Chasing the Night During the Martha’s Vineyard Catch-and-Release Tournament

Written by: Sam Wyman

The striper fishing was hardly on fire, but it’s tough to beat a weekend on the Vineyard.
Photos courtesy Sam Wyman

Last weekend, a group of Orvis associates from Vermont made the four-hour journey to Martha’s Vineyard, in search of striped bass and bluefish. We were heading down specifically for a fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release tournament, which has been held by the MV Fish and Gun Club on the island for the last twenty-four years.

Cooper Gilkes–founder of Coop’s Bait and Tackle, an island mainstay and Orvis-endorsed shop–would be our de-facto guide for the weekend. His knowledge of the island and its fisheries is only matched by his generosity and hospitality. Coop, as he is known, gets a big kick out of seeing other people get hooked on fishing. He routinely shows young islanders the ropes, and has surely introduced thousands of people to the sport.

We thought we’d stop at seven rods for the four of us: 8-, 9-, and 10-weights.

We arrived on the island on Friday around noon, and promptly went to a bridge that connects the open ocean to a tidal pond. The stripers were stacked up under the bridge, just waiting for some unsuspecting bait to float by. I was so excited to see the fish after our long journey that I grabbed my 9-weight, tied on a Clouser, and jumped right into the surf–jeans, sandals and all. I didn’t think one bit about my phone or wallet in my pocket. Oh well, who needs a phone when you’re fishing on Martha’s Vineyard? It felt pretty good not reaching for my pocket all weekend, anyway…

We fished pretty much all day Friday, and into the night, loading in the truck to drive from spot to spot. We found a few schoolies cruising the beaches, but the numbers didn’t seem to be quite there yet. Since the tournament was the following night, we decided it was best to take it easy on good spots the night before. At 2:30 a.m., we called it quits and headed back to the house. Most of us had hooked into a few fish, but we hadn’t found the numbers we needed to win the tournament yet.

Coop drives us through the dunes on Chappy Beach, searching for the schoolie hole.

On Saturday, we registered for the tournament and then started setting up our game plan: who would go where, what they would throw, and all that good stuff. Of course, you’ll find out if you ever do a tournament like this that everything changes. Our awesome, original plan was scrapped, as was the next and the next until we had really narrowed things down. Half of us would head to tidal coves on one side of the island; the other half would stay on Chappy.

Unfortunately for us, the forecast for Saturday night was not wonderful. We would be fishing in sustained 15-18 knot winds, with gusts into the 30s. Hauls and back casts would be key tools in controlling our lines that evening. The tournament ran from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m., and high tide in our area was at 10 p.m.–pretty good timing. Interestingly, on the island, tides can be completely different from one area to the next.

This 20-inch striper fell for a Clouser fished on an 8-weight Recon.

We set up in our first spot at 6 p.m., watched and waited. Other tournament anglers drove by consistently until 7 p.m., when lines hit the water. Our half of the team hooked into a couple bass in the first two hours, but the spot did not produce like it had the night before. We decided to hit the road around 9:30, with slack tide approaching.

Our team ended up landing twelve stripers among eight anglers that night. The fishing was not fantastic, but the location, camaraderie, and fun of the hunt made up for all that. That’s why I love fishing–it takes me to beautiful places with great people.

Team “High Stickers” lined up on the banks of a tidal canal at sundown.

The next day, we hit the beach again after the awards banquet that morning. This time, we were targeting some big bluefish that had recently rolled into the island, chasing bait. Using bait-casting rigs with large, hookless plugs, we employed a literal “bait and switch” tactic, bringing the fish in with the plugs, then throwing our flies behind the plugs as they approached shore. I have never fished in a more exciting way.

The weekend will go down as one of the best in my fishing career, not because of the number of fish caught, or even the size of them. I highly recommend a trip to the vineyard to chase stripers and blues in June. What fun!

Sam Wyman is an Inventory Allocation Analyst at Orvis HQ in Sunderland, Vermont.

The weekend finished off with some fun bluefish action.

3 thoughts on “Chasing the Night During the Martha’s Vineyard Catch-and-Release Tournament”

  1. This looks awesome, Wyman! I just took my Orvis Fly Fishing Basic 201 class on Sunday. Heading there on my lunch break today to get some of the tools needed to transform this avid spin-casting bass fisherman into a trout hauling fly machine.

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