A single chair, adorned with lures and bucktails, sits in a Lobsterville Beach parking spot in Aquinnah. On it, is a sign that reads: “Reserved for Jim Wareing.”
Fishermen Island-wide have been honoring the memory of their fellow angler following Wareing’s unexpected passing the morning of Sunday, Oct. 2. He had just celebrated his 51st birthday Sept. 29. Last week, representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby issued a statement on its website and social media platforms: “With much sadness the Derby Committee notes the sudden passing of longtime Derby shore angler Jim Wareing. Fishing the Derby with close friends and new acquaintances alike was one of Jim’s singular passions.”
Originally hailing from Loudon, N.H., Wareing spent years coming to the Vineyard, always for the same reason — to fish. And he fished hard. An emergency room nurse by trade, Wareing had a deep passion for fishing, and for the community that comes with it.
Throughout his years of participating in the M.V. Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, Wareing came up first on the leaderboard numerous times, from daily and weekly wins to the grand slam, in addition to having been awarded the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Sportsmanship award in 2015.
Those who knew him all relayed the same sentiment: Jim Wareing epitomized everything good about the Derby.
The annual event, which entices fishermen from all over the country and continues this year through Oct. 15, is, at its core, a competition. But it’s much more than that; it’s a unique subculture consisting of passionate fishermen, ready and willing to put their bodies and minds through weeks of torment and strife.
With an all-encompassing love for the sport, entrants during Derby season forge bonds that are solidified through a collective dogged determination to prevail over forces of nature.
Over the years, Wareing developed a reputation of not only being a great fisherman, but for his humility and selflessness, triggering his nickname, “the Mayor.” Ever willing to help out a fellow fisherman or provide assistance to novices, those who knew Wareing acknowledge that he was a rare breed.
Rick Hern, Wareing’s best friend, had been an avid fisherman for most of his life, coming to the Vineyard for the Derby for decades, before first meeting Wareing around 2008.
Shortly after their introduction, Hern suffered a heart attack, and subsequently reached out to Wareing, who was affiliated with the hospital he had been moved to. Wareing walked Hern through the process, explaining procedures, offering medical knowledge and emotional support to his new friend.
During his initial transport to the hospital, Hern had two thoughts: Would he get to see his 4-year-old son again? And would he ever walk up Squibnocket again?
Hern recovered, and that spring, Wareing accompanied him to Squibnocket — the rest is history. The friendship, he said, “was more than just fishing.” Over the years, the two spoke weekly, their families became close, and they always looked forward to the grueling days and nights fishing the Derby.
Hern emphasized the sincerity in which Wareing expressed excitement when Derby competitors outfished him, knocking him off the leaderboards. He wanted people to succeed, Hern said. “He’d literally take a plug off of his line and give it to somebody,” he said, “I’ve seen him do it.”
But that didn’t stop Wareing from fishing hard, Hern said. For example, winning the grand slam — that’s not luck, that’s a testament of Wareing’s relentless hard work. But you wouldn’t hear that from Wareing, Hern said. He was too humble; always downplaying the size of the fish he caught, shining the spotlight on others, and making them feel seen.
One of his fondest memories with Wareing — of which there are countless, Hern said — was a few years ago, when Wareing’s daughter and Hern’s son both took home their own awards in the Derby, striking a deep sense of pride and joy. “We looked at each other, and said, ‘We just won the Derby,’” Hern recalled. “It couldn’t get any better than that for us.”
Hern said that there’s some solace in knowing that Wareing passed away in his favorite place in the world, doing what he loved the most. “He could stand on the surf [at Lobsterville] and just cast for hours,” Hern said. But still, it was far too soon. Echoing sentiments from those who knew Wareing, Hern said, “I’m a better person having known him.”
When Islander and fishing legend Janet Messineo held a signing for her book, “Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life” in 2019, her friend Wareing — with his family in tow — made the hours-long trip from Loudon to Chilmark to show support.
“They drove all the way down here,” said Messineo, “took the boat, drove all the way to Chilmark for me to sign their book, got back on the boat, and drove all the way back to New Hampshire … It wasn’t even Derby time.”
That demonstrates who Wareing was, Messineo said, a person who’d readily “go out of his way to support a friend.” Wareing, she said, radiated positivity, and was “an exceptional human being [who’s] going to be sorely missed.”
Tony D’Agostino recalled first meeting Wareing through friends over a decade ago, during D’Agostino’s first Derby. In what soon became a close bond, the two kept touch throughout the year, often meeting up in their kayaks, chasing down false albacore (albies).
“Everybody that talked to him, enjoyed him,” D’Agostino said; “everybody knew who he was.”
D’Agostino was fishing with Wareing on the day he suddenly passed; he had just been chatting with him 30 minutes previously. Upon discovering Wareing sitting lifeless in his white Suburban at Lobsterville parking lot, D’Agostino and mutual friend Jared Stobie jumped into action, but unfortunately he could not be resuscitated.
Only half an hour prior, Wareing was his typical jovial self. D’Agostino, just having landed a bluefish, rounding out a triple crown, walked over to Wareing to show him the catch, and was immediately met with enlivened cheers and genuine congrats.
That’s who he was, Wareing’s friends told The Times en masse. Wareing could miss a fish while a nearby angler got a bite, and without hesitation, Wareing would offer accolades.
“Jim was never the guy that got upset because he didn’t win, or got bumped off the leaderboard,” D’Agostino said; “as long as everybody else was having a good time, and enjoying themselves, Jim was happy.”
“If you weren’t catching fish, and he was — and he only had one lure on his line — he would hand you that one lure and say, ‘Go catch fish, man’ … he was honestly the most selfless person I’ve ever met in my life,” D’Agostino said.
Wareing did not spend his Derby time passively, his friends reiterated. Wareing never let his friends bring food on their trips, D’Agostino recalled: “He [was] always cooking for us, always making sure everybody had what they needed to make the Derby more enjoyable.”
That community feel, he said, highlights the best aspects of the annual event, and the sport. “Everybody’s together, cooking, camping,” D’Agostino said, noting that the group often slept in their vehicles — retrofitted for comfort and space — allowing them 24/7 access to the waters, and the flexibility to get up and relocate depending on the tides or weather.
Following his death, the decision to reserve the parking spot at which Wareing’s truck sat with a sole chair, was made by numerous friends and acquaintances, wishing to honor the memory of their fellow fisherman. As days passed, lures, bucktails, stickers, and notes were added in his memory, reminding Islanders and mainlanders alike of a lost-too-early friend.
Jim sounds like a giant among men. I am so sad I never got to meet him.
But he clearly made the Island a better place.
May his memory be forever of a blessing.
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