President Obama needs to take time and go fishing


The political pundits will be lathered up this week. President Barack Obama and his family arrive on Martha’s Vineyard for a summer vacation.

I expect talk radio hosts will nip at this vacation like a school of 3-D piranhas at a spring break float tube party.

Critics will harp on the news that Michelle Obama did not buy her bathing suit at Walmart and the First Family rushed from the Gulf for the Vineyard — Chilmark no less.

Against the backdrop of a struggling economy, even the president’s supporters wince a bit as they muster a halfhearted defense: he needs to recharge (me too); he’s not really on vacation even when’s he’s on vacation (he needs to suck it up, he asked for the job); the president has a 24/7 job (like a Marine in Afghanistan doesn’t?); he vacationed on the Island before he was president (not at Blue Heron Farm).

The critics and the wusses think a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard — tony, chic, elite, Hollywood-east, haven of the rich and powerful (take your pick of recent press adjectives) — shows the President is out of touch, that he just doesn’t get it.

There is some truth to that. But the inside-the-beltway group does not get it either. I want to help.

Just because some people who visit the Vineyard think they are elite, and that includes members of the press corps, it does not make the Vineyard elite.

Eddy (Bonito Ed) Lepore, a retired tool engineer, and his wife Janet of Vernon, Connecticut spend each summer in the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground. They are not unlike other retired couples throughout the country or the majority of people who call the Vineyard home, for the season or year-round.

At its heart, the Vineyard is about grabbing a fishing rod because the blues are at Wasque Rip, chasing blue claws in a salt pond or taking the long way around East Chop drive to take in the view of Nantucket Sound even if it takes a few extra minutes.

The last time Barack Obama visited the Vineyard he golfed on the same course Rush Limbaugh played on when he visited the Island, an exclusive 18-hole course for members only in Edgartown. Ironic, huh?

I think it is time for the President to ditch the caddy shack look (even if role model Bill Murray is a Vineyard summer resident) and forego socializing only with people he can hang out with in Washington. The President should go fishing.

Fishing is the great equalizer on Martha’s Vineyard. It does not matter if you are staying in a rented room in Oak Bluffs or a Chilmark compound; there is the opportunity to have a great time casting under the stars from the beach at Wasque Rip or Lobsterville Beach.

During the Derby — if you have to ask what that is you do not know as much as you think you know about Martha’s Vineyard — venture capitalists fish and compete with Island carpenters. And the fish do not care who you are.

More than 48 million people in this country fish. They fish from the shore, they fish from all manner of boat: Wooden skiffs on lakes, bass boats outfitted to look like a NASCAR racecar that go almost as fast, and sportfishermen that are as luxuriously outfitted as a Miami condo.

According to “Fisheries Economics of the United States 2006,” a NOAA report that covers 1997 to 2006, recreational fishing generated $82 billion in sales, $24 billion in income, and supported 534,000 jobs in 2006.

On Martha’s Vineyard fishermen support businesses with names like Coop’s, Larry’s, Dick’s, and Porky’s. These are businesses that pay taxes and hire local people who spend money in our community and help out folks when they are down on their luck in many little ways that never make the news.

Cooper Gilkes, owner of Coop’s and my friend, is a hunter and a fisherman. He doesn’t golf and he is not chic, but he does know how to fish.

The President could learn a lot from Coop about fishing, the Vineyard, and what concerns the country. Coop built a successful business out of his house with his wife Lela, a person who embodies the qualities of fairness and generosity of spirit much of the world associates with the United States.

Lela does the books. She knows how much of her family’s income from all those plugs, rods and reels goes to the government.

I recently read a story in the New York Times, “Pakistani taxes widen divide between rich and poor,” that reported that even as we send that country billions of our tax dollars in aid, out of more than 170 million Pakistanis, fewer than 2 percent pay income tax, and most of the very rich pay nothing at all.

Maybe the President could stop in at Coop’s and explain to Coop and Lela why they are asked to share their hard-earned tax dollars with Pakistan when that country’s elite do not.

Every winter Island tackle shop owners like Steve Purcell at Larry’s order from shops around the country; that keeps other people working. If Steve misjudges there is no multi-million dollar payday on the way out the door. No bailout. Closed. Down with the ship.

Tackle shops do not sell derivatives. They sell eels, squid, line, and hooks and dispense fishing advice.

Small shops like Dick’s rely on their hard-won reputations for honest dealings and personal service. Maybe you could stop in and talk to Stevie Morris, owner of the shop named after his grandfather. You probably saw it on your way to lunch with your pal and advisor, Valerie Jarrett in Oak Bluffs.

I do not mean to play Dick Morris but far more people could relate to a photo of the President taking a scup off the hook than swinging at a golf ball on a club with a $300,000 membership fee, or playing hoops at a vacation home that rents for $25,000 a week.

Martha’s Vineyard is a very good choice for a vacation if you want to fish. There is nothing tony about catching scup on Memorial Wharf or bottom fishing from a skiff in Vineyard Sound, or sitting on an upturned bucket next to Janet Messineo bait fishing for striped bass.

How misguided are the reporters parroting back knocks on the Vineyard? Well, the Washington Post, which should know a thing or two about the Vineyard given the ties between the Graham family, owners of the newspaper and West Tisbury, recently hopped on the press bandwagon with a piece titled, “Why vacation, Obamas, when you could have a great staycation here in D.C.?”

The story, written by writers who I assume are irritated that they are stuck in the city in August, described all the wonderful activities Washington has to offer. This one caught my eye.

“What does Maryland have that Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t? Steamed blue crabs. For great crustaceans and a waterfront view, the Obamas should head for Mike’s Crab House, just outside Annapolis, where diners sit outdoors at picnic tables enjoying a feast — $65 for a dozen large crabs — with all the fixins while watching boats drift by.”

No blue claws on Martha’s Vineyard? I have news for President Obama — don’t believe everything you read about Martha’s Vineyard.

On Sunday I joined a crabbin’ expedition that included Coop, Ned Casey, and two guys who have never had to chase their food, fellow New Yorkers and longtime seasonal visitors Barry Adams of Oak Bluffs and Andy Peterson of Vineyard Haven.

Catching crabs is about simple fun. Believe me my friends were amused when I tried to grab a crab for a photo — blue claws are quick with their claws, very quick.

To catch crabs you need a long-handled crab net and floating tub or bucket. I recommend polarized sunglasses and solid footwear in the event you step on a crab and it objects.

Sometimes you see the crab, and sometimes the crab sees you. The little crustaceans swim fast. You need to be quick.

Most people release the females, identified by red-tipped claws.

Crabs must be a minimum of five inches across the shell and you are allowed to take no more than 25 per person, which is a lot of shucking and shelling.

Steam them up as you would a lobster. My Alabama friends and crab experts Charles and Heather Klinck added vinegar and Old Bays to a bucket of crabs I brought by a few weeks ago.

There is nothing tony about eating fresh-caught steamed Island blue claw crabs on an outdoor deck. Just dig in and get messy.

President Obama and his girls could have a great time netting blue claws just steps from his back door on Tisbury Great Pond. I would be happy to assist.