Reporter and longtime fisherman Kinney casts out for the Northeastern coast’s oldest fishing tournament.
The author looks beyond Martha's Vineyard’s reputation as a summer hangout for the fabulously wealthy to capture its salty roots, motley inhabitants and resident anglers, viewing them through the portal of a fishing derby. Once a sedate, rural community of farmers and commercial fishermen, the Vineyard was basically off the radar until 1946, when a PR representative for the island's failing ferry service came up with the perfect hype to stimulate tourism: the five-week-long Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Since its inception, the tournament has survived controversy, major fish decline and generations of obsessed enthusiasts. “The derby,” writes Kinney, “is a lottery ticket, an ego boost, a chance to die happy, a shot at island renown and modest riches, a chance to win.” From Wampanoag charter captain Buddy Vanderhoop and taxidermist Janet Messineo to the Menemsha Kids and the Wharf Rats, Kinney details the dozens of colorful personalities involved in the annual drama. Hopping among history, on-the-ground action and personal narrative, much of the story centers around five-time derby champ Lev Wlodyka and his prize catch, a 50-plus-pound striped bass that caused an imbroglio when judges cut it open and discovered a bellyful of weights. Through brawls, fish tales and territoriality, Vineyarders get emotional about their derby and their landscape. As the derby rules change, the “year-rounders” face the changes to their once-quaint island that, with the influx of rich outsiders, threaten to transform the Vineyard into another Hamptons.
With solid prose, Kinney nails the character of this spirited community and its defining anima, the striped bass.