Between making the rounds at the winter fishing shows, to having her speak for my fishing club, I have spoken with well-known Martha’s Vineyard angler and taxidermist, Janet Messineo several times over the years. With a new book coming out this summer I figured now was a good time to feature her for a Profiles In Angling column.
Toby Lapinski: I recently received a copy of your new book, Casting Into The Light and immediately sat down and began reading it. I am just a few chapters in, but so far it has been an outstanding read. I’m sure some of what we’ll talk about today is covered in the book, so feel free to drop some teasers along the way. What prompted you to write the book and how can readers get a copy for themselves?
Janet Messineo: I hope you enjoy it! Casting Into The Light will be out on July 2, 2019, and it is already on Amazon for pre-sale. I was prompted to write the book by the people who have read my writings in a few local magazines as well as by some of the people I took fishing. They all kept saying, “You should write a book.” Also, I was invited into the Wednesday Writers Group with Cynthia Riggs [on Martha’s Vineyard] and the other writers prompted me to put a book together.
TL: Wonderful, I’m glad you took all of their advice! Ok, let’s start things off with how you first got into fishing? What about surf fishing?
JM: This is something that I discuss in my book in better detail, but the short story is that after my first ride in a 4X4 out to Chappy, and witnessing a friend catch a bonito, which we ate (YUMMY), it all seemed like a miracle and I had a desire to become a beach fisherman.
TL: What is your most memorable catch?
JM: Yikes, there are so many, but it would probably be when I caught my first weakfish. I couldn’t get over the beauty of its iridescent colors and it really stuck with me. This is another story I cover in the book.
TL: Living on Martha’s Vineyard puts you right in the middle of a wide variety of excellent fishing opportunities, but do you have any “Bucket List Fish” still to catch?
JM: Oh yes, many. One is a 50-pound striper, from the beach, of course. Forty some odd years of fishing and 45 pounds is my largest so far (I have landed two that size.).
TL: That’s a good fish! I know a lot of very accomplished surf fishermen who haven’t reached that mark yet.
JM: Thank you. [My husband and I] just started to travel so I have so many species to look forward to as I seem to have beginner’s luck during the little bit of traveling that we have done. About 10 years ago we went to Cabo San Lucas. I was told that the roosterfish is the one to target there. We were on Lover’s beach and Peter Johnson, who owns the Robert’s Lure Co., made a blue and white Roberts Ranger special for our trip. Unfortunately there were no roosterfish for me. I found out later that they were out of season, but I did catch a 36-inch cero mackerel from the beach. The locals said it was GRAND and I found out later a fish that size was a trophy! Just yesterday we just returned from our first trip to Aguada, Puerto Rico. I brought my fly rod but found it impossible to use with the strong wind and big surf. I also brought a 7-foot freshwater rod and would sneak off fishing from time to time. One of the first mornings a “huge” (probably 20-pound) tarpon hit my Yo-Zuri popper and knocked it out of the water. Now there was no way I could have been able to land it with the rod I had, but I figured it would make a great “the big one that got away” story. One morning I had a hit on a Charlie Cinto Magnet, but whatever it was dropped the lure. Then, five days into my journey and the day before we were to leave, I caught my first snook. It was 26 inches long and weighed about 8 pounds. Just as I landed it, a local guy came and said he had fished there for years and never caught a fish. I was going to release it but I ended up giving it to him to eat; he was thrilled. I gave him all my lures the next day before we left. I brought a handful of lures to give away and he was the perfect person to give them to. It was beginner’s luck to have the hit, but I guess it was skill to land it in the surf with the 7-foot rod.
TL: That’s great, snook are on my bucket list. How did you end up on Martha’s Vineyard?
JM: After leaving home in the Salem, NH/Lawrence, MA area, some friends I met in Hyannis suggested I try Martha’s Vineyard. Being 18 at the time, I could have landed anywhere, but luckily the Vineyard swallowed me up and I have been there ever since.
TL: In addition to being a very accomplished angler, you are a highly-talented taxidermist. With Martha’s Vineyard being such a popular travel destination, have you done any taxidermy for anyone famous outside of the fishing community?
JM: Yes, I mounted bass for Jim Belushi, Spike Lee, Leslie Cockburn, two bass for producer Michael Mann, and Boston Bruin hockey player Chris Nilan (I also took him fishing.), just to name a few. I also did a blue claw crab that was presented to the Clintons in the White House, which was quite an honor.
TL: Wow, that’s quite the list! What is the most memorable piece of taxidermy?
JM: All the kids’ first fish that I mounted and my collection over the last 30 years that was just purchased for the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
TL: Wonderful, I look forward to checking it out when I get back out to fish the island!