by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish
We humans tend to be territorial. People hang out in areas that they like, staying in their comfort zones. Also, we generally stick to routines and, thus, can be fairly predictable. For example, my wife and I have our favorite spot where we sit for church every Sunday. We would be all out of sorts if we had to move to a different location. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? No, but that’s how humans are. And all of these strange traits are directly applicable to us fishing folks, to be sure.
So where are my fishing comfort zones, you ask? Well, in the spring when I’m fishing for striped bass, I’m right at home on the south shore, mostly in the Miacomet / Cisco area. Why is that? For starters, I live very close by those locations and can be off of my couch and onto the beach in almost no time. Add in the fact that the south shore produces a lot of big stripers in the early part of the season, and it makes a lot of sense that you’ll find me hitting those areas early and often.
When it’s time for me to take people on fishing charters, however, things change. My comfort zone shifts to the eastern edge of the island. I spend most of our summer months fishing the beautiful expanse of Great Point with my clients. The “why there” question gets a three part answer: 1.) It’s simply beautiful out there; 2.) I have a variety of options as to where to fish, regardless of the wind and tide; and 3.) I fish there so much that I have a fairly good understanding of where to go and when to go there. Makes a lot of sense, right?
So what happens when I’m out of my comfort zone? I decided to find out. I took a drive and checked out the newly opened Smith’s Point in Madaket, the exact opposite end of my Nantucket comfort zone. Not knowing quite what to expect out there, I texted my dear cousin and fellow fishing guide Tammy King and asked if she could provide any insight about this strange land on the sundown side of the island. Tammy responded in her usual poetic manner:
“Smith’s Point. You know the ride, the first ride over the dune. See it, visualize in your head—when it first opens to beach driving, you assess every inch of it. That’s where the Nantucket beach magic happens. Smith’s Point is a feeling.”
Tammy is right, per usual. There’s something special about passing through Mr. Roger’s neighborhood (for those who don’t know, Mr. Rogers—yes, that Mr. Rogers—spent many summers with his family at their house known as the Crooked House, located right on the Smith’s Point beach access road). I could almost feel the spirit of Fred Rogers and Madaket Millie watching me as I headed for that beautiful beach. Yes, Tammy, Smith’s Point is a feeling indeed.
“Everyone you talk to about this area has that same feeling of excitement and awe. And then there’s the fishing! This week I noticed troubled waters and bait tickling the surface. Sure enough, small blues emerged. After a half hour or so, they moved on. So did I, only to get into another batch, all 2 to 4 pounds. I was throwing a small Hogy with a medium retrieve. Plucked a few out here and there. This pattern continued all week!”
Tammy reads the water better than any other fisher that I know. She can spot the flash of a fish or a ball of bait long before I ever do. And Tammy catches a ton of fish. She is so very consistent, whereas I am extremely streaky. I learn something from Tammy every time I talk with her.
But wait, there’s more: “Oh, did I mention the morning striped bass? I’m fishing Miss Amber (aka an amber colored Island X Hellfire 180 popper) with a slow retrieve and an occasional twitch. That produced some 28-inch beauties!” Thanks for this, Tammy!
Smith’s Point differs from Great Point in so many ways. Great Point is managed. Actually, Great Point is well-managed. The Trustees of Reservation are charged with maintaining the integrity of the reserve, and they do so in exemplary fashion. Rangers patrol the Great Point area, helping folks who might find themselves lost or stuck on the property. They work hard to keep the area in tip-top shape and to allow for their guests to enjoy the quiet of the beach. Guests must purchase a pass in order to venture out onto Great Point, but it’s the best money spent on Nantucket.
Smith’s Point requires a beach driving permit from the Town. After that, it’s the wild west. You’re on your own out there, folks. I drove slowly, scoping out the beach structure, thinking about what spots might hold striped bass. The fishing is great on that outside edge in the fall. And wow, the beach has certainly changed a lot from last year. Access to the tip of Smith’s Point was only possible from the north side. The deep channel between Smith’s Point and Tuckernuck was churning with the water of an incoming moon tide.
Winter storms had narrowed the beach considerably on the southern edge. Oh no: the beach is changing! What to do? Take a deep breath, everybody, and know that Smith’s Point is always changing. Proof? You want proof? Well, let’s climb into the way-back machine and set the dial for mid-September of 1961. At that time, Hurricane Esther whacked Nantucket hard and Esther’s Island was born (approximately two weeks after I was born. Coincidence?) And then some 20 years later, everything changed again. The shifting sands on the weird west end reconnected the renegade spit of sand with Nantucket proper and Esther’s Island was no more. Yeah, things are strange on that side of the two Long Pond bridges.
Back to the present day… I saw a familiar truck stopped on the north side of Smith’s Point as I tried to find the proper access route. My friend and fellow beach fishing guide Dan Holmes was setting up with a client to fish for sharks. They were already hooked up on their first fish in the short time that it took me to drive over to them. Dan knows his stuff and always has his clients in position to catch those toothy critters. His client that morning was John from Leominster, MA. John was planted on the beach, working the shark to the beach under Dan’s watchful eye. It took about fifteen minutes for John and Dan to land their catch, a brown shark that I estimated to be just shy of six feet long. Dan moved expertly, safely unhooking the shark, allowing John a moment for some great pictures and then releasing the shark back into the Madaket waters. I’m not a shark fisherman but it was great to see the entire process. Dan is truly expert level with such things.
I concluded my visit to the west side, driving up and over the main entry / exit spot just in time to avoid a flood of vehicles heading to the beach. Smith’s Point is a wonderful spot for a beach day, no doubt. I loved to see so many folks heading out to enjoy that side of Nantucket.
As for me, I’ll remain an east side guy. Until I need to find that one big striper for the Inshore Classic fall fishing tournament, of course. And I’ll always be glad to have friends like Tammy King and Dan Holmes: the kind of friends you can count on regardless of your comfort zone.
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