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  • Writer's pictureNelson Sigelman

Chappy Fishing Culture Is Eroding

Updated: Jan 21

The "windmill house" sits between Cape Poge Light and Cape Poge Point.

To: Edgartown Conservation Commission

Re: TTOR OSV access upcoming hearing

Dear Edgartown Conservation Commission Members:

Who did or did not file what permits, and when may be important. And, of course, there is the

potential of harm to various bird, beetle, and moth species. I appreciate the technical, legal, and

subjective arguments over how to manage Chappaquiddick beaches. But really, isn’t our

overarching obligation that we preserve the culture that sets our Island lifestyle apart.

The national media conjures images of wealth and celebrity on a summer playground, but you

know that the Vineyard is also at heart a community of hard-working, year-round Islanders,

some of whom have lived here for generations, others who are new arrivals striving to make ends


Will future generations be able to drive on East Beach and set out a sand spike in anticipation of a big catch, or dip net scallops in Cape Poge Pond? Or simply sit back and enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends under the sun and stars?

One memorable evening, Jared Hull of West Tisbury and I crossed the Dike Bridge, passing a lone fisherman, and headed to Cape Poge. The night's humidity absorbed our headlights. It was very dark, with only shades of black where the sky met the water.

The outgoing current was a tidal river carrying a glowing stream of phosphorescence, small pulsating creatures, part of a galaxy of life in an ocean Milky Way. A few other fishermen came and went. The occasional glow of lights on the other side revealed other fishermen.

Just past the jetties, we started catching large striped bass. Because of the phosphorescence,

every strike was marked by an explosion of light. Sometimes, an accelerating striped bass chasing the fly across the water would be visible as a streak of light.

It was a magical night of fishing I don’t expect to be duplicated for my enjoyment. But I hope future generations can slowly drive along the beach scanning the current nearby for an oily bluefish slick, or roam Cape Poge at night listening for the “baloop, baloop” that indicates surface-feeding striped bass.

On my last visit to Chappy in many years, I saw that the owners of the so-called “windmill house” along the elbow that leads to Cape Poge Gut had created a narrow travel corridor marked with multiple signs at both ends and wire strung along the entire route. They are, of course, well within their property rights. But those signs are symptoms of a deplorable and careless attitude that will certainly erode, and ultimately destroy, the priceless neighborly bonds at the core of our community. Please maintain the culture of public access on Chappaquiddick.

Nelson Sigelman

115 Bernard Circle

The MV Beachgoers Access Group (, led by Peter Sliwkowski and a group of dedicated individuals, is at the forefront of the effort to preserve Chappy culture. "MV Beachgoers Access Group is a non-profit organization that advocates for continued broad and affordable beach access for residents and visitors of Martha’s Vineyard alike, while being mindful of the environmental conservation and preservation that makes these places special."

The Night of a Thousand bass

September 19, 1996

The Martha’s Vineyard Times

Stripers exploded from the black surface of the ocean in a glow of shimmering phosphorescence. It was the night of a thousand bass.

It all began with a telephone call Monday afternoon to my friend Jared Hull to make plans to fish the first hours of the derby, which began at one minute after midnight. The plan was to meet at 11 pm and travel to Chappaquiddick. We would fish for striped bass, catch a few hours of sleep in the luxury of my truck, and then look for a morning run of false albacore and bonito in a shot at Cape Pogue gut.

Dreams of derby glory had us speculating on the seemingly impossible prospect of weighing in a striper, a bonito, an albie, and a bluefish on the first day of the derby. But both of us knew we would be thrilled just to land a striper that met the derby minimum of 38 inches, four inches longer than the state requirements, and a very big fish on a fly rod.

We crossed over the Dike Bridge, passing a lone fisherman, and headed out to Cape Poge. The night's humidity seemed to absorb our headlights. It was very dark with only shades of black where the sky met the water.

At Cape Poge, the outgoing current was a tidal river carrying a glowing stream of small pulsating creatures. A scientist friend once explained to me the phenomenon of phosphorescence in the water, but for the moment, I preferred to enjoy the spectacle of a galaxy of life in an ocean, the Milky Way.

A few other fishermen came and went. The occasional glow of lights on the other side revealed other derby fishermen. But after our casts produced no fish eager to share the derby spotlight, we left and went looking for fish.

"I'm on," I shouted to Jared over the sound of the water washing up on the beach. "Me too!" he shouted back.

We had just got out of the truck and now we were both hooked up to nice fish in the 30-inch range. We released them but took no more hits and began to look for the school. I started walking up the beach and spotted the dark outline of a truck and a fisherman.

It was Coop.

"Oh boy, bud," he said excitedly," they're all over the place. Coop was guiding Barry Dolich, a fisherman from New York, but the job ended at midnight. He was not anxious to leave.

"My wife will understand," he said.

I asked him if she would worry if he came back late.

"No," he said in what I assumed was a joke, "I'm well insured."

In fact, when Barry would return after dawn the next morning, "his wife was not as understanding as he had predicted," said Coop.

The sound of striped bass crashing bait could be heard above the sound of the waves. And almost every cast would bring the sound of a fly reel spinning out line.

"Zzzzzzzz," the sound of the reel's drag trying to slow the head-on run of a big striped bass would let you know a fish had been caught even before the shout, "I'm on!"

When the ocean is filled with tiny creatures that produce phosphorescence, any disturbance produces a soft white light, a pulsating glow of life.

And on this night, every strike was marked by an explosion of light. Sometimes, the accelerated movement of a striped bass chasing the fly as it was pulled across the water would be visible as just a streak of light in the water.

I caught one fish and pulled up on the beach. Quickly, I took out my tape measure and read 39 inches through my bleary eyeballs. I yelled to Jared excitedly.

"Jared, you measure it." I wanted a fish at least one inch over the limit.

Jared stooped down and measured.

"It's 35," he said.

My eyes couldn't distinguish a five from a nine.

I told Coop there had to be a big fish out there.

"Sure, there is," said Coop, "and you know who's going to get it."

Coop pointed to the guy from New York.

"It's happened to me before," he said.

It was late in the morning, and the fishing continued. Somewhere in my brain my body begged to be shut off. But the sleep message could not get past the part of my brain that controls the fish function.

Big fish, but no derby breakers, continued to come up the beach or break off.

"I got a good one on", the New York guy yelled.

I walked over to watch as Coop helped him slide a very large fish up the beach.

"How big do you think it is?" he asked.

I bent down and measured.

It was 40 inches. Are you in the derby?" I asked him.

"Oh no," he said, "I just kiss them and let them go."

"Oh yeah," I told him, " I'd like to kiss a 40-inch fish and bring it right to the derby weigh station."

Talk about frustration. Four guys on the beach, three of them in the derby, and he catches the only fish big enough to weigh in.

"I told you, bud," said Coop with a laugh, "it happens to me every year."

I walked down to the beach and made a cast. A striped bass burst from the water, showering light across the water. It was a hell of a night.

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