September 11, 2002

Funny fish, Martha’s Vineyard Derby and Fall Migrations

Frank G. Dwyer
September 11, 2002

Although our fishery here on the North Shore is wonderful, this time of year inevitably finds me just a tad envious of our brethren to the south.

Anglers fishing off Cape Cod, the Islands and Rhode Island are now chasing the “funny fish”, as some call the false albacore, bonito and occasional Spanish mackerel that find their way to Massachusetts waters come late summer and fall.

These speedy fish are all known for their ability to put up a tremendous drag peeling fight, as well as their finicky nature, and in the case of the Spanish mackerel and bonito, the tasty meals they offer. Boat anglers typically have the advantage over shore bound fishermen in chasing these fish.

False albacore, bonito and Spanish mackerel travel in pods and tend to chase bait feverishly but sporadically as well. It is common for these fish to be crashing the surface after fleeing bait, only to disappear and resurface ¼ mile from where they were moments ago. Thus, a boat angler can have more mobility while a shore angler needs to walk the beach and hope a pod comes within casting range.

I have had the pleasure of chasing and catching all three of these fish, mostly from the shores of Martha’s Vineyard during the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that is held there each Fall. Most of my encounters have been with the false albacore, and I am strictly a surf fisherman when it comes to fishing the Derby.

The false albacore typically show up at, or just after first light in a number of shore locations, including East Beach, the Gut at Cape Poge and along the beach on Edgartown Harbor, all on Chappaquiddick. Lures of choice include slim profile metal lures like the Deadly Dick’s and Crippled Herring that imitate the baitfish being chased.

Blind casting from shore has yielded fish for me before when none were evident, however it’s not unusual to see the fish you are casting to. Another signal of possible action to come is seeing other angler’s down the beach fighting fish, since the fish tend to move up and down the beach at a rapid clip.

The typical retrieve used for these fish is quite simple; reel as fast as you can. When I first fished for these fish, I found it quite humorous to look down the shoreline and see all those fishermen cranking on their reels as fast as possible. I thought, “How are the fish going to have a shot at catching that lure?” The question was answered as soon as the thought entered my mind, as I saw two hook-ups and was sold!

It’s not over once you get one hooked. These fish take runs that are akin to tuna. They are quite strong pound for pound, and will fight very hard to get free. You must keep consistent pressure on the line because any slack given will typically grant the fish the freedom it so desires, and will leave you shaking your head, hoping for another shot. My first hook up with a False Albacore lasted about 30 seconds, and then my line went limp. It all happened so fast that I found myself wishing for another shot, which never came until the following year.

If you’ve not experienced the late summer and fall fishing for the so called “funny fish”, head to the Cape, Islands or Rhode Island and seek out some local advice and get yourself into some heart-pounding fishing!

Since I mention, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, let me just mention that this is an annual event that will be in it’s 57th year when it begins next week. The Derby is steeped in tradition and in the 15 years I’ve known about it, have only missed it once. It is the norm for anglers to go days without sleep in search of that fish that will get them on the daily awards board, or better yet, the overall leader board.

As the name implies, the Derby includes striped bass and bluefish, but also includes false albacore and bonito. There are award categories for both boat and shore fishermen, as well as a fly fishing only category. Awards are offered for adults and juniors, as well as special prize categories. It’s not just for fun, as the grand winner walks away with a brand new 18' Boston Whaler Dauntless with 135XL Mercury Outboard & Trailer.

This year’s Derby runs from 12:01 AM September 18, 2002 until 10:00 PM October 19, 2002. The registration fee is $40 for the All Tackle Division, $15 for the Junior All Tackle Division and $40 for the Fly Fishing Division. For more information, visit

Fishing around the Port has picked up considerably over the last two weeks as fish begin to fatten up for their imminent migration south.

Personally, the last two weekends have been very productive for me. The weekend of August 31st found striped bass breaking the surface on both Saturday and Sunday morning. The bass were making their presence known from the Route 1 bridge all the way out towards the mouth of the river. Small plastic and metal lures worked well; as did most of the flies we offered the fish.

This past Sunday, we found no breaking fish inside the mouth of the river so decided to take advantage of the relatively calm seas and head outside the mouth in search of fish. We found breaking fish just outside the river entrance, and it turned out to be a decent pod of stripers and we were able to land a few healthy sub-legal bass.

Once that action died, we cruised south along the beach as far as the Emerson Rocks area of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, finding pods of feisty bluefish along the way. The birds would signal the location of the pod, and we would toss small Atom Poppers into the middle of the action and hold on! The bluefish we found this day were not the ordinary 3-5 pound blues we typically find in our waters, but 10-12 pound fish with lot’s of fight! We found these fish in 30-50 feet of water.
Reports have shore fishing heating up, with the beaches of Salisbury, Newburyport and Newbury all yielding bass within casting range. Anglers using metal lures like Hopkin’s and Kastmaster’s as well as surface plugs all reported success.

Kay Moulton of Surfland Bait and Tackle on Plum Island reports plenty of bass around the island. Big bluefish have been showing at the mouth of the river, as well as along the beaches. Striped Bass have not been as plentiful at the mouth at low tide as in years past, but Kay says the amount of bass inside the river and the big blues at the mouth makes up for it.

The Parker River National Wildlife Reservation is completely open now for both shore and beach buggy anglers. Kay reports that fishermen on the reservation have been fairly consistent in landing keeper-sized bass at night using sea worms and clams as bait. Recent weigh-ins at Surfland include a 21.2lb bass caught by George Dagostino off the Parker River NWR and a 16.2lb striper caught by Mark Mahoney inside the river.

Captain’s Fishing Parties on Plum Island reports good fishing offshore for anglers looking for cod, haddock and pollock. Cod in the 20-pound range are still the norm, with a couple of 26-pound cod taking the pools this week. Good market size haddock and pollock have also been caught this past week. Trips for September are running on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fishing will continue into October on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.


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