Re: Charles Church - Cuttyhunk
Published: October 22, 2004 New York times Robert spencer
Cuttyhunk was put on the map in the angling world by the Cuttyhunk Island Striped Bass Club, founded by New York and Philadelphia millionaires who bought most of the island in 1864. Their club was originally established on Sakonnet Point, R.I., but then the members discovered the more fertile waters to the east and built the club building that still stands on Cuttyhunk's south shore (it now operates as an inn). One photograph from 1902 shows several members of the club, including President Theodore Roosevelt; William Howard Taft, whose presidency was still ahead of him; and John D. Archibold, heir to the Standard Oil fortune. To communicate with their city offices while on fishing trips, the men used carrier pigeons. Today's visitors find that cellphone service is spotty.
Meals and wines at the club were, as one would imagine, extravagant, but the primary reason for being there was the pursuit of striped bass, a beautiful silvery fish with dark horizontal stripes that extend from the end of the gill plate to the tail.
Long wooden platforms anchored by iron spikes into the large boulders on the shore provided casting "stands" for the club members, who each had a "chummer" — a man with a bucket of lobster tails and chopped up menhaden (a baitfish in the herring family) that he would throw into the water to summon the fish.
The angler who caught the largest striped bass each year was pronounced the "High Hook." The fish that won an angler the position of "High Hook" usually ranged from 50 to 60 pounds, but in 1913 a club member caught an exceptional fish. News of Charles B. Church's 60-inch, 73-pound world record striped bass, caught in Vineyard Sound (actually just off neighboring Nashawena Island) from a small wooden skiff, enhanced Cuttyhunk's reputation as the best striped bass fishing destination in the world.
By 1921 the club had dissolved — in part because of World War I and in part because of a diminished population of bass, probably because of overfishing (the club's total catches as documented in "Sport with Gun and Rod," published in 1883, fell to 2,026 pounds in 1882 from 5,862 pounds in 1876). But the island's economy continued to rest heavily on the striped bass, and it remains a symbol of the small island community to this day. Whereas coastal churches from Boston to Maine often sport cupolas with weathervanes depicting cod, on Cuttyhunk the church weathervane is a striped bass. .....
If you knew that striped bass love rocks (its old scientific name Roccus saxatilis, as well as its common name rockfish, allude to this), which they do, then you would begin to understand how Cuttyhunk's coast would be ideal habitat for this fish. Nestled between Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound, the island and its waters are abundant with rocks of all sizes. Some are so giant you would hesitate to call them mere boulders, and though they are fairly visible under the dark clear water, they have ripped open many hulls. Shipments of all kinds have been left stranded on the shore, adding to the stores of residents, from ebony wood in the 1860's to marijuana in the 1960's (even the liner Queen Elizabeth II went aground on the nearby Vineyard ledge). The combination of strong winds, rocks, heavy surf and fog make the south shore of the Elizabeths ideal for shipwrecks, leading to its nickname, "the Graveyard."
Perhaps the most famous fishing spot off the island today is the Sow and Pigs. Known by islanders simply as the Pigs, its many rocks reminded some past Cuttyhunker of a series of sows with their sucklings.
When the stands were still in place on the island, members of the club mostly fished from shore, with lobster tails for bait. But then boats were used, pulling lures along the entire south side of the Elizabeths, from Cuttyhunk all the way to Robinson's Hole between Pasque and Naushon Islands (where a great white shark was recently hanging out). Anglers trolled eel skins stretched over half-inch copper tubing with two hooks. The captain kept a bean pot with a cover on it filled with brine that could hold 10 rigs or more. They'd also troll swimming plugs (wooden lures carved to imitate baitfish) covered with eel skins.
It wasn't until a charter captain, Charlie Haig, introduced the bucktail jig (a lure with a lead head, tied with hair from the tail of a deer) in the 1950's that jigging with a wire line became a favorite fishing method among the islanders. The history is intact in Mr. Borges's head, and comes out in bits, but only if you ask. He never uses bait because his father never did, only popping plugs, jigs and flies (his father used to make plugs by hand and sell them under the name Cuttyhunk Popper). Why has Mr. Borges chosen to live on Cuttyhunk his whole adult life? Besides the fishing, he just liked that it was out of the way.
"You can't come by car," he said. "It's boat or plane. It's not like Montauk or Point Judith that you can drive to. I don't know what this place would be like with all that. There's no motel. There's lodging but you can't just show up and find it. All you have is the bass club or the Avalon or the odd people who offer rooms occasionally."
The Elizabeths, eight in all (Nonamesset, Uncatena, Weepecket, Naushon, Pasque, Nashawena, Penikese and Cuttyhunk) are barren islands that resemble Iceland or the Scottish Hebrides. All but Cuttyhunk and Penikese are owned by the Forbes family (the Democratic presidential nominee, John Forbes Kerry, whose mother was a Forbes, spent some childhood summers on Naushon).