There's a slight drizzle and the sky's clouded over, but that won't stop Sherm Goldstein from going fishing on his birthday. As one of Martha's Vineyard's inveterate anglers, Goldstein grabs the long poles and hops aboard his boat, raring to catch himself some birthday goodies. We motor slowly past the gray-shingled houses and fish markets of the small harbor of Menemsha and pass the jetty where our brethren are casting their lines from atop the rocks.
Then we're out on open ocean, and Goldstein looks possessed as he powers the boat around the spectacular multihued cliffs they call Gay Head, slamming into waves. We pass the late Jacqueline Onassis's estate, now owned by her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, and make for the legendary fishing grounds of Squibnocket Point on the island's southwestern coast.
"This is as good a spot as any," says Goldstein as he idles the boat in 3-foot swells. His bait is a foot-long sand eel, which doesn't surprise me because he has a large collection of antique eel forks, a metal implement used to capture the slimy suckers.
A flip of the wrist and the writhing eel is thrown some 40 feet, close to the large boulders on the shoreline. Goldstein reels it in and then casts again and again. The boat's rocking, the wind's blowing, and the normally mild-mannered Goldstein is like an addict who can't stop. He's in search of striped bass, one preferably the weight of my 9-year-old daughter, like the keeper that hangs from the back wall of his restaurant, Zephrus. These silver and black-lined beauties stir the passions of fishermen, and, as Goldstein knows well, can be found along the Massachusetts coastline.
When most folks envision a Vineyard vacation, they yearn for a powdery sand beach, a good seafood dinner, and shopping for a T-shirt with a black dog on it. Yet, the island is large enough to accommodate another type of visitor, one like me who wants to snag a fish, pedal up and down the backcountry roads and bike trails, and sea kayak in protected marshes. One who craves all the physical adventure offered by an island in the Atlantic, seven miles off the mainland.
After about an hour, Goldstein grows tired of casting for stripers (no luck that day), so we head back to the calmer waters off Gay Head cliffs and start chasing bluefish. All you have to do is search for seagulls swarming and diving into the water and you find blues. The gulls are looking for leftover pieces of fish flesh, the result of a bluefish feeding frenzy. You can actually see the fish on the surface, splashing around in their quest to fill their stomachs. Within moments of motoring over to the seagulls, we hook three blues.
Goldstein's restaurant and his inn, the Mansion House, are located in the heart of Vineyard Haven, the start of two great bike rides. A challenging up-and-down 40-mile round trip takes you along lightly traveled roads through West Tisbury and Chilmark before reaching the cliffs of Gay Head. On the return trip, be sure to take the $4 ferry ride to Menemsha. Stop for lunch at Larsen's Fish Market for fresh steamers, oysters on the half shell, and fish cakes.
My favorite Vineyard ride, however, is a far mellower 25-mile round trip along the water. The route takes you through the historic towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown before reaching the nature preserves on Chappaquiddick Island. Starting from the Vineyard Haven ferry landing, go left onto Beach Road, and head toward Oak Bluffs. A mile into the journey, take a left at the sign for East Chop and follow the road past million-dollar homes and the picture-perfect East Chop lighthouse before cruising down to Oak Bluffs. Pedal through town along the coastline and you'll soon approach a bike path across from Joseph Sylvia State Beach, rewarding you with great ocean views. You'll see the famous bridge where "Jaws" was filmed, now popular with kids who plunge into the deep water below. Bike traffic can be heavy in summer, and the sea breeze can be fierce, so be aware.
Eventually, you'll reach Edgartown, a fine place to stop for lunch and wander around. Sit in the outdoor garden at Among the Flowers Cafe and dine on a selection of chowders, salads, quiche, and sandwiches. At the edge of town is the charming one-minute ferry ride to Chappy ($4 round-trip). Continue on Chappaquiddick Road for close to 3 miles, and you'll reach a dirt trail called Dyke Road. The road passes a Japanese-style garden called Mytoi, which is worth a stop. Azaleas, daffodils, dogwoods, and rhododendrons line the freshwater creeks in this 14-acre garden.
The dirt road eventually crosses a bridge, stopping at East Beach. Lock up your bike and walk over the dunes to see one of the pristine stretches of Atlantic coastline. Part of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, this barrier beach is the best place to bird-watch on the Vineyard. Ospreys, oystercatchers, piping plovers, terns, and the occasional bald eagle nest here.
To get a close look at the birds, exchange two wheels for one paddle and kayak with the Trustees of Reservations. Trips leave from the group's reservation booth next door to Mytoi. The three-hour jaunt leads to osprey nests atop tall poles. A nest can weigh as much as 300 pounds and have been found to contain rope, bits of T-shirts, even a teddy bear. You can see large osprey swoop in and out of nests as you make your way through a marsh on a sinuous waterway.
The paddle continues under the bridge into the wide expanse of Cape Poge. Anglers stand in shallow waters trying to catch a fish on the fly. You can stop at a deserted beach to eye jellyfish, the conch-like whelk, and to look for that perfect shell. Then you might just pick up a flat rock like I did and see whether it can skip along the water.
Skipping rocks on a beach far removed from the day trippers - that's my version of a Vineyard vacation.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at stevejermanok.com.