Dream Caster

Every year, when the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby consumes the island in a frenzy of fishing, Janet Messineo turns into an insomniac. At night, she casts a line to catch stripers during their prime feeding hours. In the daylight, she angles for bluefish, bonito, and false albacore. “Since I fish [for] all four species, I never can sleep,” the 63-year-old says. Part of Messineo’s motivation comes from her fiercely competitive spirit, but even as she considers slowing down, more than 35 years spent as a fisherman has turned her passion into a compulsion. “I have to fish,” she says. “It’s not even about the prizes for me.”

Whether it’s competing in the derby, which runs September 12 to October 16 this year, or working as a surfcasting guide, writing fishing articles, serving as past president of Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters, or creating taxidermy skin mounts and fish jewelry, fishing is Messineo’s lifestyle. The girl from the housing projects of Lawrence, Massachusetts, first fell in love with the sport during a trip to Chappaquiddick in 1970. “It seemed like a miracle,” Messineo describes her first encounter with fishing. “Here was all this sand and this ocean. My friend threw this little thing out in the ocean and came back with a beautiful fish.”

Messineo’s devotion to fishing inspired her to break through gender barriers in the masculine sports world, start a business and become an artist at middle age, and pass on the wonders of the sport—and the beauty of the beach at night—to others. At five-feet, two inches, Messineo couldn’t even find a pair of waders that fit until 1992. “Size 6 men’s was the smallest you could get,” Messineo says. “I looked like the Michelin tire guy.” But she persisted even in ill-fitting waders, in part as a way to combat the alcoholism with which she struggled. “I thought I needed my bottle of courage to roam the beaches in the dark but realized how much I was missing when I fished under the influence,” she says, recalling her path to sobriety in the mid-1980s. “If I did not have fishing to focus on, I am not sure giving up my life of drinking would have worked.”

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Susan Spencer is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Whitinsville and Brewster, MA. She contributes frequently to Cape Cod Life Publications.

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