is a Vineyard publication about Vineyard life, however, and I wish to report to your readers of some Vineyard matters:
First, the Oak Bluffs ambulance that was at my house within three minutes of notification of my emergency, and the people who got immediate control of the scariest situation I’d ever experienced.
A young emergency medical technician named Jason stayed by my side from my living room couch, through three ambulance rides and a wild chopper ride all the way to my bedside at Brigham and Women’s. I cannot overstate the skill, compassion, and concentration this man displayed. If he were a guitar player, he could have burned Clapton that night.
Second, our world-famous emergency room was that night everything its honors and awards say it should be. Dr. Cathy Beland wasted not a second in getting a diagnosis and a dramatic course of action. She also gracefully dealt with the emotional situation that my family was in. Her compassion and wisdom were there not just for the guy in the bed, but for all of us.
A nurse whose name tag read Richard H. fed off of my corny wiseguy humor and got a hopeful feeling going. He got me comfortable and ready to go and started an IV line that was later much admired for its artistry by the Brigham and Women’s IV techs. They usually put in their own line, but Richard’s handy work was with me for my whole stay.
Finally, the outpouring of kindness and support from our Island’s most beautiful jewel, our year-round population.
Believe me, I felt every prayer in my heart. My wife, my son, and I are humbled by the love we have received.
Most notably this has come through the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group, my brothers and sisters in the recovery community, and the tribe of young Vineyard musicians now playing on this Island. They are all real nice to this old bluesman.
Look around you, my friends, the real beauty here is not beaches and sailboats, it’s hearts and minds.
Thanks to everyone from one lucky old bastard.
The Vineyard Gazette welcomes letters to the editor on any subject concerning Martha’s Vineyard. The newspaper strives to publish all letters as space allows, although the editor reserves the right to reject letters that in her judgment are inappropriate. Letters must be signed, and should include a place of residence and contact telephone number. The Gazette does not publish anonymous letters.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
We’d like to thank the wonderful cooperation of Edgartown police officers Tony Bettencourt, Jon Searle and Craig Edwards for making the Edgartown School’s Annual Jingle Bell Run and Walk so successful on Friday, Dec. 21.
The first-place finishers were Joao Carlos (8F) and Shivonne Schofield (8F, a repeat winner) with all the students, staff and parents finishing in record time (with their bells jingling all the way). This K-8 event is run in memory of former Chief of Police George Searie for his contribution to the town. Thanks to Gina deBettencourt for her tremendous support of all the participants, fueling them with much-needed cocoa, and to all the teachers whose help on the race course made the event a wonderful holiday tradition.
Peace and health in the New Year.
and Michelle Pikor