Well over 1,200 fishermen are registered in the first week of the 66th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. In the first five days of the contest, as much as 2,500 pounds of fish has been weighed in and, as in the past, the contest landings are leaning heavily towards the bluefish.
By the end of derby day five, a thousand pounds of bluefish had gone on the scales twice as much as striped bass. The third most abundant fish in the contest is the false albacore with the Atlantic bonito coming in fourth. Only 10 bonito had been weighed in as of yesterday morning. A total of 57 striped bass, 123 bluefish and 40 false albacore have been weighed in.
The derby headquarter’s overall winners blackboard still has a lot of blank spaces. The category for junior anglers hasn’t seen much chalk, which will change this weekend with the forecast for good weather. There are 142 fishermen under the age of 15 participating so far.
As many as 200 Island children and maybe more will participate Sunday in the annual Kids Day Derby at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf. The contest that opens at dawn, or first light, is free to all children under 15. Fishermen will fish from 6 a.m. to close to 9 a.m. Every child, even those who don’t catch a fish, walks away with a prize from the early morning event.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, chairman and organizer of the event, said the derby committee will be there to make sure the children and their parents have a good time. There will be plenty of free advice. One experienced angler will be assigned to helping the youngsters get untangled if their line is fouled. There will be at least one 47-foot Coast Guard motor life boat on hand from Menemsha, with a possibility of a second boat, a 41-footer from Woods Hole, to give the youngsters a bigger-than-life fishing experience. The two will be tied up at the dock, available for touring.
The prospects for fishing from the wharf are really good. “The nice thing about it is that the pier hasn’t been fished all year. There will be plenty of scup, sea bass, an occasional fluke, a bonito, maybe false albacore, a striped bass and maybe even a lobster. You never know. One year there was a 200-pound blue shark,” Mr. Gilkes said.
The young anglers don’t have to be registered in the derby. Their fish will be measured by length and not weight. It is possible to win the contest by catching a long eel, versus a big, heavy striped bass. Winners will get fishing rods and gear. There will also be bait on hand.
Sunday is a big day in the derby for another reason, too. Nearly a dozen veterans who have been injured while in the service will participate in the third annual American Heroes Saltwater Challenge.
Sarah Guinan Nixon and her husband, Bob, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, the Menemsha Inn, and the Home Port Restaurant, are hosting the event. The veterans are offered three days of intense fishing. They are entered in the derby for free and will have their own fishing contest. The purpose, Mrs. Nixon said, is to give a positive experience back to those veterans who have served their country, were injured, and are in need of a fishing holiday. A lot of different organizations, including charter fishermen, are involved. There will be a welcome dinner Sunday night at the Beach Plum. Members of the derby committee are also volunteering.
“Every night they will be at the derby headquarters weighing in their fish,” said Mrs. Nixon. On Tuesday they will be treated to surfcasting instructions on Chappaquiddick by Janet Messineo, assisted by the crew from The Trustees of Reservations. Later there will be a barbecue on the beach, organized by the staff of the Home Port Restaurant.
Each day, they will be fishing from boats, offered by all the Menemsha charter fishing captains.
Yesterday, Mrs. Nixon and her 10-year-old son, Jack, were in Washington, D.C., organizing the trip. Speaking from a phone, she said the veterans are coming from Fort Belvoir Community Hospital along with National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda. They will be flown to the Vineyard on Sunday.
Mrs. Nixon said all the veterans coming will be new to this Vineyard experience, though some of them may not be new to fishing. “They range in age from in their 20s to 50s. They are recovering in the hospital and have not yet been released. Some can’t travel alone. They may have a wife or a mother or a best friend coming along.
“The important thing is that they experience a Menemsha sunset, have some great food and fellowship that this Island provides,” Mrs. Nixon said.
On Wednesday they will attend a saltwater fly-fishing clinic with Mr. Gilkes and Wilson Kerr.
On Thursday, they will hold their own awards ceremony at the Beach Plum Inn.
This is a tax-deductible event, so contributions of time, energy and support are most welcome, Mrs. Nixon said. Those interested in helping out or watching should call the inn.
The derby began this past Sunday with two enthusiastic anglers showing up with their striped bass at the derby weigh-in station well before the 8 a.m. start.
Herbert Tilton, 54, of Edgartown caught his first striped bass shortly after midnight, while fishing with his fishing partner, Jeremy Bradshaw, 50, of West Tisbury. The two enjoyed a perfect night. “We saw shooting stars,” he said. One of the shooting stars qualified as a fireball meteor. “It was dead calm. There were silversides swimming in the water all around us,” Mr. Tilton said.
They caught their fish using eels.
Mr. Tilton’s fish was the first weighed in. After Mr. Tilton weighed in his 21.19-pound striped bass, the derby computer hit a glitch that delayed registration a couple of minutes.
Amy Coffey, who oversees the weigh-in, said the problem, an errant sticky keyboard, was readily rectified. Seven fish were weighed in the first 10 minutes of the contest; six of them were striped bass.
Josh J. Kresel’s 12.64-pound false albacore, among the first seven weighed in, still leads the shore division.
Two youngsters are leading the derby. Nine-year-old Luke El-Deiry, of Vineyard Haven, caught a 32.14-pound striped bass from a boat on Tuesday. It is the biggest fish weighed in. The youngster was fishing with his father, Joe El-Deiry, who caught a 28.39-pound fish.
Tony P. Canha, 15, also of Vineyard Haven, fishing for the first time as an adult, now leads the derby in the bluefish from a boat category. Mr. Canha caught his fish on Tuesday.
There are many winners so far in the derby, but with bonito being scarce, it is worth noting that Doug M. Asselin Jr. of Vineyard Haven came into derby headquarters on Monday night with a 7.52-pound bonito, the largest bonito yet caught in the contest. Mr. Asselin, who works at Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop, said he got some time off from the shop and went fishing with a friend. They left the dock early in the morning and he caught the fish at 1 p.m. He said he caught the fish with a Yo-Zuri Deep Diver lure.
Only 10 bonito were caught in the first week, but Mr. Asselin said, “I don’t understand why. I got a call a week before the derby, there were bonito splashing at the entrance to one jetty.”
Now the bonito are harder to find. “We were out there, and it was a foggy day,” Mr. Asselin said. “You couldn’t see the boat next to you.” After catching that fish, Mr. Asselin said, they got onto a second fish a little later. It is quiet, he said.
On Wednesday morning, Peter Lynch of West Tisbury walked into the derby headquarters with a false albacore that weighed in at 7.76 pounds. He said he had caught the fish 25 minutes earlier at Menemsha. Mr. Lynch is an assistant chef at the Home Port Restaurant. He said they were looking for a good recipe for cooking false albacore. For most anglers, false albacore are inedible.
The derby fever intensifies this weekend. In a contest within the monthlong contest, anglers who registered for Super Saturdays can earn $500 if they catch the heaviest shore or boat bluefish overall.
The fun surrounding the derby can readily be observed each morning and night at the weigh-in station. From 8 to 10 a.m. daily and from 8 to 10 p.m. nightly, the headquarters will be open and spectators are welcome.
On Wednesday night, most of those who showed up were not anglers, but were interested in watching the weighing-in of the fish. Wil Moreis of Oak Bluffs walked into the derby headquarters waving a 11.68-pound bluefish and a 19.74 pound striped bass.
The derby runs until Saturday, Oct. 15.