Call of the Wildlife Channel

Hunting’s done, fishing’s over. What’s a stuck-indoors outdoorsman to do?

Striped bass have departed Martha’s Vineyard. Deer and waterfowl hunting season comes to a close. The winter funk descends over a landscape of bare scrub oak set against a leaden sky.

What to do? One could write self-delusional poems extolling the charms of the Island in February, binge watch every Ken Burns documentary until the color green appears outside the storm window, or do what many do and find a way to satisfy the angling and hunting urge.

The easiest choice is to live vicariously. No airport TSA lines, no crawly bugs, no man-eating critters, no weird food. Sit on the couch in the comfort of your living room and tune in to a cable show.

The Outdoor Channel broadcasts a nonstop lineup of hunting shows that feature camo-clad men and women who mostly shoot deer. My wife, Norma, insists it is the same deer. I suppose that from a disinterested, non-hunter’s perspective, one deer shot with an arrow pretty much looks like another.

The standard hunting dialogue provides a rich opportunity for my wife to mock me. “That’s a nice deer,” she says in a faux southern accent as she passes in and out of the room. In that sense, it is an outdoor winter activity we share.

For unfiltered excitement there is YouTube. I type in “cape buffalo” and a stream of choices appear. At the top of a long list is “Charging Cape Buffalo Hunt in Mozambique,” which has already been viewed 1,125,184 times by couch hunters. I watch the buffalo meet its fate. The YouTube algorithm correctly guesses I am an Islander with nothing to do. “Top 5 Scariest Animals Charging” appears on my screen. It has been viewed 6,767,557 times. This really scares me. I pick up a book.

For those willing to leave the TV remote behind, the winter months offer fishing and hunting opportunities. Steve Morris of Oak Bluffs looks forward to rabbit hunting in February. “I’ve been doing it since I was eight years old,” Steve says. Now fifty-six, Steve began hunting rabbits with his grandfather Dick, the namesake of his tackle shop. Working with a pack of beagles was part of the fun.

Once quite popular, the sport has waned with development and a lack of hunting interest among younger Islanders more comfortable holding a video game controller than a twenty-gauge shotgun.

Steve notes that not everyone puts the rods away. “Pat Toomey fishes all year long. He catches bass all winter in the great ponds.”

In addition to holdover striped bass, fishermen also pursue white perch. Freshwater ponds offer up largemouth bass and pickerel. But no one in his or her right mind (which leaves out a significant percentage of our winter population) would argue that a cold afternoon casting clams to white perch in Tisbury Great Pond is preferable to fishing under a tropical blue sky.

In the winter, Rob Morrison of Edgartown, a deputy shellfish constable, and a group of Vineyard fly-fishermen travel south to go fishing. “It’s definitely a good way to break it up and it gives you something to look forward to,”
Rob says. 

Trip planning and preparation, including tying dozens of flies, offers its own form of winter distraction. “You can hang out with your buddies and drink beer and look at Google Earth maps and see all the spots you want to fish when you go on your next trip, and that’s always fun,” Rob says.

I ask Rob where he and his buddies went fishing last winter. Proving that you can take the Islander off the Island but not the Island out of the Islander, he gets Derby cagey. Rob explains that a lot of people find a great fishery, and the next thing they do is begin sharing photos of the fish they caught on social media. “I don’t do Facebook or Instagram or any of that stuff,” he says. “I don’t like to tell anyone where I go because then there might be somebody standing on my flat when I get down there.”

I press for just a region, expecting the name of a country. “South,” Rob replies.

The first week of April, Rob and three friends will fly “south” to pursue bonefish at a location they have visited in the past. “It’s kind of late but it’s nice because you have that carrot at the end of the stick to keep you going,” Rob says.

According to my internet research, the cost of a winter carrot depends on location and accommodations. A stay at a nice Caribbean fishing lodge costs approximately $4,000.

A cape buffalo hunt in Africa will set you back about $15,000. That does not include the cost of the additional life insurance your wife will wisely insist on when you announce plans to hunt a bad-tempered beast referred to as “the black death.”

I recommend wearing a Black Dog T-shirt on the trip. You never know, the black death might not like black dogs. Who can put a price on YouTube glory?