• Nelson Sigelman

A Fisherman's Fishy Christmas Gift

Updated: Dec 27, 2020


Some of the best Martha’s Vineyard striped bass fishermen are solitary individuals who steer clear of any stretch of beach where they might encounter another angler. For one reason or another, they prefer to fish alone. I am not one of those fishermen.

I like to fish with people who share my approach to fishing. A good fishing partner is as invaluable as a key to the Quansoo gate that gives beach access to the opening at Tisbury Great Pond. He or she is someone I can share stories with — the same ones, over and over — and most importantly, play a joke on, even when it comes to the appropriate Christmas gift.

I could not ask for a better fishing partner than Tom Robinson. He shares my sense of humor and laissez-faire fishing style, particularly when it comes to the Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and because he is energetic, he is willing to carry more stuff to the beach than I am.

Over the years, Tom has heard all my fishing stories, many of which were published in The Martha’s Vineyard Times, where I wrote a weekly seasonal fishing and occasional hunting column from 1990 to 2016.

Fishermen like to repeat the same stories to each other. It is part of the cultural code of the tackle shop and the beach. You listen to my story and I will listen to your story. Tom has heard a few of them over and over, one of which has become a standing joke.

In September 1996, I wrote a column about a magical night of fly fishing for striped bass from the beach at Cape Poge. I was with Jared Hull of West Tisbury. We had driven out to Chappaquiddick so we could begin fishing at midnight, the start of the 51st Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

That night, in the mist and fog we encountered a school of big striped bass, and we stumbled upon legendary Island fisherman and my friend, Cooper “Coop” Gilkes of Edgartown, who was guiding a client from New York. There we were, the four of us, hooking up over and over to fish in the thirty-inch range.

The minimum length to weigh-in a striped bass in that year’s Derby was thirty-eight inches. That’s a big striper to catch on any tackle, let alone a fly rod. And the only person who caught a fish that exceeded the minimum size? Coop’s client, the guy who was happy just to catch fish, and who, by the way to my great annoyance, was not in the Derby.

I titled the column, “The Night of a Thousand Bass.” It began, “Stripers exploded from the black surface of the ocean in a glow of shimmering phosphorescence. It was the night of a thousand bass.”

But I digress too much.

On the beach, when the hits and the conversation lags, I’ll turn to Tom and ask, “Have I ever told you the story of the night of a thousand bass?”

And he’ll reply in mock seriousness, “Oh no, please do.”

It’s become such a standard punch line that years ago I printed out the story as a poster and gave it to Tom for Christmas.

This spring, I pulled into Tom’s driveway. His waders and tackle bag were resting by the garage. The plan was to fish Cedar Tree Neck. I started to put Tom’s gear in my truck. He was still in the house. So sensing an opportunity, I picked up a large rock and placed it in Tom’s tackle bag.

When we got out of the truck and started to walk to the beach I thought for sure Tom would notice something was amiss. The rock was no pebble and would have been a nice addition to a Chilmark stonewall. I kept laughing to myself like a maniac. Tom took no notice of that either.

He went to grab a lure from his bag. “What the hell?” he said holding up the rock. “I was wondering why my bag was so heavy but I figured I’d left some bottom weights in it.” It was a good joke.

For Christmas, Norma and I gave Tom a nice book on baking, a skill he acquired before the pandemic. But I couldn’t resist one more gift to place under his tree this week.

I grabbed a red brick I’d picked up from the beach in front of the old brickworks in Chilmark. I printed out a label and affixed it to the brick. Then I wrapped it.

Later that day, I proudly told Norma what I’d cooked up. “You gave away my brick?” she said. “You gave that to me.”

Oops. Seems she has an emotional connection to the brick that had come from the beach where she’d played as a kid. Tom, I need that brick back.


For more stories: "Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island." Available at local bookstores, Amazon and marthasvineyardoutdoors.com.

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