The northern most part of Oak Bluffs sticks into Nantucket Sound like a big thumb. There is a swift current moving in the waters off East Chop Beach Club and the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf. Swimming in this current are many kinds of fish, large and small. It is a fish highway, with schools of bait crisscrossing the water.
Nantucket Sound provides a feeding ground for all kinds of fish: striped bass, bluefish, fluke and other flounders. Add to this list scup, black sea bass, tautaug, bonito, false albacore, Spanish mackerel and more.
All summer long the waters attract boat fishermen arriving in everything from row boats, kayaks to the latest Grady White powerboat. In mid-July there is even a “bonito fleet.” These are boaters who assemble for the large and small schools of Atlantic bonito that customarily hang out in and around the Steamship Authority wharf. There once was a time when anglers could also fish from the wharf, but safety concerns ended this practice more than 30 years ago.
But each fall, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, together with the help of the Steamship Authority, hosts a Kids Day fishing event on the Oak Bluffs ferry wharf. For one morning, from dawn until about 9 a.m., youngsters of all ages are allowed to dip their lines in the water from the pier. Close to 200 kids attend the event each year. There are prizes and free T-shirts, but the main reason for the large turnout has more to do with the availability of fish at this unique site.
My own daughter, Emma, caught a lobster while fishing the kids’ tournament. It was a controversial catch, for in Massachusetts you are only allowed to catch a lobster with a pot.
Soon anglers will have a chance to fish these waters without a boat or waiting for a once-a-year event, thanks to the building of a public fish pier now under construction. The fish pier, on Seaview avenue, is not much more than a skeleton now. When it is done, the facility will offer anglers a vantage point they’ve not had in years.
The pier is being built by the state Office of Fishing and Boating Access and the Division of Marine Fisheries. The project was paid for with state funds and is the product of a lot of local fishermen support, including the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, an organization long committed to finding new safe places for anglers to fish from the shore. The land-based part of the project is expected to be done by the end of this month, with the rest of the pier work being completed by close of summer. Hopefully, there will be fishing on the pier by Derby time.
Fishing from a dock has plenty of comforts for all angers, especially those just starting out. Many of us grew up spending hours at Vineyard docks waiting for nibbles. On a dock one doesn’t need to know the fine art of casting. Parents are not even required to stand at the ready nearby. A drop line tightly wound up on a wooden spoke with a small lead weight, hook and piece of squid is enough to get started.
A typical summer morning begins: “Mom, I am going to the dock to go fishing.” Four, five or six hours later, the child comes home with a smile and probably much more.
At the moment, the closest likeness we have of a year-round fishing dock on the Vineyard is Edgartown’s Memorial Wharf. The new fishing destination in Oak Bluffs will have its own personality because it is far more exposed to the passage of fish.
Fish are attracted to this area of Oak Bluffs, just as Circuit avenue attracts summer visitors. Scuba divers who have snuck underneath the old Steamship Authority dock have come out of the water reporting large-sized striped bass hanging out amid the spiles. Children discover all kinds of fish and not necessarily the local kind. Tropical fish are not rare. Anglers have even caught trigger fish, from the Caribbean, in the late summer.
Stay tuned. A tasty dinner caught from the new pier awaits.