‘Fish Tales’ returns to the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse for a second session of sea yarns

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Janet Messineo speaks at last year's "Fish Tales" event. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

Updated 12pm, Feb. 3

Mark Twain once said, “Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly don’t tell them where they know the fish.”

There’s a big segment of the Vineyard population that knows the local fish very well, as anyone who’s stopped by a beach — any beach — during the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby can attest.

This coming Saturday, a few representatives of the Island’s community of fishing enthusiasts will share stories full of adventure and daring, mishaps and comic relief at the second ‘Fish Tales’ storytelling event at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse.

Artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo launched the series last summer, realizing that the Island had more than its share of talented fishermen and great storytellers. Among those whom she tapped for the initial event was Janet Messineo, one of the Island’s most well known, and most avid, anglers. She and three others — Edgartown Harbormaster Charlie Blair, fishing boat captain Buddy Vanderhoop, and MVTimes editor in chief and fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman — shared their fish tales with an appreciative crowd.

This time around, Ms. Messineo will host the event, and Mr. Sigelman will again take the stage, joined by longtime Derby Committee member Mike Cassidy, and charter captains Jeffrey P. Canha and John Potter. The event may prove to be theater of a different sort for the playhouse, but both drama and comedy, the emotional highs and the lows, will be in evidence.

And Ms. Messineo believes that fishing stories, when well told, reflect more of the human condition than one might expect. “Everybody who has found their passion, or who wants to find their passion, will relate to it,” she says.

Ms. Messineo has lots of experience as a storyteller and public speaker. Having fished obsessively for 40 years, she is now considered an expert, and is often asked to speak at seminars, conventions, and sportsman’s shows all over the East Coast. For over 20 years, she has written about fishing for various local and national publications. Currently, Ms. Messineo is in the process of writing a book with the working title “The Lure of the Surf: One Woman’s Passion for Fishing on Martha’s Vineyard.”

“It’s not a Pulitzer Prizewinner,” says Ms. Messineo with characteristic humility. “It’s just a book about fishing.”

What sets Ms. Messineo’s stories apart from those told by her fellow fishermen is that she doesn’t take the typical approach to the subject. “Some guys talk about how big the fish was, and all the technical stuff. I write about how I feel when I’m fishing,” she says. “I come at it at a little bit of a different angle. I’ve caught a lot of really big fish, and won awards. I don’t talk about that.”

What she does often focus on are the challenges she faced as a 5-foot, 1-inch woman in a sport dominated by men. “The theme of a lot of my stories is, Don’t give up. I write about not having a clue, but just hanging in there.”

Her perseverance has paid off. Ms. Messineo now teaches fishing, serves as a guide, and runs workshops. Her enthusiasm is just as strong as it was when she was first inspired to pursue the sport.

“It’s a lifelong passion,” she says. “To me, fishing is so much more than catching a fish. That’s only about 2 percent of it. In the spring, when I go out for the first time and stand on the edge of the ocean, it brings perspective to my life. I get the right size.

Fish Tales: Saturday, Feb. 6, 7:30 pm, Marilyn Meyerhoff Lobby, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Dessert and coffee included. Doors open at 7 pm. Limited seating. $25 in advance (or at the door if there is room). mvplayhouse.org.