Fishing with Jaime Boyle

A trip with this professional charter captain provides inspiration for the most casual and die-hard anglers, from spring to fall, whether they’re casting around the rocks, on the flats, or in the rips.

Jaime Boyle will sometimes go out fishing by himself, just for fun, and that’s saying something about how deeply he loves it. He skippers a small charter-fishing boat, and if you’ve got the sort of rep for finding fish around the Vineyard that Jaime has, that can mean two parties and twelve hours a day out on the water, seven days a week, for weeks on end.

“My June is almost all repeat customers for the last ten years,” says Jaime. “They’re all hard-core bass guys. Some guys will take five days; another group will take a week on me. We’ll be leaving the dock at 3:30 in the morning, so I’m up at 2:30. Some nights I go to bed at eight o’clock. I can run for a couple of days getting, like, five hours of sleep. And then all of a sudden, one night, I crash. I came home on the Fourth of July, I’d just done three doubles, and was supposed to go out at eight o’clock that night. I never made it. I woke up at eight o’clock the next morning. I had the day off the next day because of a storm. And I slept.”

He’s quiet a moment. “You get used to it.”

Jaime is thirty-eight, his hair blond and shaggy, his face ruddy but youthful. He’s guided fishermen, first on the beach and then on the water, for fifteen years. He was an Edgartown summer kid from Hingham, working at the Edgartown Yacht Club, when a friend, David Thompson, walked in with a fly rod. Jaime says, “I was, like, ‘I gotta see this.’” Jaime took Dave fishing in his thirteen-foot Whaler and got hooked on fly-casting. He went to Tulane for a time but moved to the Island before graduation, and in 1992 began to work as a fishing guide for Cooper Gilkes, who owns Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown. In the winter of 1993, Jaime earned his captain’s license and bought a seventeen-foot Mako, and in 1994, he started his own light-tackle and fly rod charter business.

Boylermaker, his fifth boat, is small compared to most of the charter-fishing vessels around the Island. It’s a twenty-four-foot Silverhawk driven by twin 140-horsepower Johnson outboards. Jaime keeps it on dry land at his Oak Bluffs home. On the morning of a charter, with the sky still black, he wakes up and checks out weather websites. Before he hits the road, he calls his clients to let them know where to meet him. He trailers Boylermaker to Menemsha Channel, the Lagoon, or Katama Bay, whichever boat ramp lies nearest the place he knows the fish will be. Because good fishing spots can change between morning and afternoon charters due to tides and weather, Jaime often hauls out his boat in one place and launches in another for the next trip, navigating and fishing much of the water around the Island between sunup and sundown.

At sunup this morning, we’re somewhere off the southwest corner of the Vineyard (if I disclose any more than that, the world won’t be a big enough place to hide in). Jaime fishes with those hard-core, weeklong-chartering bass fishermen; with fathers who take sons and daughters on the only birthday present they ever want each year; and with rookies so new and excitable they’ve lost reels and rods overboard. (“They’re pretty good about replacing them,” says Jaime.) Today he’s fly-fishing with Russ Cutler, a friend going back twenty years to the time when they were teenagers growing up summers in Edgartown. Russ, at thirty-six a co-founder and a managing director of Confiance Advisors, a management-consulting firm in New York, remembers that they both loved to fish, but at some unidentifiable point during college, he watched Jaime veer off and get really good at it. For years, the two of them have met up two or three times a season to fly-fish for striped bass in the rips that snake around the underwater hillocks, erratics, and mussel beds surrounding Martha’s Vineyard.

“It’s definitely a preference for me,” says Jaime of fly-fishing. “I really enjoy it. It’s more one on one. You’re casting. You’re feeling it. You’re using flies that you tied. More artful, definitely more of a challenge.” At six o’clock this morning, he met Russ and launched from West Basin on the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Channel. Now at sea, in our undisclosed location, the fog turns violet beneath the rising sun, and a wavering border forms on the hint of an incoming tide. It’s the middle of July. The air feels warm and still. The water looks like liquid nickel. Boylermaker, its engines shut down, turns slowly broadside to the new tide and rolls easily as it drifts over the rip. “I like ten knots of breeze,” says Jaime. “The fish are a little more active. I like a little bit of noise on the water. Gets ’em more fired up.” We’re nowhere close to ten knots right now. In fact, we’re nowhere close to two.

Jaime looks at an electronic chart on the left side of a monitor mounted on the console. On the right side, there’s a companion chart marked with X’s that cluster around underwater rocks and ravines – spots where his parties have hooked into fish going back as long as there have been electronic charts to plot them. Boylermaker will drift over the cluster in a few minutes. Jaime hands Russ a nine-foot fly rod – it looks no more substantial than a buggy whip – and sends him to the bow.

Russ braces his thighs against the cushions fixed along the inside rail. A mess of line lies on the deck next to his feet. Three times he casts backward and forward over his right shoulder, letting line out on the forward throw, tugging it slightly on the backward one. The fly, a long and slender collection of black feathers meant to look like an eel, whipsaws gracefully back and forth across the gray sky.

“You’re trying to load up line speed,” says Russ after the fly lands with a soft tick on the surface sixty feet away. It’s so calm, you can hear it. “Load up momentum so that on your final forward cast, you’ve got so much that all the line peels right off of the deck.” A section of the line actually helps him with the cast: Thirty-eight feet of it, just before the leader to which the fly is tied, is coated black with 450-grain tungsten. It’s called a sinking-shooting head, and it adds weight to the throw. And though fly-fishing is usually considered something you do on the surface of the water – think freshwater trout, think A River Runs Through It – Jaime and Russ know that today the biggest striped bass lurk down among the rocks, waiting for squid and minnows to stream thoughtlessly by. The tungsten line carries the fly down to the bottom, twenty feet below. Russ counts slowly as the fly sinks six or seven inches per second.

On the chart, Boylermaker drifts over the group of X’s where the bass have struck before. Jaime looks to the fish finder, mounted next to the electronic charts. An outline of the bottom – sand and rock and subsurface dune – rises and falls in cartoonish reds and purples as it drifts by below us. “All right, kids,” he says. “You better be home.” He tells Russ to strip the line – that is, to pull it back into the boat with his left hand as he holds the rod with his right. (In fly-fishing, you do not reel until after you’ve hooked a fish and set the fly hard in its mouth.) Somewhere sixty feet out and three fathoms down, the fly begins to dart up from the rocks. As the fly nears the boat, Jaime glances at the fish finder and sees what look like fat worms resting curvaceously in the valleys between the boulders and underwater dunes. These, astonishingly, are schools of bass.

“Ooh, I got some great marks right here, man!” says Jaime of the fish he’s seeing on the finder. “Go ahead and throw one.” With conjuring waves, Russ begins another cast. “I really like what I’m seeing right here,” says Jaime. He takes a rod from a rack behind his seat. It’s shorter than the fly rod, more substantial, less flexible, with a conventional spinning reel. Hanging from the tip of the rod is a lure without hooks. (Remember what I wrote about the world not being a big enough place to hide in? Widen that out to the solar system if I describe the lure.) At the stern, Jaime gets ready to cast. He looks at the worm shapes again. “The thing you’ve got to remember is that it can be tricky – there’s other stuff down there, like dogfish, that can make the marks. But they’re a little bit different.” He reaches back to cast. “Really nice marks!” he says, and with one heave the lure sails a hundred feet across the rip.
The lure serves as a teaser, attracting bass as it’s reeled in to the boat. “I don’t know where this started,” says Jaime. “Cooper may have started it. We started doing it for bluefish, then we started for bass.” The bass can attack, but with a hookless lure, they can’t be snared. Yet now they’re worked up and looking for new prey.

Behind the lure, suddenly a swirl, a tail cutting through the surface. “Oh, jeez. Here we go!” says Jaime, reeling harder. Another slash behind the lure as it frets its way to the boat. “Oh-oh-oh-oh!” says Jaime “These are nice fish! Drop it right next to the teaser!” Russ lets the fly go. It lands eight feet to the right of the lure. Jaime yanks hard; the lure rockets out of the water and into the boat, leaving the fly alone where the lure just was. “Pole down,” says Jaime. Russ strips the line. “Keep it coming. Go, go, go, go. See the fish behind it? A little further.” Ten feet from the boat we see the dark back of a bass, a sleek assassin coming up from behind and below. The bass appears to touch the fly with its nose, but a half a second later it turns and cuts for the bottom. “All right, he’s split,” says Jaime. “We lost him. Try stripping a little faster.”

“It was in its mouth, and I just didn’t –?” asks Russ.

“Oh, yeah, that fly was gone,” says Jaime. “He just took it in and spit it out before you even felt it.”

“Would I have been able to set it? If I had stripped it at the right time?” asks Russ.

“You had to feel it,” says Jaime. “You just never felt it. I see that a lot.”

Jaime starts the outboards, takes the boat into the tide a hundred feet, silences the engines, and begins another drift down to the X’s. The tide is running faster now; the rip is sharper. Jaime changes Russ’s fly. “You’ll get ‘follows,’ ‘looks,’ ‘refusals,’” he says of a bass hunting down a fly, “especially later in the season. They get smarter.” He reconsiders. “Well, I wouldn’t say ‘smarter.’ They just tend to know what’s going on.”

The new fly is a hybrid known as a half–Clouser Minnow, half-Deceiver. A Deceiver is a fly with no weight to it. A Clouser has buggy, lead barbell eyes that help it to sink and to jig like a baitfish on its way home to the boat. “It’s about a sixteenth of an ounce,” says Jaime. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough weight to gash a skull if it strikes a caster at seventy-five miles an hour on the way out. “Put it this way,” says Jaime. “Those lead eyes on that, I’ve seen them take chunks of gel-coat out of the boat.”

The Clouser-Deceiver looks unconvincing before the first cast – a rough amalgamation of feathers and tufted bucktail, white with strands of gold and green running the length of the fly. The eyes are grasshopperish, the most ridiculous feature on the whole thing. You can’t imagine even the hungriest, dopiest bass going for it. No wonder they follow, look, and refuse. Dry, the Clouser-Deceiver looks like a joke.

As Boylermaker drifts toward the X’s, the choreography begins again. Russ is on the forward throw of his third cast. Jaime casts his hookless lure.

A moment after the teaser hits the water, there’s a second detonation right behind it. “Oh, here we go, Russell, look at the size of these things!” Russ sees them on his back cast. “Go, go, go, go, go, right to the [lure]!” Russ casts. The fly flutters and lands. At the stern, Jaime hauls back sharply on his rod. The lure launches from the water and arcs to the boat. There is a swirl between the place where lure and fly do-si-doed. The Clouser-Deceiver is engulfed. “You’ve got him! Cross his eyes, man!” cries Jaime, meaning strip hard once and then yank back on the rod to set the fly. Russ does. “Strip it, set him hard, that’s a big fish.” The fly rod bends sharply to a spot thirty feet off the bow.

“Oh, man,” says Russ, reeling now and leaning backward then forward to take in line. His thighs are pressed against the cushions at the bow. “Did you see that? He just –”

“That’s how the teaser works,” says Jaime. “I don’t know how many fish I’ve [tempted] on a teaser in my life, but I still get a kick out of it, every day.” Jamie pushes a button, marking the spot on his chart. A new X appears in the cluster of X’s. They look like crosses in a graveyard, tipped over.

Russell leans back, reels, leans, reels. The rod bends ninety degrees, an impossible curve. The fish comes up from the depths, its mouth wide open. The hook is set in the right corner. From the boat, the Clouser-Deceiver, just forward of the gaping mouth and the hook, has resolved itself into something shimmering, organized, alive – darker above, lighter below, its eyes perfectly minnowlike. It’s the most convincing minnow ever. Of course this bass took it. What bass wouldn’t?

Jaime hauls the fish aboard. Russ cradles it in his lap. The fish is long and skinny for a bass, perhaps eighteen pounds. Jaime takes a picture. Then they lay the fish back in the water, just below the surface. They hold it a moment under its belly, water runs through its gills, and they let it go. The fish shivers and dives. Recalling the days a decade and more ago when the bass were scarce and imperiled by overfishing, Russ – like 95 percent of Jaime’s clients – releases every fish he catches, even those the regulations allow him to keep. When he wants bass for supper, he buys a filet from an Island fish market, which helps the economy. The bass he lands go back into the sea, where they can find a real lunch down there in the depths – and make more bass.