• Nelson Sigelman

Fishing by Canoe — Aloha Menemsha


From Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island. First published August 1990 in "The Martha's Vineyard Times."



Norma said, “Honey, the canoe is a two-man canoe. It’s a heavy canoe. It is not a one-man canoe.”

I’d never seen the canoe but did I listen to her? Of course not. Unlike most new age sensitive guys I rarely listen to my girl friend when the subject is connected to fishing. “Hey, no problem,” I told her.

Bonito were off Menemsha and I planned to add outriggers to the canoe “Islander" style, that is Vineyard/Tahitian in order to stay stable in the ocean chop. The canoe would allow me to reach the fish and avoid the mayhem of the jetties.

Edgartown Kahuna Paul Schultz gave me some old lobster pot buoys; I purchased a ten-foot PVC pole at those Kon Tiki outfitters, Ace Hardware; and Eddy Amaral of Oak Bluffs — think of Queequeg — provided some good advice based on his own experience. “Don’t forget your lifejacket,” Ed said.

Ed had rigged his canoe with floatation buoys made out of two-liter soda bottles attached to a pipe and was fly fishing for big blues in the middle of Cape Poge Pond. According to the story he reluctantly told me, Ed set the hook on a big bluefish, only to have the fish go one way and he the other.

The canoe was stored in the backyard of Norma’s ex-husband, Glenn Andrews. A builder and craftsman, Glenn wasn't quite sure what I had in mind when I showed up to get the canoe but he found my whole idea of rigging it with an outrigger to go fly fishing for bonito intriguing.

Glenn was not a fisherman so my excited mutterings about bonito were lost on him, but he willingly joined in and helped me pound a white foam lobster buoy on to each end of the PVC pole — his craftsmanship evident because while I used a rock, he went to the trouble of getting a hammer. Glenn helped me lift the heavy fiberglass canoe on top of my Isuzu trooper.

"Well, Glenn, what do you think?” I asked, anxious to get fishing. "I think the bonito are in trouble," he answered. He was only 50 percent correct.

Lobsterville Beach was quiet when I arrived. Fishermen lined the Menemsha and Lobsterville jetties, some casting fly rods, others spinning rods. At the end of each jetty, they were clustered like mountain goats on the edge of a precipice. Fishermen in small boats and canoes floated a respectful distance from each jetty.

Suddenly, bonito began breaking the surface of the water in a feeding frenzy. Fishermen responded the same way. Lures crisscrossed and one man was just about strangled in another man’s fishing line. Hooking a bonito was the easy part; getting off the jetty without any lures embedded in you was the challenge. Well, I don’t have to deal with this, I thought, I have a canoe.

Without anyone around to assist me the canoe proved to be heavier to lift off the vehicle roof than I had anticipated so I let it drop off with a crash. Not elegant but it was off. Quickly, I loaded a fly rod, net, oar, and half a cinder block tied to a rope for use as an anchor. I lashed down the PVC-lobster-buoy-outrigger and was ready to go — about ten feet!

The fish began to break. I watched a fly fisherman as his rod arched over under the weight of a fish. I strained to pull the canoe and traveled five more feet in the soft beach sand. I felt like a horse at the Ag Fair draft horse competition and knew it would not be easy to reach the beach.

"You need some help?" asked a man standing with his son as they looked at me sympathetically while I lay gasping for breath in the sand. With their assistance I made it to the water's edge and contemplated my situation. The wind appeared to be blowing about 25 knots out of the southwest, and the water had a nice chop. Roberto, Brian and Marco sat out in their one-man canoes fly fishing at anchor.

I recognized that the wind was quite strong, my canoe was quite long, and the other fly fishermen were fishing in smaller, lighter canoes and knew what they were doing. The fish broke again. Without hesitation I jumped into the back of the canoe (experienced canoeists know this was my second mistake) and pushed off from the beach at a furious paddle.

The canoe sliced through the water as the wind drove me forward. In a moment I was up to the other canoeists. In two moments I was past them. I tried to turn the canoe but because I was seated in the stern, rather than in the middle, I could not turn the bow into the wind and my furious paddling only propelled me faster in a direction I did not want to go. The other canoeists stopped casting and eyed me curiously. I managed a weak smile.

Now off the jetties, I still paddled as fishermen standing on the rocks watched me with a combination of amusement and concern. I straightened up and did my best, despite my desperate paddling and even more desperate embarrassment, to maintain an attitude of nonchalance that proclaimed: "Hey, I wanted to get sucked into the channel."

For good measure bonito started to break behind me. But I was full in the current and could only manage a momentary glance as I was vacuumed into Menemsha Pond by the tidal flow. I paddled furiously to reach the shore on the Lobsterville side of the channel and spare myself from having to hitch-hike from Menemsha back to the beach. Exhausted, I made it ashore and with some help from Robert Heaphy got the canoe back on my vehicle.

"Honey," Norma said, after I’d arrived home and recounted my story. "I told you the canoe is a two-man canoe. It's a heavy canoe. It's not a one-man canoe."


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