by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish
The first Nantucket striped bass of the year is a very sought-after fish. That first striper signifies that it’s time to get your gear out and get ready for the onslaught of fish that follow. The first bass clearly says that the seasons have changed. The long winter wait is over, better times are coming. Yeah, that first striped bass is an important fish.
So who’s going to catch that first bass? The vast majority of Nantucket beach fishermen sit in their nice warm living rooms on their comfy couches, checking Facebook to see if it’s happened yet. I certainly can fall into that category. Early spring fishing conditions can be tough. The air is cold, the water is colder and the hockey playoffs are on (oh man, what happened to our Bruins? Ouch!). It’s easy to not get up and go out in search of the first Nantucket fish.
The Nantucket striper fishermen pay attention to a couple of early signs to know when it’s time to dig out their fishing gear. On the Water magazine sends out email blasts with a “striper map.” This color-coded map shows the progress of the striped bass as they migrate upward from the Chesapeake Bay tributaries, their spawning ground. A lime green line indicates the northward progress of the schoolie bass, the smaller fish that tend to lead the migratory progress. As soon as that line gets up in the vicinity of Rhode Island, we fishing types set our radars on the fishing reports out of Larry’s Tackle Shop in Martha’s Vineyard. Larry’s runs a contest for the first beach striper caught on that other island. This year, that fish was caught on April 15th.
Nantucket’s first fish is generally caught about two weeks later. This year, it took until May 3 for that first fish to hit the sand. And it’s an epic story! This story has a hero, someone who transcends adversity and refuses to quit. There’s an evil villain, a name that causes even the heartiest of souls to shiver. There’s a love interest. There’s a wise wizard who helps our hero remain steadfast and keep fighting. Think about it: this could be the tale of Rocky, Apollo Creed, Adrien and Mickey. I think this story has more of a Karate Kid feel to it (because the villain doesn’t ever seem to be redeemed, at least not until the Cobra Kai remake four decades later). It goes like this…
Let’s call our hero Beth. She moves to the magical land of Nantucket and decides to learn how to surf cast after her well-meaning husband bought her a rod and reel setup for Mother’s Day in 2018. Beth grew up in Newport, RI. She knows a lot about sailing but never did any fishing. She is, however, smart and athletic. And tough. As in marathon runner tough. She’s run more than a dozen marathons, with very respectable times. She’s also given birth to two daughters, thus qualifying her for the aforementioned Mother’s Day gift. Finally, she’s put up with her husband’s nonsense for more than 25 years. Yeah, she’s tough.
Beth’s well-meaning husband attempted to show her how to cast (backstory: he’s a beach fishing guide), but the two quickly grow irritated at each other. So Beth builds on the fundamentals that she was taught and persistently works at her casting until she can throw her lure a respectable distance. Her summer Sundays at Great Point often result in Beth catching blues, false albacore, bonito, and the occasional daytime striper.
Life is great until the evil villain shows up in the spring of 2022. Breast cancer. Surgery. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Hair loss. Energy drained. And surfcasting, something that Beth has learned to do well and love, is taken away from her for most of 2022. Fear and uncertainty attack our hero daily, but she never blinks. She endures all the treatments and side effects, combined with the necessary travel, all while maintaining her job and her roles as a mother and wife. Heroes do hero stuff, right?
Things look bleak in the dark, cold days at the end of 2022. That’s when our wizard arrives at the perfect time. In Rocky, the wizard was Mickey. For Daniel, our karate kid, it was Mr. Miyagi. Beth’s wizard is Jeff Allen, maker of Fish Stix Nantucket fishing rods. Jeff learned about Beth’s struggles and saw a way to help. He created a beautiful 9-foot magic wand, a fishing rod that perfectly fits Beth’s physical frame and, most importantly, her temperament. This rod, along with a fantastic IRT reel (a gift from her love interest – let’s call him Stevie) show up under Beth’s Christmas tree. The gift is perfect. It gives Beth hope as she continues to fight the evil villain.
Now every great movie needs the showdown in a dramatic setting where our hero confronts the villain. In The Karate Kid, the setting was the Under 18 All- Valley Karate Championship. In our story, it was the Spring Sea Run Opener Fishing Tournament. It’s May 3, 2023, and no one on Nantucket has yet landed the first beach striped bass of the year. Rafael Osona, the tournament organizer, was surprised. A bunch of hard-charging fishermen have been casting in the areas where the first bass is often caught, but to no avail. The stage is now set for the epic battle.
Beth and her love interest load up the pickup truck with waders, a small sampling of lures, and, of course, Beth’s Fish Stix magic wand. They head to the Cisco area. The surf conditions are rough but better than the previous day when they were downright dangerous. Beth picks up her magic wand and chooses a soft plastic bait. She stands boldly in the surf and starts casting. She senses that there’s fish around, but if so, they’re not biting what she’s throwing. Time to change it up. Beth puts on a Denny Dias made French fry soft plastic bait with a lead jig head. She moves to the east of her erstwhile love interest and gets back to it. A fish attacks her lure. She sets the hook and the fight is on! The crashing surf makes it tough to navigate as Beth pulls the fish towards the beach. A huge wave knocks Beth back on her heels and propels the fish well ahead of where it had been. Her line goes slack. Has the fish escaped?
No! Beth recovers her footing. She tightens her line. The love interest makes himself useful and scoops the fish up and out of the wash, onto the beach. The battle is won. Beth holds her fish modestly, but knowing that the stars have aligned to bring about this triumphant moment where our hero has vanquished the evil and the All-Valley trophy (strike that) the Spring Sea Run Opener First Bass Award is hers!
Beth is strong. She is healthy. She has amazingly awesome new hair. And she is going to catch a lot of fish this year and for years to come.
And if any Hollywood types out there are reading this, have your people call my people. Let’s do lunch.
Steve “Tuna” Tornovish is a Nantucket native who has spent his life fishing from the beaches of his beloved island. He loves to introduce clients to the joy of fishing with his Nantucket Island Fishing Adventures: stevetuna.com