Editor’s Note: What brings a group of Italian flyfishermen and one American friend together? Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah and Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown. Arturo Kenney, an avid flyfisherman and former basketball pro who uses his six-foot-eight-inch height to advantage when wading on saltwater flats, began coming to the Vineyard with The Fly Angling Club of Milano two years ago in late summer to pursue their passion. Mr. Kenney, who is fluent in French and Italian from his eight years of playing professional basketball in Europe, four of them in Italy, wrote a travelogue about their experiences. What follows is an edited version which describes the trip to the Vineyard this year. Early this year we began to plan for our trip and were able to find a house that seemed almost perfect both in size and in locale. A short walk on the private path to the beach brought us to the end of Lobsterville Beach and the start of Dogfish Bar, giving us easy access to both.
The wonderful owner offered to extend the lease for an additional four days at the start which allowed me to spend time there with my family and also provide scouting reports for the club in Milano before their scheduled departure. My wife and daughter were patient on the drive up to the Vineyard and tolerant of all the specialty foods filling every available nook and cranny of the car.
The reports that I emailed back to my friends in Milano were about quantity and quality — I was catching a good number of fish each evening and they were mostly keeper-sized bass. I was having success with Coop’s E-Z body sand eel fly. I also had success with the angel hair neonate herring flies, specifically in colors of holographic silver over pearl and cobalt blue over pearl. I had meticulously prepared several of these flies in each color for each of my soon-to-arrive amici Milanesi.
When the team arrived late Sunday evening, the shore fishing continued to be outstanding, not only for the number of fish, but in particular for the quality of fish caught. About 90 per cent of the stripers caught were keeper-size. In addition, we caught some of the largest hickory shad I have ever seen, and the five-to-six-pound cousins of tarpon made it seem that they were participating in the Olympic trials for the hurdle and high jump events.
One morning, Paolo Balsamini returned well after our normal sunrise breakfast, bleary-eyed and physically spent with a 36-inch striper in tow. Paolo had caught the bass at the end of Dogfish Bar, and rather than try to carry the bass home, chose to walk in the water and troll the bass behind him. Since I am exclusively a catch-and-release fisherman, it is not a choice that I would have to make. Paolo also told us that he caught many large bass like that all night, in such skinny water that he could see their wakes as they approached his flies! After Paolo’s summary report, Alberto Bringhenti asked me what time I would be leaving to fish that night. I told him about 30 seconds after Paolo.
That afternoon we visited Coop’s Bait and Tackle Shop outside Edgartown to give him a report on our activity, and to ask if there were other areas where we should be fishing. Coop said if we wanted to add some bluefish into the mix, we might want to consider fishing the flats at the end of Fuller street in Edgartown. After loading up on many of the materials that Coop’s shop has and are difficult to find in Italy, we went to scout out the Fuller street beach flats. When we arrived at the beach, we could see the Edgartown Lighthouse in the distance. We scanned the flats looking for signs of activity, fish breaking or birds diving into the water, and then saw a very large gull dive into the water and pick up a large spider crab off the shallow bottom. The gull took flight with the crab dangling from its beak, circled us and dropped the crab on the sand, some 20 yards from where we were standing. As the gull landed to begin its luncheon feast, club president Marco Feliciani and Pino Savino ran down the beach, causing the gull to abandon its meal. They then released the crab back into the water. The squawking gull showed that he was quite livid; I told the guys that if they remembered Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, they better beware of the revenge of angry birds.
That evening, I made arrangements to fish with Paolo on Dogfish Bar and told him I would meet him there. Marco and I set out about an hour after Paolo’s departure. We fished from the start of the bar all the way down to the end, with no sign of Paolo. I caught my largest bass, a 36-inch striper, on a Ray’s fly at the south end of the bar, closer to Gay Head. At first light, Marco and I began to fish our way back to the house. On one of our stops, as we walked to deeper water, a fish broke about 25 yards out. I told Marco to be aggressive and cast right at the bass, and on his first cast he was tight to the 34-inch fish. Our capo di cuccina, Eros, who performs kitchen magic, said he could use a striper, so Marco waded the 50 yards back to the shoreline and placed the bass safely on the sand — or so he thought. Marco returned to fish near me, but after his first cast he turned back to re-orient himself to his new position and saw a large seagull land next to the bass to stake its claim. Marco ran back, overruled the gull and reclaimed the bass as his, setting the Italian record for the 50 metre dash in waist-deep water. I took that episode as my cue that it was time to head back to the house. I warned Marco that the seagull was the same one from the day before on the Fuller Street beach and this was probably only the first chapter of its revenge. I also reminded my Milanese friend that Sicilians say revenge is a dish best served cold, which in seagull translates “a fish best served cold!”
Back at home, Chef Eros worked his magic, blending penne, striped bass and a white dill sauce that evening. We all agreed that the dish was the best meal of the vacation and likely the best pasta dish ever served on Martha’s Vineyard.
Later when Marco and I went to do an errand in town, I pointed out to him that a gull had air-mailed me a message on the hood of my car, likely the same Fuller street beach gull. (When we left on the ferry ride back to Woods Hole, a gull circled the ferry and landed on the mast. I pointed it out to Marco, suggesting he may want to be on guard when he got back to Milano.)
That night, the wind picked up and so Paolo, Massimo Conti and I decided to fish on the other side of the Gay Head lighthouse, on the south-facing shoreline, where the high dunes would shelter us somewhat from the wind. Massimo was the first to score with a large shad and a nice bass, and Paolo then landed a nice bass. Though we were somewhat protected by the wind, we still had to deal with some very high waves and a rogue wave every so often. As I was changing a fly, one rogue wave sneaked in and almost knocked me on my derriÃ¨re. A couple of casts after loop-knotting a chartreuse-over-pearl angel hair neonate herring fly as my dropper, I hooked a 31-inch bass. I quickly subdued the bass and released it into the turbulent surf. Moments later, when we were about to leave, I saw Paolo on the shoreline behind me holding a keeper-sized bass. As I walked in to join him and Massimo, I yelled that his bass seemed even bigger than the one I had just released. Paolo explained that he found the bass on the shoreline. It had to be the bass I had just caught and released, and evidently was unable to properly navigate the rough surf zone to the calmer water beyond. I scooped up the bass and was able to revive it; only this time, I released it beyond the white-water zone. Lost In Translation
During our fly-tying session one afternoon, we heard a knock at the door. When I opened the door, it was two young women who were missionaries from the Church of The Latter Day Saints and were looking to recruit new converts for their upcoming conference in Providence, R.I. To save time, I told them: “Thank you, but we are Italians from Milano and would not be able to come!” That brought howls from the others inside who came running out and told the missionaries that I was American and they should insist that I attend the conference. In Houdini-like fashion, I was able to extract myself from the conversation and get back to making more of Coop’s sand-eels, but that was not the last I heard from them of my trying to pass for Italian!
A few of our members were friends of a fly shop owner from Pennsylvania named Bill, who vacations on the Vineyard where he also has a boat. Marco and two other members were scheduled to go out on Bill’s boat on the following day, so were also making some Clousers and some half-and-halves for the trip. The phone rang. Eros answered it and then called over to me: “Arturo, it’s your wife.” When I answered, it was actually Bill on the line hoping to finalize arrangements for the next morning’s fishing trip. I told Eros that my wife’s name was not Bill, and that her voice was several octaves higher. Every time Bill called after that, the guys would say, Arturo, it’s your wife, Bill. My retort was that it was a common mistake for Eros since his name in English translates to Cupid.
The Vineyard is a cornucopia of natural beauty, enhanced by the distinctive Victorian character of Oak Bluffs architecture or the New England character of Edgartown’s architecture. Vineyard sunrises and sunsets are a wonder to see and in themselves are worth the price of admission. My amici Milanesi are hooked on the Vineyard, and through e-mails and pictures that we share during the winter, we sustain those vacation memories. Next season the Fly Angling Club of Milano will return. We have so much fun, it’s almost impossible to cram it all into one week, and so we will be reserving two weeks for next year.