Night fishing is one of the hidden pleasures of the Vineyard. Travel along the beach during a bright sunny day and there are a few anglers out there trying to catch the big one. Visit the same place, hours later at night, and there is a community of quiet fishermen. The beach may seem eerie at night, but there is a lot of good fishing going on. And sometimes it yields some surprises.
Nathan Jandl, 29, was out night fishing with his family at East Beach on Chappaquiddick last week. He caught a big fish (and then lost it). It wasn’t until after two hours of pulling and walking a half mile of beach that he found exactly what it was. It was a huge stingray.
At first he thought it was an extremely large striped bass. But soon it became apparent that the mystery animal was bigger, perhaps a brown shark. East Beach used to be a popular place for brown shark fishing at night.
Night fishing is fairly new to the PhD candidate in English at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He used to go day fishing, but in the last two years night fishing has become a bigger lure.
“We were hoping to go fishing for striped bass,” said Mr. Jandl, who added that he and his family went out for an evening of fun. They brought a grill and settled on East Beach at 6:30 p.m., hours after most sunbathers had gone home from a day of swimming. Also along were his father, Rob, and his stepmother, Stefanie. There were his two younger brothers, Nick and Luke, and his sister, Elise. There were friends Chloe Benjamin and Regalia Thomas. Everyone of them had a chance to work the rod in what became a two-hour odyssey.
Mr. Jandl recalls how the family enjoyed the late afternoon turning to evening. There was a beautiful sunset. Then, while fishing, they all watched as a line of thunderstorms hugged the horizon. “We caught a few bluefish. It was a very high tide. The water was calm. It was a gorgeous evening,” he said.
There is something quite special about night fishing. One’s senses are highly-tuned. As darkness sets in, so too does a shift in thinking. “It is kind of enhancing. At night, there is an amplification of the excitement and terror that goes with fishing during the day,” Mr. Jandl said.
They fished with eels. At the moment the bait was taken by the stingray, Mr. Jandl said he was trying to take a picture of the scenery.
Over the next two hours, the family members took turns working the rod. “The next morning I had bruises from the rod. I felt beaten down,” Mr. Jandl said.
Once they got the fish close to the shore, Mr. Jandl said he was struck by what looked like a stick coming out of the water. It later turned out to be the stingray’s tail.
They were able to take pictures of the animal before it broke off at the leader and swam away. Mr. Jandl estimated that the animal was 55 to 60 inches from wingtip to wingtip. The fish got away at 11:30 p.m..
Later Mr. Jandl compared his pictures with those in a fishing guide and concluded that it was a roughtail stingray.
Night fishing has its followers
Janet Messineo of Tisbury is one of the Island’s premiere shore anglers. She fishes at night and runs Martha’s Vineyard Fishing Charters and Taxidermy. And when she does beach charters, she prefers fishing between 6 p.m. and midnight. “When I first started fishing at night, I was terrified,” she said. “I did it anyway. It didn’t come naturally to me. I was scared half the time. When you hook up at night it is more mysterious.”
Ms. Messineo recalls years ago bottom fishing in Squibnocket. “I ended up with a nine-foot conger eel. It was huge. I thought it was a beautiful striped bass.”
Paul Schultz of Edgartown also likes to fish at night. “You go after dark and you’ll catch striped bass and bluefish. There are no bonito or false albacore. Take a flashlight. Pick a spot where you can relax and enjoy. I’ve fished with plugs or bottom-fished,” he said. “Fishing at night is magical,” Mr. Schultz said. “You might hear a splash in the water and not know where or what it was.”
Mr. Schultz recalls fishing at Wasque one night. “There was nobody there. I heard a noise. I looked. It was a deer standing and watching me,” he said.
Night fishing isn’t for everyone. “Absolutely not,” said Phil Cronin of West Tisbury. “I spend all day on the water. At night, I am snoring,” he said.
Mr. Cronin is a charter fisherman. He runs Capawock Charters from his boat, a 21-foot center console Parker with 150 horsepower outboard.
This has been the week to think about bonito. You can dream of bonito at night, but you can only fish for them during the day. On Tuesday, Mr. Cronin said he caught a 7 3/4-pound bonito off Chappaquiddick, the largest he has seen so far this summer.
Atlantic bonito are still an offshore fish, though there have been a few reports along the north shore of them being nearby. “I think they are spawning now,” he said. “The bonito we’ve taken are full of roe. As soon as they are through their spawning, I think they will come inshore.”
Recognizing that there are bonito carrying eggs, Mr. Cronin said that he tries to release every fish they catch. “So far,” he said, “we haven’t seen the schools of fish we’d like to see.”
Mr. Cronin said the schedule this summer is looking a lot like last summer.
“Bluefish has been exceptional,” Mr. Cronin said. “There are smaller fish inshore and larger bluefish on the shoals south of the Vineyard. It has been an exceptional summer. It is certainly a good sign for the rest of the season.” Striped bass, however, have been scarce.
Looking ahead, Mr. Cronin said he and a lot of his friends are thinking about the arrival of football-size bluefin tuna coming in from the South. “I know that is going to happen soon,” he said. “I hear they are close.”