Notes from the Tackle Room: That Feeling in The Gut

For pure pulse-racing, adrenaline-surging angling mayhem, the narrow channel known as The Gut has no equal when false albacore or “Little Tunny” invade in late summer and early autumn. Connecting Cape Pogue Pond and Edgartown’s outer harbor, this tide-swept strait is the scene of unbelievably explosive blitzes.

Albies are members of the mackerel family, tuna-like in appearance, speed, and stamina, arguably the cream of the crop for inshore light tackle and flyrod anglers in the Northeast. They are fish of the open ocean, pound for pound perhaps the strongest of any of the tunas, and they burst into The Gut chasing terrified baitfish with dramatic feeding frenzies right at your feet! It is, quite literally, enough to make your knees tremble.

When hooked, they take off on astonishing long runs in the strong current, threatening to strip your reel if you don’t follow them along the shoreline while dodging other anglers and/or ducking under their lines. Roberto Germani once landed an eighteen-pounder on a five-weight flyrod under these challenging conditions – one of the most memorable feats in Gut lore. He hadn’t entered the Derby that year; otherwise it would have been a contest record. For pure excitement this albie fishing is as good as it gets. Early morning incoming tides are best, but it can happen anytime during daylight hours on both the North Neck side and the beach opposite.

Their beautiful, delicious, and equally challenging cousins Atlantic bonito also show up in The Gut at the same time of year and act in much the same way, but with slightly more subdued dramatics.

The same lures work for both species, with metal and small flies the preferred offerings. As I recall, Ken Vanderlaske won the Derby flyrod bonito division here at midday on a slack tide while dapping his fly from the dock, proving once again that keeping your lure in the water is a good idea even when conditions aren’t ideal.

Kib Bramhall, Sunrise at The Gut, 1998, oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches.

Striped bass and bluefish are present in The Gut from May into November, attracted by the profusion of all sorts of baitfish that traverse to and from the fertile waters of Cape Pogue Pond. Fast running tides in either direction are best fished with bottom-bounced lures or bait, while topwater stuff works at slack.

Nighttime is usually the best bet for big stripers, and The Gut is no exception. Nelson Sigelman caught his 31.29-pound flyrod winner just before midnight in the 1996 Derby and had to run to his car with his trophy catch in order to make the last ferry to Edgartown.

Derby winners and contenders of all four species have been caught at The Gut, making it one of the only locations on the Vineyard where shore anglers can catch a grand slam. And Derby fish aren’t the only species swimming around here. One night in early November 1981 I was fishing the beach on the outside of The Gut when I saw Paul Schultz lugging a heavy fish toward me. In the dark I thought it was a striped bass of about forty pounds, but it turned out to be a tarpon that had washed ashore, probably killed by the sudden drop in water temperature.

Earlier that year a tarpon had been caught near Hyannis and another was seen jumping at Long Beach in Aquinnah. If it had still been alive, I bet that Paul would have landed that errant traveler and added still another chapter to The Gut’s well-deserved reputation as a magical angling destination.

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