Gone fishin’: Veni, vidi, pescato, pescato

Martha’s Vineyard is antipasti for visiting Italian fishermen.

Photo courtesy of Arturo Kenney

A famous Roman general once wrote, “Veni, vidi, vici,” Latin for: I came, I saw, I conquered. There is no way to know if Julius Caesar liked to fish. His Italian countrymen sure do.

This week and last, a group of Italian fishermen from the Milan area, members of the Milano Fly Angling Club, enjoyed fishing for striped bass from Lobsterville Beach, fine food — hey, they’re Italians, they travel with a chef, and the natural beauty served up plentifully by Martha’s Vineyard.

The story begins with a basketball. Art Kenney of New York City played three years in the early 1970s for Olimpia Milano. The team honored him last year when it retired his number 18, the first such retirement in the very successful club’s history.

On one of his return visits to Milan, Art gave a presentation on fly fishing for the Milano Fly Angling Club, the oldest fly fishing club in Italy. The rest, as they say in Rome, is history.

Art, a New Yorker, is chief tour guide and travel secretary. This is the club’s fifth fishing trip to the Island. The men, eight Italians and Art, are staying in a rented house just off Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah.

Art said the men fish mostly at night — all night. “We’re looking for big fish,” he said.

The fishing has been slow this trip, but no matter. “We have so much fun,” Art said. “It’s like Animal House without any of the craziness. It’s a real fraternity of fishermen.”

Art said the men love the Island. “It’s just such a beautiful place to fish and all the people we meet are so nice,” he said.

When they are awake in the daytime the men make periodic shopping trips down Island. Their favorite stop is Coop’s in Edgartown. “Coop is the Island’s best goodwill ambassador,” Art said in a phone conversation as he relaxed in the house. “He is extremely helpful.”

Coop also endeared himself to the Italians with gifts of fresh squid, clams, and flies that worked.

“Coop doesn’t know it but he’s an international phenomenon, at least in Milano,” Art added.

Paolo Balsamini came on the line. He said he likes everything about the Vineyard.

“I like the fish, I like the beach, I like the environment. Lots of wildlife. As a fisherman I like to fish, so I like to catch a lot of striper, especially the big one,” he said with a laugh.

Paolo, 50, said the fishing was a lot better last year, but like fishermen around the world, he takes a philosophical approach. “But, ah, it’s the sea, you know,” he said. “If they are not, they are not. There are schoolies, but in the mix, you know, there are big ones but it is a matter of luck.”

Asked about what he fishes for in Italy, Paolo laughed. “I fish in the sea, but I catch one sea bass every five, six outings,” he said. He catches trout with more frequency.

His favorite fly for the Vineyard? “Floating sand eel in black in various sizes,” he said.

Paolo was a commercial pharmacist until he lost his job two years ago. Now he drives a taxi. He also travels to Denmark in late spring to fish for sea trout. “Very fun,” he said. “There’s a lot of fish and some big ones.”

I asked Paolo what he thought about our ticks. My question was lost in translation. He thought I asked for tips. “Fish as long as you can,” he said. “All night long. This is my tip because if you have your fly in the water you can fish the big one. And fish when the water is moving.”

He also had a message for the people of Martha’s Vineyard: “Thank you for the whole Island …preserve your Island.”

Club president Roberto Pecorelli spoke to me. “This fishing is very, very important for me, for my mind,” he said with a laugh. “I love to fish on the beach at night with my friends. To catch fish is not very important. I am very happy when I caught only one fish. Very, very fine for me.”

It is a sentiment any fisherman could understand in any language.

What not to do

Last week, Tom Dunlop wrote a striper love story for the Gazette about a guy who caught a bass, threw it up on the beach where he let it lie and declined to cut the gills and bleed the fish because he does not like to do that while a fish is still alive. He drove home with the fish in a plastic bag, but after it twitched in his kitchen, he had a pang of conscience and ran it down to the water where he spent more than one hour reviving it.

Tom’s a good writer and in his hands the tale sounded swell. Hats off to the kind-hearted fisherman. But the story attracted plenty of criticism from fishermen and with good reason.

I do not doubt the fisherman was well intentioned. But once the decision is made to keep a fish for the table it is not humane or practical to let a fish lie gasping on the beach building up heat and toxins. Cut the gill with a sharp knife. The blood will drain and the fish will die.

Do not carry a fish in a plastic bag. It does not allow the fish to cool. Bring a cooler with ice, or in a pinch throw a wet towel over the fish. The end result will be fresh, high quality fillets.

Pier ribbon cutting Thursday

On Thursday, June 19, at 11 am, state environmental and wildlife officials will join Oak Bluffs town leaders in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new fishing pier.

The pier looks great. Strollers and families with kids who like to fish for scup will be the chief beneficiaries. I have no doubt it will produce a few albies.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal. The original idea was to incorporate a fishing platform into the pier. That plan disappeared after 9/11, due to security concerns, but not the idea.

The state office of Fishing and Boating Access funded the project. State saltwater license fees and taxes on fishing and boating equipment paid for it. If you have the time, stop by and celebrate the first pier on Martha’s Vineyard built for fishing.