For the last 67 years people on Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod a little more than double the size of Manhattan Island--the 58th largest island in the US and the third largest in the east, have held an annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. 3,000 people are expected to participate over the five weeks of the Derby and more than 100 prizes are awarded to fishers everyday.
The Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby which began at 12:01 AM on September 9th, has been called one of the great saltwater fishing tournaments in the northeast, attracting people from all over the country, swelling the population of the island still in the midst of its recovery from the summer tourist highs.
Whiskey, my five-month old golden retriever and I couldn't make the Derby. Whiskey has dreams of ducks and rabbits to attend to and I, sadly, have the daily crush of work and responsibility. There's no time for me to pack a satchel with my clothes and a bag of Whiskey's kibble and head north to ply the chilling waters off the Cape.
Instead last evening, Whiskey and I headed down to the East River and take a long, calming walk along the short, turbulent waters. The East River is not really a river at all. It's a tidal estuary that connects the waters of the Long Island Sound to the more open waters of the New York bay and the Atlantic beyond. By some predetermined twist of instinctual fate, some percentage of blues and stripers head south, east of Long Island, past Montauk and others, presumably in lesser numbers, head south, west of Long Island, down through the East River on their way down to Florida after a summer up north.
The stripers and blues migrate by night, spending their days feeding on anything they can get their maws on, including themselves. Blue fish in particular are fierce fish, and fiercely cannibalistic. When they are feeding, which is often, they will sometimes create a "bluefish blitz" in which thousands of them will churn up the water as they go after menhaden and other unfortunate bait fish.
Last night, down by the river, on the lower portions of the East River park which is just a yard or two at high tide above the turbid waters, the promenade was lined with burly Puerto Ricans with beaten old rods, hoping to catch the migrating fish. The Puerto Ricans usually bring out two or three rods which, once they cast their bait into the river, they bungee cord to the wrought iron lest they get a bite that hauls their untended tackle into the drink.
Then, their rods secured, they gather in small groups and smoke cigarettes and reefers or drink beer and gab animatedly through the night. There are some solitary Puerto Ricans who swim away from the larger schools. They sit on either emptied cat-litter buckets or on the wooden-slatted benches that line the sea wall.
I stopped by one of the lone fisherman and decided to have a chat if he would have me. He was a short man, Pete his name, and he was wearing an old grey sweatshirt against the early autumn night and a black baseball cap with large gold type on it which read in all caps, "Vietnam Veteran." I recognized him as one of the quiet men who live in the basement apartments in the tenement buildings on my block. He started the conversation.
"Whiskey," he said, "she has gotten big."
"She's almost 30 pounds now," I replied. "She's a good dog." I shifted gears. "Have you caught anything."
"Yes, I have gotten two little ones. But I have thrown them back. I want mas grande. Last night the big fish came in around four or five. One man caught a 14-pound fish."
"That's a big one," I responded.
"I am done for the night," he said. "I am old and cannot stay all night like the young ones."
"Me, I cannot sleep. And Whiskey likes the walk."
Pete un-bungeed his rods from the cast-iron, he broke them into sections, emptied sea-water from his cat litter bucket and we walked home together, the three of us.
When we got to the front of his building we stopped and said goodnight.
"Will you be out tomorrow night," I asked.
"Like you," he said, "I must."
He descended his steps, unbolted his door and went, I suppose, to sleep in his apartment below the street.