Year of the fish.
By Charley Soares
GateHouse News Service
Posted Aug 29, 2010 @ 12:08 AM


To take a line from Frank Sinatra, it was a very good year. The summer of 1964 was a year that has been celebrated and remembered by striper fisherman along the entire range of the striped bass. It was a time when there were quite a few big fish around, but not so many that everyone could just wet a line and catch a trophy.

I know of several better-than-average fishermen who did not catch enough points to earn a 100-point Schaeffer Fishing Contest award in a banner year like 1964. Back then, points were awarded for each fish over 15 pounds that was checked-in at an official weigh-in station. In usual cases it took any combination of seven stripers over 15 or five at 20 pounds to earn the minimum award pin, although I had a deckmate who earned his pin with a 61-and 39-pound bass and did not fish again for the rest of the season.

Decades before the Internet, news traveled by house phone or snail mail, yet it didn’t take very long for the word of a big fish or big catch to spread from Maine to Montauk. A case in point was the 64-pound bass Herbie Dickinson caught on Ed Souza’s Jigster in late June of 1964.



We had word of that catch just hours after it pulled the old Cuttyhunk scale down to those magical numbers because we met Herbie and Eddy when they pulled into Sakonnet Point. The word on that fish was that it was caught trolling a big Creek Chub Giant Pike but I believe it actually came from the south side of the Elizabeths and if I had to pick a spot it would be the big bend on Nashawena just east of Canapitsit Channel.

That fish was caught in the dark of night with no other witnesses other than the skipper and the angler, yet the following headline in the sports section of the evening edition of The Boston Herald was an article by Henry Moore discussing the catch.

To paraphrase the words of columnist Moore: “They broke the 60-pound barrier at Cuttyhunk last night with a 60-pounder caught at Sow and Pigs but getting the details of that catch would be akin to having the Russians share their nuclear secrets.”

With the permission of Ed (Dias) Souza, I used the phone at his Bridge Gulf service station in the north end of Fall River and called The Herald. Moore could not believe his ears. I provided a second-hand account of that catch and set the record straight and that column appeared in the morning edition of The Herald for all to see. There was a great deal of interest in fishing in those days, particularly striped bass fishing and the competition between the clubs in the Schaeffer Contest was intense. The tiny Linesiders Club held their own despite competing with such organizations as Mass Striped Bass and others with membership rolls that listed 500 or more fishermen.

Souza and Dickenson might not have been dragging big plugs on wire but I know someone who was. Charlie Cinto, Russ Keene and Howard Vickery were regular fares of Captain Charlie Haag on his charter boat the Strad. Back in 1964 there was much more than just competition between the Cuttyhunk guides; there was a heightened level of distrust. This was true for two of the island’s highline skippers in the person of Frank Sabatowski and Charlie Haag.

Fishing methods were not exotic by any means with the trolling of big swimming plugs on wire line the most accepted method of tempting big stripers out of the rocks on Sow and Pigs reef. What the skippers wanted to keep secret was the color, size and type (jointed or one-piece swimmers) lure or when they switched over to eel skins or employing the deadly Russell Lure. The level of secrecy and distrust was beyond belief and if they ever found out any of their fares discussed their fishing locations or methods they would never take them out again.

For just that reason my friend Cinto and Keene played a dangerous game of Hop Scotch back in ’64 when they chartered Haag and Sabby on every other Friday night during the spring, summer and fall bass runs. Keene would book a trip with Haag and the following week Cinto would book a trip with Sabby. They fished and prayed they would not be seen by the other skipper and Charlie said that was when the large hoods on the foul weather jackets came in handy. Many a day they passed in the harbor or out on the water and even if it was 80 degrees and bone dry they pulled those hoods up over their heads to hide their identity. Accompanying this article is a 1964 photo showing a catch of 14 stripers and one blue with 10 of the stripers ranging from 30 to 50 pounds. For the record on that same night, Captain Frank Sabatowski also skippered his party to a great catch of big stripers.

Another reason that the 1964 season stands out for me is because that was the year I caught a 58-pound, 8-ounce striper one night then a friend caught a 55-pounder from my boat two days later. Before the end of the month, my mate was aboard and caught a 61-pound, 4 ounce striper in the very same place the aforementioned stripers came from. One of the best catches I ever experienced occurred on my birthday in September of 1964. It was a long night of casting without any reward until the moon came up. As soon as the glow of that orb peeked over the horizon, all hell broke loose. It was as though someone turned on a switch. It was the third largest catch I had ever been involved in and that night still brings fond memories of all the fish we caught and all the big fish we lost in our haste to get the fish in the boat and get back out to hook another one.

What it all comes down to is that Sinatra can have his small town girls, warm summer nights, limousines and vintage wine. I’ll take stripers along with a rerun of 1964.

Charley Soares writes a weekly column for The Herald News.