December. The month of holidays and parties and celebrations in all our Island towns, and, of course, gift giving. Please note that I did not say, “December, a month of great fishing.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, and that is probably an understatement. I begin decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and spend the next five to six weeks enjoying the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the season of advent and hope, and the tangible joy that seems to fill the year more than at any other season.
The only thing better than my family gathered at Christmas would be my family gathered for Christmas and all of us going to Chappy in the afternoon to fish and soak up the sun. No chance of that on M.V. in late December, but I can, in fact, spend some time on Chappy fishing if I pick up “A Long Cast” by Mike Carotta or “Three Decades of the Derby” by Ron Domurat. Both books take me away from the cold, fishless winter and transport me to Chappy, bare feet in warm sand, rod in hand, and fish breaking in front of me.
When you’re considering a thoughtful gift for a fisherman, a great fishing book is sure to put a smile on our faces. I have a stack of fishing books that I plan to read, or reread, during the coming winter months. On top of my pile for a post-Derby withdrawal reread is “Three Decades of the Derby.” Ironically, yesterday morning I saw friend and author Ron Domurat at the YMCA. I asked him when he got the idea to write “Decades.”
“I wrote it over the winter of 2014,” said Ron. “It was an easy book to write, as the Derby was, and is, a big part of my life. I’ve had so many great experiences and met so many good people that I wanted to leave something behind, not only for my family but the families of those I wrote about.”
My favorite chapter in Ron’s book is “Team McRat.” I love the way Ron describes the connection and friendship that develops fishing, and the strategy, good-natured and competitive, during the Derby.
“I guess my favorite chapter, and really the inspiration for the book, is ‘The Viagra Fishing Team,’” said Ron. Now if that doesn’t make you smile and want to read “Three Decades of the Derby,” you’re missing a sense of humor.
I asked Ron what his all-time favorite book is, and he didn’t hesitate. “When ‘Reading the Water’ first came out, it was the Bible. That was my first love,” said Ron of Robert Post’s classic book, published in 1988. “It’s my all-time favorite fishing book because I read it at a time when I was just starting to find my way around out here. Also, my copy is signed by Robert Post, as well as many of the surfcasters in the book, some of whom I ran into while fishing on the beach.”
“Since ‘Reading the Water’ was published, there have been a number of terrific books written about the fishing scene on the Island. At the risk of offending others, if I had to rank the rest of them, Mike Carotta’s recent book ‘A Long Cast’ would be next, primarily because it beautifully captures the true spirit of surfcasting. Dave Kinney’s ‘The Big One’ is a terrific book about the 2009 Derby, and ‘Casting into the Light’ is a great story by Janet Messineo, who was a pioneer in our wonderful sport,” said Ron.
Ron’s favorites also include “Maine to Montauk: A Striped Bass Journey” by Brad Burns. “I’ve known Brad Burns as a striped bass conservationist for more than 20 years, but until I read this book, I had no idea what a hardcore angler he was.”
Ron has his first book for 2024 already picked out: “A Full Net” by Susan Daignault.
I’ve read all of Ron’s Island favorites, but now must add “Maine to Montauk” and “A Full Net” to my TBR list, and I’ll definitely reread portions, if not all, of “Reading the Water.” My favorite chapter is the one on Cooper Gilkes, the owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown, and one of the nicest and most generous fishermen I’ve ever met. Walking into Coop’s is like going home to my parent’s: smiles, hugs, and lots of great advice.
I give Coop full credit for helping me catch my favorite fishing book of 2023. I was blissfully walking around Coop’s last June and stopped in front of a book display. Coop walked over and said, “It’s a great book.”
Trusting Coop with all things fishing, I added a copy of “A Long Cast” to my armload of lures and a new filet knife. I started reading the book a few days later, and couldn’t put it down. I was thrilled to meet Mike in September during the Derby, and spend some time fishing with him.
Mike lives in North Carolina. He’s been coming to the Island for 50 years, every visit spent fishing. He fishes the spring run in late May and early June, and then returns for the Derby in September. Mike has written a lot of books. “Just about all my writing has been religious education curriculum for Catholic textbook publishers. Think Sunday school stuff.”
He’s written one fishing book to date, and it will touch your heart, make you laugh, and bring tears to your eyes. It’s that good, and it almost didn’t get published.
“I wrote ‘A Long Cast’ in secret, not being sure I would finish it. But if so, I wanted to surprise Christin, Ben, and even my wife Catherine with the book,” said Mike, who graciously continued the story.
“Seven years ago, after my career as a curriculum consultant was done, I wrote a series of essays called ‘Unexpected Occasions of Grace,’ which described two dozen spontaneous encounters I had with different people across the U.S. Since then, my daughter Christin had been prodding me to write a collection of stories about the community of surf fishermen that has gathered on the shores of Chappy every spring from all over the U.S. for 35 years. I call them the Shore Birds.
“She kept prodding me, and I kept deflecting it. But then when I turned 70 in the Sspring of 2022, I decided to fish for 30 straight days and nights like I did with my dad 50 years earlier. I scribbled notes at the end of every night — usually around 1 am — and wondered if it would be enough to eventually write about.
“I told no one. I got back home and compiled all the notes. Turned out to be a thick amount of details and conversations, with no life or theme. So I gave up on it,” said Mike.
Fortunately, Mike’s daughter Christin continued to pester him about writing a fishing book. “Without knowing that I had made an attempt at it, she said, ‘Couldn’t you just write short essays, like you did in the ‘Grace’ book?’ I declined again,” said Mike.
Though he said no to his daughter, Mike read through his notes and gave writing another try. He finished the manuscript last December, but was ready to stow it on a shelf like a worn-out reel, until … he reached out to his fishing friends, collectively known as the Shore Birds.
“I mentioned I was thinking about a book, asked them if they had any photos or memories they would like to share should I decide to go forward with it. It was their response that made it worthwhile.”
Mike’s friends sent photos and stories, and “A Long Cast” was given fins. Mike’s dedication page sets the stage, “Years from now when a lot of those mentioned in this book are gone, friends and family still around might find in these pages a way to recall the wonderful times we had when we were all together.”
There are so many essays I enjoyed, but “My Biggest Keeper” is my absolute favorite. I doubt anyone, fisherman or not, could read it without shedding a few tears.
As Mike’s book is now one of my personal favorites, and one I’ve gifted to a dozen or so friends, I asked him what his favorite books are. He answered pretty much as his friend Ron Domurat had.
“The only fishing books I read are ones from Island fishermen. In no order, I loved Ron Domurat’s ‘Three Decades Of The Derby,’ Janet Messineo’s ‘Casting Into the Light,’ and both of Nelson Sigelman’s books, ’Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors’ and ‘Fish Tales,’” said Mike, adding, “And the seminal fishing book that got me hooked was Robert Post’s ‘Reading the Water: Adventures in Surf Fishing from Martha’s Vineyard,’ because I idolized so many of the fishermen featured in his book.”
I want to encourage you to shop loca,l and purchase any or all of these books at one of our local tackle shops and bookstores. I know Coop’s Bait and Tackle has some, and Bunch of Grapes has been great ordering whatever books I need.
If I don’t see you on the beach this month, I hope to see you at a tackle shop or bookstore buying a great book. We can meet again and talk about our favorite chapters.