Far from the limelight, Island provides fishing respite for vets

Vietnam war era veteran and former Army Ranger Jerry Miserandino of Washington, D.C. has a unique way to hold a bluefish. — Photo courtesy of Bob Nixon

We hear a lot about what are often called heroes. Most of the talk is about men and women who hit, run, or jump harder or faster. Sometimes, a person acts selflessly in one moment and is proclaimed a hero.

Less publicity goes to another sort of hero, people worthy of our admiration, who are in it for the long haul; those men and women who work and sometimes struggle on a day-to-day basis away from the limelight to meet life’s challenges. Last Monday, 11 of them — active and retired military men — came to the Vineyard to fish.

They traveled to the Vineyard at the invitation of the Nixon family of Chilmark, as part of the Beach Plum Inn American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. Over the course of their four-day stay they enjoyed Island hospitality in all its various forms.

With the assistance and generosity of the Derby committee and the Menemsha charter fleet, Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn and Home Port Restaurant, pulled out all the stops.

The itinerary included dinner at the Beach Plum Inn (not your usual Derby setting or fare); fishing with some of the Island’s best charter skippers out of Menemsha, a surfcasting expedition to Chappaquiddick, fly fishing lessons on the lawn, and an awards breakfast where each fisherman walked away with a plaque that honored his service to our country.

“You want to feel humble?” Derby committee member Cooper Gilkes told me. “Spend some time around these guys.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Coop and Derby member Wilson Kerr provided a fly casting class. The highlight, Cooper said, was teaching Army veteran Jerry Miserandino, who lost his hands to a booby trap in Vietnam, how to cast a fly line.

His students included two young men in wheelchairs recovering from recent wounds. “What an amazing experience,” Wilson said in an email. “It was pretty powerful watching Coop teach these 20-something-year old Afghanistan vets how to cast a fly rod.”

This was the second year in a row the Nixons hosted a group of soldiers. How the idea began is a story all in itself.

Jack Nixon, 9, the Nixon’s son, loves to fish and loves to fish in the Derby. Inspired by the book “The Big One,” David Kinney’s entertaining tale of the annual Bass and Bluefish Derby published last spring and a newspaper photo essay about the challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Jack told his dad he wished some veterans could fish the Derby.

The Nixons set to work and contacted Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a nonprofit group that assists military personnel who have been wounded, injured, or disabled with their physical and emotional recovery, by introducing or rebuilding the skills of fly fishing and fly tying.

With cooperation from the fishing and Menemsha community the first American Heroes challenge was launched in 2009.

“It was terrific,” Bob Nixon said in a telephone call from his home in Washington, D.C. Tuesday about last week’s visit. Bob was still beaming about the trip to Chappy, which for a Menemsha guy is akin to going to Nantucket.

“We caught four of five fish from the beach, which was a huge success. And Janet was terrific.”

It was all topped off with a barbecue prepared by Home Port chef Johnny Graham against a backdrop of the rising full moon.

Bob said the charter fleet overcame windy conditions and put the men into fish, no easy chore. “Stan Munson had not caught anything, and he ended up catching 15 fish with captain Jennifer Clarke. And David (Nevedomsky), he’s from the Kennebec river and he was just desperate to catch a Massachusetts striper and he did terrifically. He fished 24/7.”

Make no mistake about it. Any fishing tournament is a lot of work and this one comes with some expense. For Bob, the reward comes in being a part of a community effort and the pride he finds in seeing his son Jack’s participation in an event he conceived. That included flying up with two active duty soldiers now recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from wounds suffered in Afghanistan.

“For me it is seeing how appreciative the vets are to be thanked and how much the Vineyard community appreciates the opportunity. It’s amazing how everybody just jumps in there,” Bob said. “These are some terrific folks facing some tough stuff.”

That is what heroes do.

Fishing pier public hearing

Next Thursday, Oct. 7 at 7:15 pm the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on a fishing pier the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s office of fishing and boating access is prepared to construct off Sea View Avenue extension.

Abutters and some selectmen oppose the location and want it moved. It will be up to the MVC to weigh the benefits and detriments of the pier in coming to a decision on whether or not to issue a development permit, and whether to saddle it with conditions.

The public hearing provides an opportunity to speak for or against the project. Yapping in a tackle shop after the fact will prove of little use.

Win a stocked tackle bag

Last week, I described how Eben Elias of West Tisbury found a West Marine tackle bag stocked with tackle that no one had claimed despite my best efforts. When I said I thought it now belonged to him, Eben said he’d like to give it away.

So I invited readers to think of someone who could really use or deserves a new fully stocked tackle bag and get the person’s name and contact information to me and mention something about the person (email nelson@mvtimes.com, scrap of paper dropped off, letter to PO 518, Vineyard Haven, 02568).

So far, I have only received three nominations. Folks, this is not Queen for a Day — the person need not be a charity case, just a person you think deserves it.

I will pick the winner of the bag at random on Monday October 18 one day after the Derby awards ceremony and announce it in my last fishing column of the season.