Martha’s Vineyard rolls out fishing welcome mat for Mass National Guard

Tom Robinson holds up the fish he landed alongside one Nelson caught. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

This long holiday weekend the attention of many fishermen will be focused on where best to hook a striped bass, bluefish, fluke, or sea bass. Assuming Harold Camping was not off by about one week with his end of the world prediction, the chances of catching a fish are very good. If the sun comes out and the fog lifts, it will be better.

Blues have been hitting regularly at Wasque and in the gut. There are striped bass along the north and south shores. Even more interesting, Don Lynch caught a weakfish over the weekend, a species once part of the Derby that has been very scarce in Island waters in past years.

It is a great time to go fishing — bait, plug or fly, boat or shore.

Some individuals more than others may contemplate the sacrifices the holiday is intended to honor. But the reality is that for most of us, the long Memorial Day weekend will be filled with errands, chores, boat preparations, family, friends, and fun.

It is safe to say that few of us will anticipate or encounter any disruption in our normal routines more serious than a burnt burger, snapped line, or ferry-wait to get across to Chappy.

But imagine for a moment that instead of heading out to Wasque or launching a boat at the Lagoon or heading off to work you were suddenly whisked out of your normal routine and placed on a plane to a location around the world where people want to do you harm (like France or New Jersey).

The members of the Massachusetts National Guard are civilian-soldiers. For years, a guardsman could expect that he or she might be called up to help out neighbors in the wake of natural disasters and spend several weeks a year away from home for training.

That has all changed. The emphasis in recent years is on the soldier side of the equation. Guardsmen are now asked to leave jobs, home, and family for one year at a time to work in war zones including Afghanistan, or Iraq, where no location is safe from attack.

I bring the subject up because on Saturday, June 11, four members of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 101st Artillery unit and two members of the 1060th Truck Company will storm our beaches as guests of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club.

The soldiers will join the more than 150 fishermen expected to participate in the 20th annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament.

In each of the past 19 years, fly fishermen of all abilities have joined the fun regardless of their fishing success and undaunted by occasional howling winds, torrential rain, lightning, and moonshine. For the participants, the camaraderie is as much an attraction as the opportunity to catch striped bass.

This year the club decided to mark the 20th tournament and say thank you to men and women in the armed forces by inviting six soldiers to participate in the tournament — no gear or previous experience necessary. I am one of the tournament organizers and responsible for assisting the soldiers.

Many have stepped forward to help. Jim Blair of Norton, proud father of two active duty sons and a fisherman, enthusiastically accepted the job of contacting the military units. Ralph Norton of Oak Bluffs arranged for a house free of charge. Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, arranged reservations. Cooper Gilkes, co-chairman, and representatives of Orvis, a longtime tournament supporter, will provide fly casting instruction. Albright Fly Fishing Company has agreed to give each soldier a new rod.

The following five men and one woman arrive Friday afternoon. They leave Sunday afternoon.

SPC John Palmariello deployed in 2010 to Afghanistan and served on a Logistical Support Team on a forward operating base. He lives in Holbrook with his wife Aimee and daughter Rachel.

SSG Matthew Kulikowski recently deployed with G Co 186th Brigade Support Battalion from Quincy to Afghanistan. He served on a logistical support team as a team leader and truck commander. When not on duty, he is a carpenter and lives in Whitman.

SPC Joseph Zero deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, and served with the security force team on his forward operating base. He lives in Quincy and has two children, Anthony and Christina.

SPC Heather Gramz of G Co 186th Brigade Support Battalion in Quincy deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where she served on a Logistical Support Team. A resident of Holbrook, she was one of the only female gunners in Kabul.

Staff Sergeant Mark Welch previously deployed with the 1-181 ENG as a Construction Team Leader to Iraq. In January 2010, he was assigned to the 1166th Combat HET Company, 164th Transportation Battalion, stationed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. SSG Welch and his wife Heather have a daughter Brenna.

Sergeant Joel Larson enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard in August 2001. In June 2004, he deployed with the 1-102 Field Artillery, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, stationed in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

In January 2010, he again deployed with the 1166th Combat HET Company, 164th Transportation Battalion, to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. SGT Larson and his wife Kerrin have one son Devon and a daughter Shaelyn.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard has a rich history and the 101st is one of the four oldest units in the U.S. Army. “It was standing on the field the day the Army was founded, 1636, December 13,” Command Sergeant Major Daniel Picard told me with unmistakable pride in his voice.

The Guard has a proud history of service that includes all major conflicts. There is a strong Vineyard connection. Former Oak Bluffs police chief and resident Joseph C. Carter is Major General and the Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard.

The club wants to show these citizen soldiers, all recently back from overseas a great time. We need a little help. I need to borrow some waders (three size 9, one 11, 8 female and 8 male), and extra fishing gear. We would also like to create a gift basket. If you can help, please contact Coop (508-627-8202) or me (

Fishing heats up

My wife Norma noted that a most unusual event occurred this week. I went fishing with Tom Robinson and not only did we catch big fish, we both caught fish, literally and figuratively, breaking a string of fishless nights that stretches back seasons.

It was going to be a quick after-work exercise in casting. But once it got dark the fish hit — Tom’s rod. He was using a longer rod and bigger Sluggo than me and had the distance. I could only watch.

I commented that if I did get a fish on my light outfit it would be interesting. I added a small conical eight to gain a few extra yards and hooked up. Tom also hooked up next to me. And my fish swam down the beach right into Tom’s line.

I had a 50-50 chance of making the right decision: go under or over Tom’s line. Wrong decision.

Tom and I both battled our fish. Tom was mostly worried about me getting my fish in. “I never would have heard the end of it if you lost that fish,” he rightly said.

Dick’s celebrates 19 years

Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs will hold its 19th Memorial Day weekend tournament Friday through noon Monday. There is a boat and shore division. The entry fee is $30. This tournament attracts some of the Island’s best fishermen and carries some serious bragging rights. For more information call 508-693-7669 or send email to

Larry’s Bass Battle

Larry’s Tackle Shop is holding a shore and boat “Bass Battle” that begins on May 29 and ends 5 pm, June 12. Call 508-627-5088 for more details or go to

Boys and Girls club bass and blues

A group of anglers from the Cape and Island will hold a one-day bass and bluefish tournament on Saturday, June 4 to benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club. There are a number of divisions and prizes. The entry fee is $50 for adults and $10 for juniors. Registration and information is available at Larry’s in Edgartown. For more information go to or call 508-627-5088.