Every now and then a fishing book is published that transcends the fishing genre. Such is the case with David Kinney's The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009: $24.95). In it, he tells the incredible true story of the 2007 Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby. It is also one of the most gripping books of its kind I've read in recent memory.
Kinney is at his best uncovering the fascinating lifestyle of Martha's Vineyard sport anglers, especially those whose obsession is the Striped Bass. For those who don't know, the Derby is a rite of passage for the locals, and for men like Lev Wlodyka--the protagonist in the story--the most important thing in life. Following the almost surreal exploits of this master angler, winner of five previous Derbys, we witness the good, the bad, and the incredible during this one tournament. Amazing catches, huge fish, controversy, in-fighting, and charges of fraud are around every corner. All of this makes the book read like a screenplay.
Of great interest is the detail with which Kinney explains the attitudes and lifestyles of the Martha's Vineyard natives. From the working class fishermen to the ultra wealthy, the island is a strange amalgalm of folk who seem to only agree on one thing: that the Derby is the most important event on the calendar.
Wlodyka is an appealing (and tragic) figure mainly because we all know someone like this. A person who fishes so much they think like a fish; for whom the fishing Gods alternately bless but give no peace. This is seen no more clearly than this Derby.
I won't spoil the plot, but I will go on record as saying that The Big One goes on the short list of the best fishing books I've read in the past two years. It is well worth picking up, and would certainly make a fantastic gift this holiday season.
-- Dr. Todd