Renowned for its pristine beaches & celebrity inhabitants, Martha’s Vineyard is one of the most exclusive destinations in America. But each September, after the tourists clear out, thousands of fishermen take back the beaches to compete in the Vineyard’s annual fishing derby, a month-long contest that pits plumbers against investment bankers, schoolkids against senior citizens, & natives against newcomers in a round-the-clock hunt for a great fish.
Island immortality is at stake, & history has proven that anyone can win it: teenage girls, dozing fishermen, complete amateurs. In The Big One, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Kinney takes readers behind the scenes at the derby to chronicle thirty-five days of fish-addled hope & heartbreak. He captures all the action & introduces us to an eccentric gallery of characters that includes: Dick Hathaway, the crotchety legend who once caught a bluefish from a helicopter; Janet Messineo, a recovering alcoholic who says that striped bass saved her life; & Lev Wlodyka, a cagey local whose next fish will spark a storm of controversy & throw the tournament into turmoil. The Big One is a hugely entertaining story of passion & obsession that does for fishing what Friday Night Lights did for football.
Grown men have cried over the derby. They have ignored their wives for week after week, sleepwalked through work day after day, stayed up all night long, skipped out on their jobs altogether, drawn unemployment, burned through every last day of their vacation time, downed NoDoz & Red Bull & God knows what else. They have spied on their rivals & lied to their friends. They have told off strangers & cheated like lowlife bums. If you believe the conspiracy theorists, they have prosecuted bogus charges of rules breaking to get their adversaries tossed from the competition. People have died fishing the derby. In 1993, four anglers—two fathers & their young sons—drowned when their boat sank in heavy swells on the second-to-last day of the contest. In 1947, a Boston businessman crashed his plane trying out a new fad: spotting schools of bass from the air, then landing on the beach & casting away at them. A nearby fisherman rushed to give first aid but couldn’t save the man. “All that,” he lamented, “for an old striped bass.”
An old striped bass, yes, but it’s not only that. Catch a winner in the Vineyard’s beloved annual fishing contest & they’ll etch your name on the all-time roster of champions. You’ll earn a spot in a tournament history book that starts during the Truman administration. It’s something like taking the green jacket at the Masters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
DAVID KINNEY has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press and The Star-Ledger, where he was on the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. He lives outside Philadelphia.