Score one for participatory journalism.

In 2007 David Kinney, a career newspaperman, dove headfirst into the collective insanity that is the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. The result is The Big One, an exhaustively researched window into the people and culture that fuel the derby, and the mania that fuels them.

It would be tempting to think this was an easy book to write; go fishing and then type it all out. That would be incorrect. Kinney deserves credit for gaining access to a group so paranoid and insular that getting any of them to talk and take him fishing is remarkable. (In fact, reading some passages, you’re left to wonder if the source is on the level or passing along blatant misinformation.)

Kinney weaves the narrative around a local angler named Lev Wlodyka, who during the tournament catches the fish of a lifetime and sparks a flurry of controversy that still reverbates in striper cirlces today. (Yo-yoing for stripers is a divisive fishing technique.) But Kinney fishes with just about everybody in the tournament; from shore, by boat, at night, at sunrise, on the jetty, in public spots and secret spots, with blue collar wharf rats and charter hiring blue bloods. He documents what the tourney means to them against the backdrop of evolving Vineyard life.

The book is not for everyone. Some may be turned off by what competitive fishing does to people. Others will blanch at the glorification of an all-kill tournament, a practice even a lot of hardcore anglers find outdated. If you’re comfortable with either notion, and have delved into northeast salt, you will enjoy this read.

Even if you’ve never been to the Vineyard or fished for striped bass, bluefish, albies, or bonito, there is one central theme you can take away from this book. And that is that the best fishermen are insane.

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