Fishing is the best medicine

Lots of tournament action taking place.

Jim Cornwell Sr. with Ralph Peckham, who took second in the shore bluefish portion of the weekend tournament sponsored by Dick's Bait & Tackle.

We’ve all heard fish being called “brain food,” and we know the benefit of eating fresh fish. Saltwater fish provide iodine and are an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Fish liver oils are rich in vitamins A and D. In addition to eating fresh fish, I get my medicine by going fishing.

I usually start the season around April 15, and go fishing every chance I get until sometime in November. Last year I caught my last fish on Nov. 18. Although it’s on my bucket list, I haven’t been able to get away for a tropical roosterfish or bonefish winter break. By the time spring arrives, I have a fishing deficiency in body, mind, and spirit. I need my medicine. The first time each season when I get into my waders, which become my home away from home, and take a walk on a quiet beach under the stars with a sea breeze in my face, life gets right once more. The important things fall into their rightful place, and the unimportant fall along the wayside.

I first started fishing in the mid-1970s. Those were the days when any surf fishing techniques, and especially how to target striped bass from the beaches of the Vineyard, were guarded secrets. I was lucky when I met Island native Jack Coutinho, who became my mentor for 12 years. We never shared fishing information, and I would have never considered writing a fishing column.

I remember when Nelson Sigelman showed up on the beach in the ’90s, and after having casual chats with the fishermen, he began to print stories in The MV Times. I was going to have a button made saying, “Don’t talk to Nelson.” He was brave to take a job of reporting the fishing news, and as we all know, he wrote a successful column for 26 years. I hope all my fishing friends don’t run the other way when they see me on the beach now that I have stepped into his shoes.

Times have changed. With the immense amount of information on the web, and with the many publications on fishing, becoming a proficient surf fisherman is within reach of anyone who gets the fever. No more secrets. Well, maybe just a few.

Unofficial start of fishing season

Memorial Day weekend was an exciting time for fishermen to get their rods and reels out of winter storage. Twenty-seven years ago, when not one bluefish was landed during the annual Rod & Gun Club Memorial Day Weekend Shore Bluefish Tournament, they decided to discontinue the contest. Steve Morris from Dick’s Bait & Tackle took the opportunity to host a tournament on that holiday weekend, but added the striped bass to the bluefish category. Dick’s Tackle renamed it the Memorial Day Hawkeye Tournament after the passing of a special fisherman friend and participant of the contest, Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs. This is the 26th year for Dick’s tournament.

This year was almost a repeat of the 1991 Rod & Gun tournament. Not one striped bass was weighed into the shore division until the last morning on the 28th, when Pat Toomey came in with the winning fish. As you can see by the results, only one other bass was weighed in. I know both Pat and Paul, and they fish hard.

I fished up-Island, down-Island and on Chappy, and never landed a weighable fish. There were plenty of tournament fishermen everywhere. There was no lack of small schoolie bass, and I witnessed a few small bluefish being landed. The bluefish results were also shocking. Nothing was weighed in until late on Sunday, when the Cornwell family struck again. Also not surprising was Ralph Peckham, the bluefish magnet, coming in in second place. The most exciting event for me was seeing a pelican. On Memorial Day, I was driving toward the Rip from the Dike Bridge, and stopped to watch it fly past me close to shore and only about 10 feet above the water surface. I thought maybe I imagined it, but

then Eric Brown told me he saw it too! I wonder if any one else has spotted it?
Congratulations to everyone who weighed a fish. Here are the results:

Shore bluefish: 1. Johnathan Cornwell, 9.6 pounds; 2. Ralph Peckham, 8.4 pounds; 3. Jim Cornwell, 6.8 pounds.
Boat bluefish: 1. Mike Tomkins, 8.1 pounds; 2. Trevor Maciel, 7.8 pounds; and 3. Wally Tomkins 5.3 pounds.
Shore striped bass: 1. Pat Toomey, 39.8 pounds; 2. Paul Cormier, 11.4 pounds; 3. no entry
Boat striped bass: 1. Wally Tomkins, 23.5 pounds; 2. Keith Olsen, 18 pounds; Mike Tomkins, 14 pounds. Also Mitchell Pachico caught a 5.5-pound black sea bass.

Fish stories

It’s time to put down the rods for just a minute, and come listen to some fishing stories at the playhouse. Friday, June 1, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse will host another popular “Fish Tales.” The $30 ticket price will support the playhouse and its many year-round programs. Doors open at 7 pm. Show starts at 7:30. Tickets are limited, sand can be purchased in advance at or at the door, if available, 24 Church St., Vineyard Haven, 508-696-6300. ​

You don’t want to miss this one. I will be host for the evening, and David Tilton, Lynne Silva, Karen Kukolich, and Bert Fischer will be the storytellers.

David Tilton was born on the Vineyard, and raised among harpoon swordfishermen. His father, Alton Tilton, was an Island character of legend, and the captain of a 49-foot swordfishing schooner, the Southern Cross. David’s grandfather’s name was Welcome Tilton. Welcome’s brothers were author Captain George Fred and the celebrated Vineyard schooner captain Zeb Tilton. If you have not already read them, I would highly recommend reading “Captain George Fred, Himself,” from 1927, and “Zeb,” by

Johnathan Cornwell and his father, Jim Cornwell Sr., took two of the top three spots for shore bluefish during Dick’s Bait & Tackle weekend tournament.

Polly Burroughs, from 1972. It’s no wonder David’s storytelling is mesmerizing, and I guarantee it will be an evening to remember.

We will have a special treat with Lynne Silva adding to David’s swordfishing stories. Lynne will tell some tales of fishing with David south of the Vineyard.

Captain Karen Kukolich is one of the Vineyard’s first female captains to run her own sports fishing charter boat. She holds five world record fly-fishing awards, and for many years she was the Rod & Gun Club Top Gun skeet shooter. She has retired after having her own practice as a physical therapist.

The Fischer family has lived on the Vineyard for many generations. Bert Fischer will be one of the storytellers. Let’s hope he tells us the story of his 12-year-old daughter, Molly, who won the 60th annual Derby with a 49.22-pound striped bass.
This weekend, the 27th annual Rod & Gun Club Fly-Rod, Catch and Release Tournament will begin at 7 pm on June 2, ending at 2 am on June 3. Nelson Sigelman will once again be the master of ceremonies.

I’m going to put down my 10-foot surf rod for a weekend and give it a whirl. Cooper Gilkes has graciously taken me into his backyard many times for lessons with the fly rod, but I still struggle. My surfcasting technique does not work with the fly rod. The first time I participated was in 2012. I was lucky to be on Phil Cronin’s team. To my surprise, we won Most Fish Caught & Released. I contributed one fish to the team. Since then I couldn’t juggle my life’s responsibilities, and joined only one more time. This year Cooper has been after me to participate. He reminds me that it is not all about catching fish, but it’s about camaraderie and fun. If I can do it, so can you. I hope you will consider signing up too.

The rules are online at, or call Coop for details at 508-627-3909.

Beach report

Many pairs of piping plovers are nesting, and their eggs are expected to hatch soon. The Trustees of Reservations told me they expect to close the beach to 4-wheel vehicles at Norton Point on June 3, and on June 8, vehicle access will not be allowed from the Dike Bridge to Cape Poge. I will update when I know for sure.
Until next week, remember, don’t give up a minute before the miracle, Janet.

Janet Messineo fishes the coastline of Martha’s Vineyard, where she’s lived since 1966. She is a retired surfcasting guide and taxidermist, former president of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, and both a Derby committee member and participant. She is a frequent source and contributor to newspapers and magazines. Her long-awaited book on fishing will be published by Pantheon Books in June 2019.