My Dad drove up from Connecticut yesterday and got here about 5:30 am. We stopped at Pie for coffee and croissants, then headed over to Eel Pond. We waved to Dan and Capt. Bill as the R/V Gemma pulled away from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) dock, loaded up the cooler and rods, and headed out into Great Harbor and beyond.
We headed out to the Weepecket Islands first and caught a few scup.
[My Dad calls them porgy. I, having been Cape Codified, call them scup. Common names are, in fact, ridiculous. Two abutting states have completely different names for the same fish. I like it though. It’s like a fishing dialect.]
We were looking for bonito (aka bonita, little tunny, or false albacore, depending on who you talk to and what zip code you’re in), which my mother has a line class record for, but I have never caught. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any all day. They’re notoriously skittish, but supposedly delicious and highly sought after. Elusive things usually are.
We grabbed another bag of squid from my buddies, the MBL divers, who were out fixing things and finding creatures for the lab. I hope to always have friends who give me free bait upon request. It has definitely been one of the best things about this summer. After we made the pickup, my Dad and I poked around in the Naushon harbor, ostensibly looking for breaking fish, but mostly just ogling the yachts. I forget sometimes, just how many masters of the corporate and political universe summer here. Naushon in particular, is a highly exclusive island (the first in the Elizabeth Islands chain), with estates for the Forbes and Heinz families. There are also no cars or bikes allowed, and you have to be personally invited to go there. It’s something like Amish Country for rich people, as far as I can tell. The closest I’ve come to it is specially hand-delivering a box of cookies from Pie to the captain of Naushon’s private ferry, The Cormorant.
Regardless, after we decided there were no striped bass to be found in the harbor, we motored out to Nobska Lighthouse, which was pretty, but not terribly productive. We then moved off to the Vineyard Sound side of Naushon and threw squid and a “Smilin’ Bill” lure in close to the rocks. We caught snapper blues and scup aplenty, but more importantly, we drifted in close to a group of about 8 gray seals splashing and staring at us. One was posed on a rock that didn’t even reach above the surface, so he looked like a giant seagull, lounging on the waves. It was the first time I’ve ever seen seals on Cape Cod, and the second time I’ve seen wild seals in general (the first was in California, and they may have actually been sea lions now that I think about it). Needless to say, it was spectacular.
After the seals finally slid away and disappeared, we moved in to the cut just off Woods Hole. My Dad loves this spot, as it’s some of the “fishiest” water he’s ever seen, and I have to agree. Huge boulders are stacked up like alphabet blocks, attracting fish and ripping the hulls out of careless boats. The currents converge in bizarre rips and swirls where the water bottlenecks between Naushon and Penzance Point. It is a beautiful, dangerous, thrilling place to fish. We picked up some more scup and snappers (no stripers, alas, the water inshore is too warm, it seems), and then stumbled on an underwater feature that must have been the size of a postage stamp, but just happened to produce the only legal black seabass we’d caught all day. We’d been out on the water about 7 hours at this point, and both of us kept reassuring the other, “okay, last cast. last squid. last drift…” but we kept drifting over the feature, and kept picking up decent sized fish, including a plump 16 incher that gave my Dad a nice fight.
Black seabass are sleek, beautiful, delicious fish. I do think, however, that they are held perhaps in higher regard than they deserve (and scup in lower regard). My Dad doesn’t understand this at all. Anything tasty is worthwhile, and scup and seabass both qualify. But, as an experiment, (I made sure to look at my Dad purposefully before I did this), every time we reported our day’s catch back on land, I phrased it as, “Well, we caught a bunch of nice scup… and a few decent sized seabass.” Everyone responded first with a look of pity, and then, when I got to the part about the seabass, their eyes went wide and a few nearly shouted their exclamation and praise. My father was mystified. I’m not really sure where this disparity comes from.
Poor scup. Though they do feature on the stickers and logos all over town that have a scup outline which reads, “I [fish] WH.” Or, if you’re a local, “I [scup] WH.” So good for them.
When we finally decided we had enough fish in the boat (nowhere near our limit, but about 10 scup, 4 seabass, and a half dozen snappers… plenty of food), we turned up the cut and made our way back under the bridge into my lovely slip in Eel Pond. I will miss it very, very much when I have to leave in a few days.
Being Woods Hole, we were able to step off the boat and walk a block to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s small community aquarium. It’s a lovely little place, and I hadn’t been all summer and my Dad hadn’t been at all. We marveled at the black and white photos of enormous lobsters and halibut, and pointed out different species in the tanks to each other. For the finale, we watched the two little harbor seals in a pool outside swim circles with each other and spin like muscular, furry little hot dogs. They’re adorable, and charismatic, and I see why they make such great anti-animal cruelty icons. Clubbing baby seals is a pretty dramatic (and traumatic) image.
We cleaned some of the fish back at the house so I could have a few fillets. I saved the stomachs for Simon to dissect, and my Dad took the racks home to our deep freezer so I can take them apart and make mounts for my Div III. Assuming I can learn/teach myself to make serviceable fish mounts. I guess we’ll see.
Being caked in scales and squid slime, we opted to get take out Chinese and eat it sitting in the van at Falmouth Harbor. Did I mention we reek of class? We really did reek though, and I was starving, so it was, without hyperbole, the perfect end to an ideal day.
Fishing in Woods Hole with my Dad… it doesn’t get any better than that.