by C. Oscar Olson
If there are plenty of fish in the sea, then Nantucket is the place to catch them. Whether you’re on the water or at its edge, wetting a line is a wonderful way to relax, contemplate, and, if you’re lucky, feed your family and friends. Our waters are home to a myriad of species like fluke, bluefish, black bass, bonito, but the draw for most anglers on this island is the striped bass.
Stripers, as they are commonly known, reproduce in the warmer waters of the Chesapeake and Hudson bays. In spring, they head north for richer seas. This annual migration brings them as far as Maine, but their abundance in our waters is certainly something special. Pollution in the warmer waters of the south brought the species close to extinction just 40 years ago, but, thanks to environmental measures and catch-and-release practices, they have been brought back in abundance.
Though the fish are there to catch all summer and beyond, their around-theclock feeding during late May and June makes for the most fun and effective fishing. Angling for striped bass is different depending on where you are; no two coasts are the same. But Nantucket, with its shallow, sandy, consistently rockfree shore, is arguably the most fun. Like the rest of us, fish prefer an easy meal. Our shallow coastal waters provide the ideal habitat for a variety of feeder fish, meaning fishermen can find a catch on virtually every inch of shore around the island.
There are lots of ways to reel them in, and it mostly comes down to a combination of preference and location. Since our waters are relatively shallow, lightweight lures for top water fishing are a popular option. Plugs and spoons are most common, both mimicking the way a feeder fish swims through the surf. Nantucket fisherman also love sluggos, bombers, spooks, and poppers; the list is certainly long. Since striped bass are always on the move, constant casting tends to work best.
Bigger fish, having spent more seasons in the sea, are smarter and more elusive. Going after these often calls for baited hooks and weighted lines, driving it to deeper depths where opportunity waits in the dark ocean. Popular baits for this method include eels, sandworms, herring, clams, and the stripers’ favorite food: squid.
Across the world, squid is one of the most used baits for saltwater fishing. It seems that just about every sport fish in the ocean, from flounder to tuna, has a very hard time resisting a snack of squid. Their migration is in line with the striper, moving in schools of hundreds like a pack of wolves on the hunt. And that striper you’re after is never too far behind.
Fortunately for those of us who don’t own a boat, a walk down Straight Wharf will bring you to several charter boats for hire. These knowledgable captains will take you to the best spots around the island and provide all the guidance you might need. Catches are often guaranteed, and once back on land they’ll clean and fillet the fish for you.
If you came empty-handed or need something new, there are a few fishing supply shops here that are always happy to help. Whether it’s a rod or a reel, hooks, lures, or repairs, there are lots of options to get set up for success on the water. Captain Corey Gammill, owner of Bill Fisher Tackle, has seen a significant boom in recent weeks: “People are obviously looking to find new activities and we love it. Nantucket has a history of being a fishing village, and it is so wonderful to see people want to enjoy the amazing resources that Nantucket offers.”
Of course, there’s more to a good day on the water than just having the right equipment. One of the biggest secrets to success is to go often and vary your approach. Gammill urges that anglers need to put their time in. “I say often that fishing is a sum of your experiences. You can’t go once and expect to have the best day ever, like everything else, you must put your time in. Learn the patterns and discover the opportunities. As so many have recognized, if you do, the reward is far greater than the fish.”
Instead of just planting your feet in the sand and casting, five minutes of studying and planning can yield tremendous results. Gammill stresses the importance of movement: “You should cast and walk, cast and walk. Before you know it you will cover a lot of water.” Keep your eyes on the water for signs of bottom contours that might be holding bait. Groups of sea birds can also help be your guide to a goldmine.”
As with all tackle shops on the island, the most valuable thing provided is free: advice. “At Bill Fishers, we pride ourselves on helping anglers find fish and optimize their opportunities. We do offer weekly fish reports that people can sign up for on our website billfisher.com, or just stop in the shop and get advice in person.”
If you do choose to keep your catch, there are a few things to keep in mind. Anglers are only allowed one fish per day, and it must be at least 28” long but less than 35”. Measure the fish with its mouth closed from the tip of the jaw to the end of the tail. It is unlawful to discard a legal striped bass once dispatched or to keep a fish alive in the water or a well, and all fish must be caught within three miles of the shoreline.
Stripers are as fun to catch as they are delicious to eat. The meat is a happy medium between firm and flaky, somewhere in the middle of cod and swordfish. It’s perfect on the grill or in the pan, oven-baked, deep fried, or poached. There’s really no wrong way to do it. I love it blackened with cajun spices and a solid sear that gives way to the wonderful white flesh. A squeeze of lemon really sets it off.
This past Sunday, May 31, the stroke of midnight marked the final day of the fourth annual Spring Sea Run Opener, founded and directed by Rafael D. Osona, this is Nantucket’s only charitable catch and release Striped Bass tournament. More than just for the fish, the focus of this tournament is getting outside and enjoying the island all while raising money and giving back to local charities and non-profits. New this year was the addition of Junior Division to the competition. With the support of local sponsors, anglers under the age of 18 were invited to join in on the fun for free.
The tournament kicked off on May 1st at 12:01 am, and for just $25 all were welcome to join in on the competition and win one of several prizes, including first sea run striped bass, first “keeper” bass, shortest bass, and of course the largest bass of the tournament. All proceeds went to benefit a number of Nantucket charites, and once again our island’s fishing community came together in a meaningful way. For more information on the tournament and to see this years winners, visit springsearunopener.com
Before wetting a line, freshen up on all state and local rules and regulations. And be sure that your saltwater fishing permit is current and valid. If you don’t have one, head over to www.ma.wildlifelicense.com to get one today. It’s easy, fast, the cost is only $10 dollars, and all of it goes to supporting and protecting our local fisheries.