By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
As the farmer brings in the last vegetables, in autumn the lobsterman’s season is starting to slow down.
Capt. Paul MacDonald of the lobsterboat Shearwater was putting some of his yellow-wire pots away at the dock at Menemsha Tuesday afternoon. “It was a good season, though I had to work hard to make the same amount of money as last year,” the captain said.
There is good and bad news in the stories he and others shared about his past summer.
Fuel prices were up. Everyone knows that, but how the fisherman deals with it can make or break the best of them. Whenever a lobsterman is working his boat he is spending money on a spinning propeller and the heat that comes out of the exhaust. Some of the Island’s lobstermen chose to fish closer to home and be conservative.
“I heard a lot of moaning on the [marine] radio,” the captain said; it was about the price of fuel, the price of bait and the availability of lobsters.
Captain MacDonald said he feels fortunate compared to the fishermen’s stories he heard coming from the mainland. They had a tougher season. The expenses were not only higher when it came to working a boat, the price paid on the mainland for lobsters was down.
Vineyard lobstermen did a little better at Island fish markets, Captain MacDonald said.
Captain MacDonald’s boat is a home away from home. The vessel is a 34-foot Calvin Beal, and it is set up for a fisherman who leaves the dock in the morning and doesn’t get home until late.
On this afternoon, the captain was helped by his stern man, Eli Bonnell of West Tisbury.
Captain MacDonald said lobstering has changed on the Vineyard. To make a living, a fisherman has to have another job. It can be plumbing or any of the many building trades. The captain’s revelation applies to all the Island’s commercial fishermen. No one is a 100 per cent fisherman these days.
It was a good summer for weather. There wasn’t the fog of the summer of 2007; this summer was kinder. “The tropical storms came later,” Captain MacDonald said.
Island lobstermen fish the North Shore shoreline, to Cuttyhunk and to the waters off Noman’s Land. Those big ocean rollers from distant ocean storms came late in the summer. What with Hurricanes Ike, Hanna and Josephine, the waters got pretty stirred up.
The passage of Hanna more than a week ago stirred the inshore waters for the recreational fishermen. They had to relearn their favorite fishing spots.
Steve Purcell at Larry’s Tackle Shop said Hanna was kind to the anglers. Bluefish had been hanging farther offshore, chasing bait. Since the storm, Mr. Purcell said, the bait have come closer to the Vineyard shoreline and that makes these days and nights ideal for finding big fish meal time.
“Fishing has definitely picked up since the storm,” Mr. Purcell said. “It was hard out there getting fish. They wouldn’t eat anything,” he said. “The bluefish were all feeding about a mile off the Hooter,” a Muskeget channel buoy. “There was a lot of squid and big sand eels out there. The storm stirred up the water. Now the bait and the bigger fish have moved in.”
On Wednesday morning, Phil Horton of Oak Bluffs and Bedford, weighed in a striped bass over 11 pounds and a bluefish over nine pounds at the derby weigh station at the foot of Main street in Edgartown. For a man who was sleep deprived, he was doing well.
“I started fishing at 5 p.m. yesterday,” he said. He fished all night. Mr. Horton has fished since the derby began on Sunday, and he said Tuesday night, Wednesday morning was the best fishing he had seen yet.
Mr. Horton attributed the improved conditions to overcast skies at night interfering with a brilliant moon.
“It was nice. The clouds hid the moon for most of the night. Before, it was just too bright,” Mr. Horton said.
Mr. Horton wouldn’t tell where he caught his fish, for he was definitely pleased by the results of his effort and was going back for more. He wouldn’t even say too much about what he did to catch the fish. “Eels and plugs,” he said, and that was enough to bring a grin.
Mr. Horton said he has fished the derby for 25 years.
Kids’ Mini Derby
A favorite off-limit fishing pier, the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf, will be open to all youngsters 14 years and younger in the annual Kids’ Mini Derby on Sunday morning. The contest starts at 6 a.m. and finishes by 9 a.m.
The dock was rebuilt last winter and it could be a great spot to watch youngsters put on smiles as they hook what is swimming below.
“The fish have been fattening up,” said Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, chairman of the event.
This is the premiere free event for kids and it is hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee.
There are two big fishing events for kids each year. The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club hosts the annual trout tournament at Duarte’s Pond in the spring; fishing starts at first light.
Sunday’s fishing contest is also an early morning event. The best dock fishing takes place at dawn and a short time later.
Unlike the trout tournament, no one stocks the waters for the kids. Everyone is counting on the scup, the flounders and other sea creatures to voluntarily hang out under the dock.