Down on a popular stretch of West Chop Beach, on the final day of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby last year, four women cast their lures out toward a pair of rainbows formed by some early morning rain.
“What could be better than this, honestly?” Island angler Lisa Belcastro told The Times as she chucked her heavy casting spoon out into the calm waters of Vineyard Sound. “I absolutely love it — being on the water. I see so many sunrises and sunsets that I grade God. It’s like okay, God, this sunrise is a B-plus, these rainbows might be an A — what will you have for me tomorrow morning?”
Belcastro grew up fishing with her grandparents during summers at the family’s cottage on Plum Island in New York. Her grandfather had a boat that they would putter around on and catch fish from. According to Belcastro, she could have been as young as 3 or 4 years old when she first held a fishing rod. The two would fish from the boat, and they’d fish from shore — both equally memorable experiences for Belcastro as she grew up. “I can still hear the sound of the seagulls when they would be dive bombing as Grandpa fileted whatever we caught that day,” Belcastro laughed.
Throughout the years, Belcastro continued to fish. She would take her kids fishing on family vacations, and during the Derby, makes sure to spend as much time with her line in the water as possible. For her, the community of anglers on the Island is something she’s always cherished, and she’s made some great memories with close friends after being embedded in that group. She looked over at her friend, Paula Sullivan, who was fishing just a little ways down the beach. “During the Derby, you are with friends every day, everyone is cheering each other on, so it’s like this electricity flowing through when you’re all out fishing,” Belcastro explained. “Paula needs an albie to get her triple (catching one of each eligible Derby species), so right now I am just standing here praying ‘give Paula an albie, she needs an albie.’”
For Belcastro, the camaraderie of fishing, and particularly within the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association (Belcastro is vice president of the association), yields an endless number of anecdotes of kindness and selflessness — a few core elements that make fishing so enjoyable for her. “Yesterday, I was fishing at Lobsterville and I really needed a bonito. My friend Whit looks over at me — he had caught a couple bones already, so he took the lure off his line that he caught the bonitos with and gave it to me,” Belcastro said. “This is why I fish.”
Paula Sullivan has been fishing off jetties with her father since she was a child living on the Cape. She fished from a boat while she was married, and has been fishing the M.V. Derby since 1997. For Sullivan, surfcasting is her preferred method. She enjoys being out on the beach or climbing around on jetties, searching for the big catch. “I love the sound of the waves and the birds. When you come out by the water and start getting into it, you really become at peace with yourself. Everything else gets left behind when you take that first cast,” Sullivan said.
Apart from the draws of being out in nature in a serene environment, Sullivan appreciates all the friends and supporters she has within the fishing community. Upon joining the Derby committee in 2005, she started meeting even more folks who loved to fish, and started to fully realize the level of passion people on-Island had for the sport. “You can see it on someone’s face when they go out fishing — it’s competitive to a certain degree, but there is so much joy in seeing someone else do well, also,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan is the first female weighmaster for the Derby. When asked how it feels to be the first lady in the role, she laughed. “It doesn’t really feel like anything. I’m usually over at the filet table anyway. But I love the fact that I get to interact with people as weighmaster; you don’t get much of that at the filet table, and the fish don’t talk much.”
Kathy Eckert said she first started fishing in her mid 20s during a sales business trip to Montauk, N.Y. She caught multiple fish from a boat and was immediately hooked. While out on a fishing charter on The Skipper, a big storm blew in, and Capt. John Potter wanted to go in early. Trash cans were flying back and forth, her kids were crying, she was chilled to the bone, but she just kept on fishing. “I realized then that I clearly wanted to continue doing this, which sometimes surprises me — I’m not a very outdoorsy person,” Eckert said. “But I love the sunsets and sunrises, I love the ocean, and I love the people.”
Over the years, folks like M.V. Surfcasters president Don Scarpone, Belcastro, and others helped get Eckert fitted with quality affordable gear from the annual Surfcasters tag sale, and Belcastro would often buy her lures as gifts. “Lisa used to let me use her lures, but now she buys them for me for Christmas instead, so I can lose those instead of hers,” Eckert laughed. “I have learned through this journey that, while I am not going to turn down an opportunity to fish off a boat, I love being a surfcaster.”
For many, fishing is a lifelong passion that only grows over the years. Ursula Kreskey has been fishing for more than five decades, and she hasn’t slowed down a bit. “I was on my first date with my husband-to-be. He said let’s go fishing — I don’t know whether I fell in love with fishing first or my husband — maybe both at the same time,” Kreskey laughed. After catching the fishing bug in New Jersey, Kreskey and her husband moved to the Vineyard. The couple chased monster bluefish all around the Island during the Derby, then when the fish migrated, they would head to the Outer Banks around Thanksgiving.
In 2003, Kreskey moved to Martha’s Vineyard full-time. “Unfortunately, my husband died six months later, but I said now isn’t it wonderful that I know how to fish — it’s a wonderful gift my husband gave to me, that love that I still have for fishing,” Kreskey said. After her husband passed, she immersed herself in the fishing community, and met many lifelong friends.
For Kreskey, any stresses or anxieties she faces are all alleviated when she steps out on the beach with a rod in her hand and takes that first cast. “Everything else is lifted when you catch a fish or see a rainbow appear or see one of your friends catch a fish — it’s a totally unique experience that I will always love,” she said.
High school freshman Paige Smith told The Times in a text conversation that she started fishing at 4 years old. Her mom and dad introduced her to fishing by taking her to a pond where they had permission to catch shad, along with some striped bass. “I started with smaller game and worked my way up,” she said. Paige emphasized her love of fishing from a boat, and how she loves exploring out on the water and having new adventures. “A couple years ago, when I went out on my boat fishing for false albacore, there were a ton of sea turtles I saw that day and I just loved to have that experience,” Paige said.
Immediately after picking up a rod as a young child, Paige entered the Derby with her family, and enjoyed the competition and good sportsmanship of the beloved tournament. Even if she doesn’t top the leaderboards each year, she said, she still loves to fish the Derby each year. “Even if I’m not getting on the board or winning awards, I still love to feel like I worked hard for what I do accomplish,” she said.
Apart from spending time with friends and family out on the boat, Paige said she can’t get enough of the adrenaline rush that comes with hooking a fish, and landing a big one successfully. “Just getting excited over that fish and high-fiving, and just feeling accomplished overall,” she said. “It’s just always so calming and something that I’ve done for 10 years now — I can’t imagine doing without it. It’s become a part of my life.”