Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Sees Heavy Catch at Beginning of Contest

By MAX HART

Six stripers over 30 pounds each were weighed in in the first 36 hours of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and if the early catch is any indication it is going to be an exciting 35 days of fishing.

One hundred and thirty-eight fish - more than 1,460 pounds of striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito - were weighed in during the 60th annual tournament's first day and a half. The hefty stripers marked a significant change from last year, when only one over 30 pounds was logged in the same time frame.

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Derby officials said Monday morning they were pleasantly surprised by the number and size of the fish brought in to the Edgartown harbor weigh-in station.

"We've seen some nice fish already, that's for sure," Martha Smith, one of the managers at the weigh-in station, said yesterday.

"It was a really strong opening," she added. "It seems like there were more fishermen hitting the shores early Sunday than in years past. We had a good showing yesterday morning."

Calm seas and clear skies ushered in the anniversary derby, which officially began at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. Within 15 minutes of the weigh-in station's opening eight hours later, 10 fish were weighed in, all caught from the shore.

"It's a good start," declared derby chairman John Custer after watching the first dozen fish pour in.

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Unlike last year, Mr. Custer and Mrs. Smith did not have to wait long for the first large fish. Stephen Kuehne, 42, of Edgartown weighed in the year's first fish, a 34.78-pound striped bass. Last year, Kenny Metell weighed in the first fish, a 12.90-striped bass caught from an Edgartown beach.

I'm not saying where I caught it," Mr. Kuehne said with a smile, but then offered a few details: he landed the fish around 1 a.m. and was using live eels.

"Last year I got a lot of little fish," he added. "I couldn't get over 20 pounds. I felt embarrassed coming into the weigh-in station, so I just released them."

Soon after Mr. Kuehne, Leo Lucuyer of Blackstone brought in a 34.46-striper caught at an up-Island beach with a rubber eel. It is Mr. Lucuyer's second derby.

"It is a tradition, a tradition which I've recently learned," he said.

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As of Monday morning, Emily Vanderhoop led the tournament with the heaviest fish - a 39.14-pound striped bass. She displaced Stan Lasinski, who brought in his 33.54-pounder almost exactly 12 hours earlier.

Roger Sylva brought in the largest bluefish, a 12.04-pounder caught from a boat on Sunday.

Also of note is Michael Peters's 12.24-pound false albacore caught from a boat on Sunday. Mr. Peters's fish is only .13 pounds less than last year's top boat albie - a 12.37-pounder caught by David Kadison. How long will Mr. Peters's fish last atop the leader board?

Maybe not long, if you look at recent trends in the number of albacore in Island waters. Last week, derby executive committee member Matt Malowski pointed to research done by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries that charted the number of false albacore caught during the derby.

"The albies seem to come in strong for four years, then leave for four," Mr. Malowski said. "Based on that cycle, there should be plenty around this year."

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Also regarding false albacore, Mrs. Smith said she was pleased that the fishermen seemed thus far to be adhering to the new bag limit for albacore. Because of the increased number of albacore caught last year, the derby committee has imposed a three-bag limit on the fish. The committee hopes this will eliminate the weighing-in of smaller false albacore.

Young fishermen were out in force too.

On Monday morning Jack Schlossberg had landed the biggest fish in the juniors division, a 34.72-pound striped bass caught from a boat. William Kadison also weighed in an impressive 7.10-pound bonito, good for second place on the grand leader board.

Proving that the derby can truly be a family affair, the Benedettos of West Tisbury had a great weekend. Mia Benedetto, 11, was leading not only the junior division with her 11.61-pound all-tackle shore bluefish caught on Sunday, but had the biggest overall shore blue thus far - good enough for first on the grand leader board.

In second place? Her father, Daniel, who landed a 10.78-pounder the next morning. Younger sister Lucy, 10, is third on the junior board with a 5.73-pound bluefish.

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Upcoming events include the kids' derby on Saturday, Sept. 17. Mrs. Smith also encouraged anyone interested in volunteering their filleting skills to contact her at the weigh-in shack on Edgartown harbor.

In a break with past practice, the Gazette will not publish the complete listing of derby results in the print edition of the newspaper on a weekly basis this year, although derby news coverage will include detailed reports on leaders and other results each week. Beginning today, the Gazette will provide a link on its web site to the complete listing of derby results for its readers. The link is www.mvgazette.com/features/fishing/derby. At the conclusion of the derby, complete final results will be published in the print edition of the newspaper.