Janet Messineo

by Janet Messineo

Janet Messineo

Image courtesy of Ben Scott

Last November, just before Thanksgiving, I jumped into my waders, tightly cinched my belt, bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt, grabbed my rod, pliers, and nightlight, and headed for one of my favorite fishing spots. I knew that this would be the last time I’d be facing the northwest wind to stalk a striped bass in the 2008 season. The water temperature was dropping, and the fish were leaving the Vineyard and heading down south into warmer waters. On April 2, I’d caught my first-of-the-season striped bass, and now after seven months it was time to turn my undivided attention to my work and my family responsibilities.

Thirty-three years ago, I pleaded with all of my fishing friends to take me fishing, and finally one evening somebody did. Not knowing what I was doing and after struggling for a while in the dark, I thought I had caught a lobster pot. I was assured it was a fish and with my friend’s guidance, I somehow landed a 16-pound bluefish. That was the fish that started it all for me. At that time I was the only woman that I knew who was drawn to the pounding surf, rat-infested jetties, and rickety bridges. Women surf-casters were still a rare sight back then. Later I learned that some of the fishermen thought of me as a nuisance and I wasn’t very successful at landing whatever mysterious creature was tugging on my line. Dogfish, skate, and conger eels played with me in the dark of night and forced me off the beach back to the safety of my nice warm bed.

I keep logs of my fishing adventures, recording dates, tides, moon phases, wind direction, and catch totals. In the last three decades so much has changed, not only in my perspective on fishing but also in the fishing community of Martha’s Vineyard. Releasing legal-size edible fish was not a common practice until some time in the 1980s. Recreational fishermen’s ability to sell fish to the markets also became a thing of the past. One thing that has remained the same and has always given me great joy is being able to share my bounty with friends and neighbors.

My dear friend and second mother, Bideau, has always been grateful for a fresh filet of striped bass or bluefish for her dinner. She just turned 87 and has been living on the Vineyard for most of her life. I thought about all this that evening last November as I hopped in my fish mobile and headed for one my favorite beaches. It had been a long day at work and I was happy to set foot in the sand. I started walking, casting, smiling, and singing. The color of the sky continually changed cast after cast. I felt in harmony with the ducks and shorebirds that were getting ready to bed down for the night. Some time had passed and I started to lose hope that I’d catch just one more fish. I started to feel the tiredness in my lower back, and a bit of sadness was coming over me as I began to think to myself, “Maybe it really is time to call it a season. . . .Well, maybe just One More Cast.”

Suddenly, the miracle happened. Wham! A fish finally took my offering. I was so elated, and after a bit of a tussle, I eased this beautiful fish from the water onto the shoreline. It was a gorgeous 36” striped bass. I could see its stripes glistening in the fading daylight. “A fish for Bideau. Thank you, thank you!” I yelled to the sky. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end another season on Martha’s Vineyard.