Edward J. Lepore

Edward J. Lepore, a longtime seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard who was widely known and respected among the Island’s tight-knit fishing community for his fishing skill and sunny disposition, died peacefully Friday, April 21, surrounded by family at his home in Vernon, Conn., after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.

Ed was an all-around sports lover and outdoorsman. Although hockey was his first love, most of his time over the three decades he and his wife Janet spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard was devoted to fishing. Ed’s skill in tying flies to catch bonito, a mini-tuna known for its picky nature, earned him the nickname “Bonito Ed.”

Most mornings, Ed would leave the RV he and Jan shared in the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground, where the couple was part of the campground’s nucleus of longtime seasonal residents, and head out on the water. A 2011 profile of the campground in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine reported, “A typical day for him [Ed] entails fishing for a few hours, followed by a nap and a walk around the campground with Vinny, the couple’s gregarious cat.”

Ed was a stalwart of the annual Martha’s Rod and Gun Club Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament, where he helped man the registration table. He and his son Jim formed a two-man team. “I’d catch all the fish, and he’d catch zero because he was always talking to everyone,” Jim said. “He just loved the Island and the fishermen he met.”

Ed could also be counted on to assist the Bass and Bluefish Derby Committee and keep watch from his boat during the fall kids day fishing tournament, in the event that someone should fall into the water from the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier.

“Eddy was just a great guy, always ready to help out,” Cooper “Coop” Gilkes, kids day chairman, said. “I never once had to call him because he always called me first to see if I needed a hand. That’s how he was.”

Ed was born in his cousin’s house on Cranston Avenue in Cranston, R.I., on Oct. 24, 1933, to Italian immigrants Vincent J.and Conchetta Fiano Lepore. He graduated from Cranston East High School in 1952, and then went on to serve in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Stoddard and the U.S.S. Hawkins from 1952 to 1954, during the Korean War. After the Navy, he attended the Porter School of Design for drafting, while working at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, Conn. He retired from Pratt & Whitney in 1988 after 33 years of engineering in the tool design department.

He loved the game of hockey, and was one of the founding fathers of the Vernon Youth Hockey Association (VYHA). He coached youth hockey for VYHA for nearly 10 years, and officiated for 25 more. He loved the Red Sox, Bruins, and Patriots, but his heart was with the UConn women’s basketball team. In his spare time, he enjoyed trout fishing, ice-fishing, saltwater fishing, and deer, turkey, pheasant, and waterfowl hunting, as well as napping in between. He was an avid shooter, and was a life member of the East Hartford Sportsman’s Association, Rockville Fish & Game Club, and Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association.

In his spare time, Ed tied freshwater and saltwater flies, often donating them to tournaments for prizes or giving them away to someone who seemed like he or she could use a little luck. He was renowned for the development of “the Bonito Bandit” fly, which was successfully used by many fisherman on the Island.

However, his most unusual catch was from Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah, and had little to do with fishing prowess. MV Times fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman recounted the story: “Eddy said he was having a pretty good night using a new fly he’d tied. It was about 1:30 in the morning, and he was getting tired. Not surprisingly, he dropped his cast a bit and hit what he assumed was the beach. Eddy said, ‘I’d made my backcast and all of a sudden the line took off!’” Eddy had hooked a skunk prowling along the beach. Not as mean as hooking a 250-pound day-tripper in a polka-dot bikini from New Bedford, but a handful all the same.

“’I called Donny’s grandson over and said, “Oh Jeez, I got a skunk,” and gave him my rod with the skunk running around,’ Eddy said.

“Finally, Eddy managed to release the unwanted catch by breaking it off at the tippet. He said the fly was a big long zonker fly that he had named the ‘rabbit fly.’ Now it is known as the ‘skunk fly.’

“The International Game Fish Association has been contacted about a new species line class category. And anyone who sees a recent road kill may want to look for Ed’s fly. He does a nice job.”

Ed was preceded in death by both of his parents, his brothers Frederick and Albert, and his sisters Lena and Jane. He is survived by his devoted wife of 58 years, Janet; his son Jim of Vineyard Haven and Breckenridge, Colo. (wife Yvonne); his son John of Northfield, Vt.; his granddaughter Alexis (husband, Troy); many other family members, friends, Vinny the cat, and many truly grateful fish. A celebration of Ed’s life will be held on Wednesday, April 26, between 5 pm and 7 pm at Ladd-Turkington and Carmon, located at 551 Talcottville Road, Vernon, Conn.

He will be missed.

Donation in Ed’s memory may be made to the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.