Down at the water’s edge, as two rival fishermen measure each other’s biggest catch of the day, a special bond can be found.
The Island Cup Fishing Contest between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket (the other island) has been going strong for 14 years, and continues to represent the highest degree of sportsmanship and companionship.
Last year, the Nantucket fishermen took the trophy, and they currently lead the series 8 to 5.
For many years, co-founder of the contest Victor Colantonio said the M.V. Surfcasters would jest that the Nantucket Anglers Club might have difficulty landing stripers with a glass of chardonnay in one hand and a rod in the other.
In 2005, Colantonio and his old friend, Scott Whitlock of Nantucket, decided to pit Vineyard and Nantucket anglers against each other in a contest of intense competitiveness, but also companionship.
In many ways, the ambitions of the contest run parallel with those of the famed rivalry between the Vineyard and Nantucket sports teams. Just as football players from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School stay in the homes of the opposing team during away games on Nantucket, Vineyard anglers stay with one member of the Nantucket team, and vice versa.
The tournament pits Vineyard anglers of all ages and skill levels against similarly skilled and intense fishermen on the opposing Nantucket team — but there’s a twist. This year, before the pandemic hit, Vineyard fishermen were planning to travel to Nantucket and battle against the defending champs from last year’s contest. Each competitor stays with one of the opposing team members. They would eat with their rivals, gear up with their rivals, and fish with their rivals. Rival team members even measure each other’s catches after the fish are landed.
Colantonio said this imparts good sportsmanship and humility, and causes opponents to rely on each other for their own success — a focal point of the competition that has a long and well-worn history.
Colantonio and Whitlock, the two founders of the Island Cup, were close friends long before its inception. Whitlock was Colantonio’s banker and friend for 25 years, and the two had a meeting scheduled at 200 Liberty St., right across from the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001.
“All the chaos began when the first plane hit,” Colantonio said. “We stood there on the street in absolute shock, and then the second plane hit.”
As the situation began to deteriorate, Colantonio and Whitlock took shelter in the subway as the first tower collapsed, and stayed there for about an hour. Once they emerged from the subway, the second tower collapsed. The two men helped each other through the rubble and ash, and despite Colantonio having a broken leg and ankle, they were able to make it into the lobby of a nearby building.
“Scott was next to me after the second tower came down. He stood there and said, ‘I’m not leaving you.’” Colantonio said. “After that experience, we decided that we had to figure out a way to bring people together and have them depend on each other for their success. You ride in their car, you go where they take you on the beach to fish; it’s a really special thing.”
Colantonio said many great friendships have formed over the years during the contest, and new people enter each year (with some old salts entering every year since the start).
And although the pandemic has made inter-Island travel infeasible, the contest will be held, with both teams fishing on their home turf. Zoom meetings will be held between rival team members, where jokes will be told and friends will be made.
“We are trying to use this pandemic and the lack of anything going on as a way to drive membership toward the Surfcasters. It can be as serious or as laid-back as you want it to be. There is a huge amount of humor involved, and it’s always good fun,” Colantonio said.
According to Colantonio, he hopes the Island Cup will continue to bring people together in new and unique ways, and encourage positivity during a difficult time.
“Fishermen are eternal optimists. With this whole pandemic situation and all the horrible atrocities like the death of George Floyd, we need a big, fat dose of optimism right about now,” Colantonio said. “Just like me and Scott didn’t give up on each other, we aren’t giving up on this competition.”
So far, about 12 people have signed up to be on the M.V. Surfcasters’ team, so there are still a few more spots to be filled. Colantonio encourages young people to sign up and carry on the 15-year tradition. “We are trying to hand this competition off to young people. God willing, we will all be fishing on Nantucket next year, elbow to elbow,” he said.
In a time when scattered thoughts and angst fill many people’s minds, Colantonio said, fishing can offer a moment of solace, and sometimes zen. “Fishing really puts you in the moment. All of the external stimuli, troublesome or not, just disappear. If you can get rid of all the peripheral distractions, it can be almost like a religious experience,” Colantonio said. “We have been locked up for over 80 days now, and have been fed a constant stream of media and television. With fishing, you get to disappear for a few hours, in a trout stream or at East Beach, and just focus on the fish.”
The contest starts on Friday, June 12, at 3 pm, and ends on Friday, June 19, at noon.