— Vacation began in a washing machine and stayed there for three days.
At least that's how it felt when a nor'easter pulled up at our little island seven miles off the Massachusetts coastline and parallel parked over the neighborhood. When it wasn't dropping reservoirs of water on our heads and roofs, it was driving stinging droplets into any opening in our raingear.
Instead of being on the water nearly every waking hour, as planned, fishing buddy Bev Aaron and I tied and retied everything in our tackle boxes. During one lull — I think it was a spin cycle — he dashed out to Wasque Point and hauled an 8-pound bluefish out of the surf for supper. A clamming expedition produced enough bivalve material for a pot of chowder simmered to perfection by his wife, Esther.
And then we waited to be air dried and fluffed back to normal.
Two weeks of down time ended Friday as it began — in the water, not on the water — with Earl huffing and puffing and nearly blowing our little rental into the ocean.
The storm chased us off the island a day early, but that's the pact you make with nature when you have your heart set on being outdoors. New England weather punishes and rewards, sometimes in the same day but often before the week is out, just as sure as Indian summer follows the first frost.
Unfortunately, between storms, the fish did not get the word that the coast was clear, even though the air turned crisp, the breeze took on the feel of fall, and the sky and ocean water turned a dazzling blue not found in any paint store.
We caught a Wiffle ball and a small plastic shovel, minus plastic pail and child. Bev landed a pair of filleting gloves, price tag still attached. I hooked my foot. Those were the highlights.
It didn't matter what we threw into the water: pontoon-shaped Roberts Lures created by an avid on-island angler; Deadly Dicks, icicle-like metal swimmers imported from Canada that almost always attract stripers and blues; bright yellow bucktails from Maryland. Topwater bugs and plastic eels failed, too. We rejected underwater explosives, figuring the president's bodyguards wouldn't be too keen on loud noises so close to the summer White House.
All we had to show for days of casting and cranking were schoolies and dinks.
With the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby just weeks away, everyone is hoping the waters cool and bite turns red hot.
The five-week derby, founded in 1946, is a huge deal. It survived the striped bass fishing moratorium in the 1980s by featuring other species and now attracts about 2,000 competitors each year. The prize money is nice, but the real reward is being known as the top angler on an island with a rich fishing history.
The competition was the subject last year of a terrific book by David Kinney, "The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish," that was snapped up by the DreamWorks studio.
For once, it would be nice to see a fishing movie that doesn't involve a crazy captain, a big storm and violent deaths (Gregory Peck, meet George Clooney).
So where have the Martha's Vineyard stripers gone? Tackle shop theories abound, some of them involving "greedy" anglers to the south who slam migrating stripers in spring and again in winter (Note to self: put mud on the front license plate before pulling into the parking lot).
Another theory, being spun by an earnest employee behind the counter, involves stripers taking a short cut through the Cape Cod Canal just to the north and bypassing Martha's Vineyard.
Interesting. Creative, even. Except that the canal was built in 1916 and if all the big fish were going to change course, they probably would have done so by the dawn of the Harding administration.
Certainly nothing in recent history would suggest the big fish are blowing off the island. For example, last year the winning striper caught by a boat angler was 44.68 pounds; the biggest fish taken from shore was 34.10 pounds.
Bob Simon, the master designer at Roberts Lures — made on the island and fished by him in the surf at Wasque — says the fish will be there in time for the derby, as they always are. And he counsels patience.
In his profile of local legend Steve Amaral, author Kinney also reminds us of the highs and lows of fishing: "People see Steve bringing in fish and they figure it's all action for a fisherman like him, but they don't see him on all those days when he comes home with nothing, all those nights when he's working the beach and wondering why in the hell he's out there and not home watching TV in his recliner.
"Nothing's easy in this business. You don't go to the beach and they jump up on the sand."