By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Memorial Day weekend on the waterfront comes early this year and the fish seem to know it. Bluefish, striped bass and all the right fish already are here and even more fish are arriving.
The prevailing word on the waterfront is that the best is yet to come. The seasonal migration below the surface that began well over a month ago is still underway.
Fish are one of the Island’s most valued prizes. While many may be scratching their heads about the price of gasoline at the pump, there are Islanders who are chatting about the other seasonal factor: fish.
The ocean has its own seasons, its own clock. There is more certainty to the movement of fish than there is faith in the economic forecast ahead.
Striped bass have been hooked for more than a month now. They are circling the Island in pursuit of bait — lots of bait. All the species of bait have made a showing, though this spring there is a lot of concern about a lack of squid swimming in local waters.
Commercial squid fishermen working in Nantucket Sound have done poorly.
The first positive sign of the season came in April when the Atlantic mackerel made a strong showing off Gay Head cliffs. This was not only good for the state of the season; it was also welcome showing for a species that has had years of trouble in these waters.
Mackerel are a fast moving blue-and-green silver fish that don’t measure much more than a foot. They have sharp little teeth, are voracious feeders and swim in tight schools. Their flesh is colored red and they have a distinctly oily flavor.
Boat anglers will jig for mackerel using a light rod and a small rig that holds tiny little rubber shrimp. Each tiny shrimp has a little hook inside.
In the seasonal parade, mackerel are the first sport and commercial fish to arrive. Atlantic mackerel are here for a short time. They swim north through these waters and head for the Gulf of Maine and waters north.
Mackerel make their appearance about the same time that the first alewives start showing up in large numbers at the Island’s herring runs.
Toward the end of April, a lot of herring showed up at the run used by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah.)
Herring have also appeared at the head of Lagoon Pond.
Massachusetts is in the third year of a moratorium against the harvesting of alewives.
Now attention shifts to the bluefish, one of the most prized of deep sea fish to come into these waters. Bluefish arrive ravenously hungry. They are looking for the alewives, the squid and anything small that will fit in their mouth.
After a winter of no fishing, I am always surprised at how just a small bluefish can pull hard on a rod, causing me to think I’ve gotten a bigger fish.
The last hours of daylight, when the wind has died down, my most favorite spots come alive. I’ve watched too many anglers leave my favorite spot just before it got exciting. Stay late and pay attention to the sounds of the water.
Richard Madeiras, former shellfish constable of Oak Bluffs, showed me where he usually got his first bite of the season. For him striped bass usually showed up first at the Little Bridge, which is close to Harthaven in Oak Bluffs. The best time to hook one is before most anglers are awake, prior to sunrise. Any kind of lure or fly that is small and white often works best.
Last week, fishermen caught striped bass in the late afternoon at the Big Bridge. This week one angler caught a keeper striped bass at South Beach in Katama. The fish was caught at right fork.
Small bluefish are swimming just about everywhere, but on one night they were just outside of the Big Bridge. The Big Bridge crosses from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. It is in the middle of the Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach. The spot is popular for fish because the beach is shaped like a big bowl. Currents running in and out of Sengekontacket Pond provide opportunity, bait, moving water and easy access for fishermen.
Bluefish showed up at Wasque two weeks ago late in the afternoon. The best time to fish for blues at the southeastern corner of the Island is on the last four hours of a falling tide.
Spring is the time for the Island’s anglers to get out and test the waters without getting their feet wet or putting a line in. In daylight they put on their Polarizer sunglasses and head for the shore at low tide to scout, to see how much their favorite fishing spots have changed over the last long winter.
They look for brightly colored sandbars near the surface, and they look for dark structures that might hide fish as the fishing season gets better. It can all change from fall to winter to spring.
With new information the angler will come back late in the day to see what happens. Fishing at dusk is the best time, for that is when the bait and fish move. Dusk often provides good fishing even if the tide isn’t necessarily right.
The Vineyard’s southern shoreline is notorious for change. This spring a sand bar resides a few hundred feet south of the beach.
A similar sandbar resides not far off shore of the Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach.
Dogfish Bar out at Aquinnah has a reputation for change from year to year. The beach at the Edgartown Lighthouse has grown longer and is getting closer to Chappaquiddick.
More dramatic changes occurred this winter at the Norton Point Beach opening. Instead of one opening there are now two.
Sometime during a series of winter storms, Norton Point got a second opening. Between those two openings there is now a spit of shifting sand anglers call Charlie’s Island.
The Vineyard’s littlest island looks fragile, like it won’t be around for long.
Skiff’s Island, which this winter got quite large and sits well south of Wasque, has guests. A large colony of harbor seals have taken temporary residence on the often elusive and transient Island. Depending on the tide, the island has been reported darkened by the hundreds of seals.
We’ve heard of Porky’s Island, which is usually south of Skiff’s Island and hasn’t been seen for quite a few years. Then there is Gilligan’s Island, which comes from the age of television.
So why shouldn’t there be a simple name for the latest of islands to form?
Charlie’s Island is a suitable name for the spot. If there was anyone whose life has been altered by the shifting currents of the new opening, it is Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair.
The tiny island was expected to disappear with all the changes that have taken place at Norton Point.
The island rests between two ocean openings into Katama Bay, into what 14 months ago was one contiguous barrier beach connecting Chappaquiddick to Katama.
The island is a significant fishing spot, though dangerous after dark. Fishermen should be wary about wandering too close to the edge, as the current is swift and the sand is soft.
Coastal pond openings remain attractive places to enjoy the great outdoors. Menemsha Channel in the late afternoon is a nice place to wet a line.
The opening at Lake Tashmoo is not only a great place to watch the sunset; it is an idyllic spot to catch a small schoolie coming in or going out of the narrow channel.