Fish Tales: A Millennium Fish

January 1, 2000: A clear, calm start to the new millennium. Temperature in the mid-20s. A white frost on the ground. I went to my camp at Deep Bottom on Tisbury Great Pond, where the tableau was stunning. Skim ice covered most of the cove, but there was a patch of open water by the dock where two swans rested atop perfect reflections. Farther to the south another pool of water held six mallards who noisily departed upon my arrival, while on the ice itself an otter lay sphinx-like with raised head. The ice was talking excitedly about the dawn of the millennium – creaks, whispers, grunts – incessant chatter as the heat of a new day and a light southerly breeze nudged it awake.
My thoughts turned to the big school of striped bass that had been locked in the pond when its temporary opening to the Atlantic Ocean had been closed by winds and tides in the late summer. There have always been stripers wintering in this pond, and through the years there have been tales of large hauls of stripers that have been seined here, either illegally or as by-catch in nets set for herring or white perch. But this year was different: more bass than usual had entered the pond and had simply stayed, probably because there was so much to eat. Huge numbers of juvenile alewives had been spawned in the spring at the confluence of fresh and salt water, as well as baby menhaden that had come in through the inlet when it was bulldozed open in late summer. I guessed the bass numbered a thousand or so; my friend Nelson Bryant believed there were at least three thousand. My New Year’s resolution was to prospect these waters as soon as the weather 
allowed, find where the fish wintered, and try to catch some.
Soon thereafter there were three weeks of serious cold – single digit temperatures that sealed all the Island ponds under six to ten inches of black ice and produced the best skating and ice boating that anyone had seen in many years. One could walk, skate, or sail all the way from the parking lot at Squibnocket to the outer beach, while Harlock’s Pond at Seven Gates was a perfect mirror on which our family and friends skated every day. Nothing thawed until early February, and I wondered if the imprisoned stripers and whatever bait fish they fed on 
had survived.
March 6 was the day to find out, with calm winds, a bright sun, and the temperature in the 50s. I launched my fourteen-foot tin boat and prospected a number of the spots where the bass had been most numerous the previous autumn, using a bait-casting outfit armed with a Joppa Jig, a leadhead with a soft plastic swimming tail that could be fished at various depths 
including bouncing it off the bottom. I was encouraged to find no signs of winter-killed bass or their prey, but 
after a couple of hours I still hadn’t had a hit and had decided that the fish were too dormant. Giving it a last try in another spot, I thought I felt a familiar tap, and on the next cast I was solidly hooked up to a striper that fought with all the strength and energy that I would expect in the spring or autumn. The fish I brought to boat was in beautiful shape – bright and silvery, fat and sassy at twenty-two inches. After releasing him I had several more hits and landed another of sixteen inches. Mission accomplished. I had pioneered a brand new winter sportfishery. Later in March – by then technically springtime – I found the stripers again and landed ten of them up to twenty-four inches. I kept all of this a delicious secret and felt that the new millennium had gotten off to a wonderful start.