Stan Gibbs Cape Cod Canal Fisherman's Classic Press & Articles

Lure Of The Canal

"Hawgtober" Fisherman's Classic Draws Hardy Bunch
By Karen Jeffrey - Staff Writer, Cape Cod Times

Buzzards Bay - There was a chill in the air guaranteed to make sensible people shiver. The sky was a gray ceiling, nascent with rain. But did this stop fisherman from lining up along the Cape Cod Canal last week, casting hope into churning waters? Of course not, because these people are nuts. Or in a more favorable light, a dedicated bunch of sportsmen.

Whatever you believe, believe this – October holds special meaning for those who regularly stake out a few feet of sport–fishing heaven on either side of the Cape Cod Canal. October is the month of the annual Stan Gibbs Cape Cod Canal "Hawgtober" Fisherman's Classic – a breath expanding name for what otherwise is known as a good time.

"Hawg" by the way, is a fisherman's affectionate term for a big fish. On paper, the classic is a month long excuse for not raking the lawn, balancing the checkbook or cleaning the basement. Well, OK, maybe the tournament is more an opportunity for good–natured competition, for camaraderie and testing one's skills against nature.

It is also a tribute to a man whose skill as a fisherman set a standard that others still strive to match. Stan Gibbs, who died at the age of 89, is a legend. "Stan was one of a kind," says Robbie Willis of Buzzards Bay, one of the organizers of the tournament.

"He was a pioneer in fishing the canal. Eventually in his honor, we'd like to see a statue along the canal of a fisherman holding a striper, representing him and all others who spent many happy hours here." According to those who knew him, Gibbs was one of the good guys.

"He was a nice man, just a real nice man," says Billy Chapin of Sagamore, a neighbor of Gibbs for 40 years. Gibbs began making hand-crafted wooden lures in a shed behind his house around 1945. These lures, which featured a heavily weighted centers allowing them to be tossed long distances from shore, soon became popular around the cape.

For participants in the fishing competition, the word lure has a double meaning. There is the lure attached to the end of the line. Selecting just the right one to mimic bait fish is as much art as skill. Then there is the lure of fishing itself.

Now, these are folks who have never hit the Cape Cod Rail Trail, but who regularly pedal up and down the canal on bikes with specially adapted baskets and rod holders seeking the perfect fishing spot. What is it that gets someone hooked on this endeavor?

Ask a fisherman and the response is frequently a look that says, "If you don't get it, I can't explain it." Ask with more specificity such as, "Why fish the canal?" and the look becomes fiercer. What makes a good canal fisherman?

"Patience," sings out a chorus of canal-side devotees, including tournament participants John Doble of Bourne, Dave Goulet of Sagamore, and Ron Arra of Sandwich, author of two fishing books and five-time National Surf-Casting Champion.

A flock of gulls suddenly drops from the sky only yards from the distance shore. All eyes turn and fisherman watch in silence as the birds feast on bait fish skimming just beneath the waters surface. The birds tell you where the bait fish are, which are trying to out-run the stripers, explains Doble. The tournament leader thus far is Rob Lubold who landed a 37 pounder on a Gibbs lure.

Elizabeth Stromeyer's Amazing Catch

I feel very humble that so many fishermen who work so hard at the canal were not the lucky one to take that fish. However, I am proud because I decided after you and Dave invited Don and I to join the Gibby Cup, that I wanted to improve my canal fishing skills.

I bought a "Benney's Special" bike and set it up and I did put in quite a few hours riding, casting, observing, thinking, and learning, but not catching. Finally this fall I began to score on small fish pretty consistently.

I don't care to fish in crowds and I'm not agile, so I had sought out spots that hold fish that others seem to ignore and where I could plant both feet firmly on the ground.

Like everyone else that fishes the canal, I knew that those early October east tides were going to be prime. On that set of tides, Don and I had been fishing the area behind the old library off of Keene Street the four mornings before, and had taken fish every morning on yellow plugs.

We saw a 30 lb. fish taken there on Thursday. I almost slept in on Friday because I was beat from the other early morning adventures, but managed to roll old and head to the same spot.

I tried some other lures and then put on my Gag's It's Alive (sorry Stan). At the end of this cast, there was a big swirl as the bass smashed it with its tail. I just twiched the plug, not retrieving at all, and the fish hit it like a ton of bricks.

Once I felt the weight of the fish on the line, I set the hook and held on. She dove straight for the bottom on a long run and all I could do was watch the line peel off my reel. I had the drag socked up as tight as I dared, and the rod was bent as far as it should go.

She stopped at the end of the first run and I began to gain a little line. At that point, I was convinced that I had foul hooked a small fish. Then she made another long deep run and I knew I had a big fish.

My right hand fell asleep due to my gripping the reel so hard, but I knew that I had to hang on, pump, and crank. Little by little, I gained line and began to inch her towards shore. I couldn't believe my eyes as the length of the fish kept coming and coming.

Don knew I had a good fish, but was busy with his own. I yelled to him, "I got a keeper!" The guy to my left yelled at me, "Nice fish, guy!" I realized that it was Mike Thomas, and yelled back, "Is that you, Mike?"

He replied, "Is that you, Liz?" Although I was shaking from head to foot with excitement and fatigue, because I had been releasing most of the fish I had been catching, I was overcome with urgency to get the plug out of her mouth. Then I realized that this was indeed, "a keeper." I just stood in shock and looked in awe at that fish.

Don came over shortly and exclaimed, "Holy S---! That's a huge fish. "I was trying to figure out how I was going to haul it up the rocks and he admonished me, "Don't you try to haul that up the rocks you hear? I'll get it for you. I don't want you to break my wife."

We brought the fish right over to Red Top to weigh it, and it was 45.25 pounds on our scale. We went right away to Canal Bait and Bruce weighed it at 45.30 pounds. Had it been a 50 pounder, I would have had it mounted. Instead I cut it up and shared the meat with the Red Top crew.

So, thanks to you and Dave Karp for getting us involved in the Gibby Cup, I have caught a fish of a lifetime.