Somehow time has passed by this rocky green jewel at the head of Buzzards Bay. The summer people flock to nearby Martha's Vineyard, where the steep bluffs at Gay Head Light draw tourists from June to September. Or they take the long ferry ride to crusty Nantucket.

But 10 miles south of New Bedford this tiny island rests in peace, visited only by hard-core fishermen drawn by tales of giant striped bass.

There are about 50 people who call Cuttyhunk home all year long. In the summer their ranks may double as visitors collect at a handful of lodges.

But even fully loaded, the human tally at Cuttyhunk rarely outnumbers the 100-odd wild deer from roam its two-mile length.

And most of the folks who visit are hard to find ashore. It's striped bass that draws them here, and their waking hours are given to quick meals and mad dashes to the fishing grounds.

When you charter a boat out of Cuttyhunk, where the 72-pound world-record striper was landed nine years ago, don't expect to live by schedule. The sport here is ruled by wind and tide and it's up to the angler to adjust.

"We fish two tides a day," said George Isabel, who skippers the 25-foot deephulled "Linesider." "If the rip is running at 4 o'clock in the morning, that's when we go out. You can't live by the clock here if you want to catch fish."

You can't live by common sense, either, it seemed at first. I met Isabel on our prescribed date in padanariam, just outside New Bedford. A northeaster had blown through the night before, leaving in its wake bright skies and howling fair-weather breezes from the northwest. Thirty knots and gusting, to be exact.

"We going?" I asked, doubt clear in my voice.

"We'll give it a try," said Isabel, busily rigging stout rods with wire line, the better to troll these thunderous seas with.

I was reminded of the old New England theory: wind from the east, fishing the least; wind from the west, fishing's best.

"If this was an east wind we'd never leave the dock," Isabel confirmed.

We battled five-foot seas on the 45-minute run across the bay, and breathed a sigh when the channels into Cuttyhunk's protected harbor hove into view. Sunlight danced on the swells and wind whipped the tops off the high risers.

"The rip will be running about 2 this afternoon," Isabel said. "Now go get your lunch and then meet me here."

We trudged up the long hill to Allen House, an aging gaggle of pin-neat cottages tied to the mother house by a meal bell that rang three times a day.

At 2, bellies full, we trundled back down to battle the seas again, strolling past scrub trees bowed by the wind and tiny ponds where geese and ducks plied the dappled water.

"We'll fish Gah Head today," said Isabel. "The wind is wrong for the rip at the sow and pigs (off Cuttyhunk). But we should have good tide off the Vineyard."

We tossed and thrashed across Vineyard Sound, then set our lines alongside three other trollers off Gay Head. Isabel rigged umbrella lures - a dozen two-inch surgical tubes wired to four wire spokes, designed to simulate a school of sand eels sweeping through the water.

We trolled three hours but found no bass, even though the rip was roaring through the shallow water off the point. We did pick up two 10-pound fish - a fat brown cod and a sleek bluefish - but Isabel was unimpressed.

"Anybody can catch bluefish," he said. "Meet me at 8 o'clock and we'll find you a bass."

he delivered. We worked back to Gay Head as the sun sank over Cuttyhunk. When dusk gave way to dark we hauled in our lines and switched from the umbrellas to deep running "Goo-Goo-Eyes" - six-inch diving plugs with two sets of treble hooks and a trailing single hook dressed in white deer hair.

It wasn't five minutes after I'd got the feel of the wiggling plug that something stopped it cold. The rod whipped double and nothing moved. Did I have bottom?

No. With a tremendous jerk the rod tip came alive and wire line stripped off the big Penn Senator reel. "I got one," I shouted, "and it's a whopper."

Isabel slowed the boat down and scurried back to lend advice. "Keep your rod tip up . . . don't let him run at you . . . reel fast . . . set that hook again."

The big striper took three or four hard runs, bounced bottom and shook furiously, trying to dislodge the hook.

Then in the faint moonlight is surfaced off the boat and Isabel sunk the gaff. The whopper was whipped.

"Congratulations," said Isabel, "on your fist Cuttyhunk striper."

It was a beauty - long, lean and powerful, its sleek slabsides dressed in dark pinstripes. We guessed 35 pounds, but scales don't lie and back at the dock it weighed in at 30.

It was by no means the biggest striper of the night. Another boat had three weighing 31, 33 and 34. A third had only one, but it was a short and chunky 40-pounder that took 20 minutes to land. A fellow from pennsylvania picked up two fish over 30. The dock was loaded with big bass.

Isabel explained why he'd been so jumpy. "We lose about 80 per cent of our big fish when we hook them on plugs," he said. "They knock those treble hooks out in no time flat. Every time we get one on, I pray."

Cuttyhunk striper fishing isn't what it once was. The striper drought that has its roots in poor spawning years on the Chesapeake is having its effect here. Most of the fish that arrive here were born in the Chesapeake.

There aren't quantities like there were, but Cuttyhunk and the water around it still sport the biggest fish on the East Coast.

There's no guarantee anymore, but odds are that the angler willing to spend a couple of days here will tie into the biggest striper he's ever had. It worked for me.

And even if he doesn't, there are worse ways to spend one's time than exploring the placid hills and meadows of Cuttyhunk.

It's as pretty as its name.