Over 2,600 pounds of fish have crossed the scales in the first five days of the 67th Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and they’re coming from all sectors of Vineyard waters.
“It’s been stellar, absolutely stellar,” Amy Coffey, who has volunteered at the weigh-in station for over 20 years, said on Thursday afternoon. “We had all four species weighed in from both boat and shore [in the all-tackle divisions], which is unusual for the first week.” Ms. Coffey estimated that it has been five years since the phenomenon last occurred. The four species prefer different water temperatures — striped bass, for example, dwell in colder waters, while bonito and false albacore inhabit warm areas of the water column.
“The fishing gods are smiling on us,” Ms. Coffey said.
The remark was ironic considering the federal disaster declaration for commercial groundfishermen issued Thursday.
Bluefish lead the derby in terms of catches, with 144 brought in as of Thursday. There have been 64 striped bass caught, along with 44 false albacore and 39 bonito. By comparison, only 10 bonito had been weighed in at this time last year.
Jared Stobie brought in the leading shore-caught bonito on Thursday morning; the fish weighed in at 5.52 pounds. Mark Morris holds the lead in the boat-caught bonito category with a 7.53-pound fish.
Morgan Taylor hooked a hefty 13.22-pound false albacore from the shore; the entry outweighs not only all others in that division but also those in the boat-caught category.
Henry Fauteux leads the boat-caught bluefish category with a 15.11-pound catch, while Ron Domurat is in first in the shore-caught division, with an 11.22-pound blue.
Mike Stimola, 67, of West Tisbury, was the first fisherman to weigh in after the bell rang at derby headquarters on Sunday morning. Mr. Stimola, a retired college administrator and fine art photographer, caught his 13.98-pound striper at about 3:30 a.m. while out shorefishing with friend Robert Lane, also of West Tisbury.
But the very next fish weighed in took the top spot on the shore-caught leaderboard, as Peter Shepardson, 54, of Vineyard Haven, weighed in a 16.51-pound bass. Mr. Shepardson moved to second place following Eric Debettencourt’s weigh-in of a 25.76-pound bass, which he caught at the brickyard on the North Shore.
Mr. Debettencourt is still in first place for shore-caught bass, and indeed, for all the early-morning changes in the leaderboard that first day, the results have remained relatively steady ever since.
John Casey, 53, of Warwick, R.I., went out on the water at 12:45 in the morning on Sunday with his brother, Capt. Ned Casey, 56, of Edgartown. He returned with a 28.23-pound striped bass, caught using eels as bait. The fish has held first place in its division through the first five days of the derby.
“I’m not even thinking about it because there’s so many great fishermen out there,” Mr. Casey said of the streak atop the leaderboard. “It’s just a 28 pounder, and it could be topped at any second, any time. I’ll hold on as long as it goes.”
“I hope my brother gets a big fish,” he added.
Mr. Casey, who occasionally steps in as a Gazette pressman, typically only fishes one or two weekends of the derby, but is “going to stick it right out to the end” this year. The Casey brothers are also participating in the team competition, as Bag O Doughnuts (there are, contrary to the name, no doughnuts on board their small boat). They are currently in first place.
The second and third-place boat-caught stripers have also stayed steady. Charlie Finnerty, 61, brought in a 17.10-pound fish, while daughter Annie, 22, brought in a 14.98-pound catch. On Thursday, Mr. Finnerty laughed when told that he and Annie were still on the board.
“That’s so funny; we weren’t even going to keep those fish because we thought they were too small,” said Mr. Finnerty, who operates a charter fishing boat out of Menemsha. “We decided, okay, let’s weigh them in and at least get our entry for the mystery prize.”
Though Mr. Finnerty has fished the derby since the 1960s, he and Annie have gone out only once together since her junior derby days (in 2003, she led both the junior derby and the overall contest for a time when she brought in a 40.52-pound striped bass).
“She announced to me this summer, Dad, let’s you and me fish the derby this summer,” Mr. Finnerty said. Mr. Finnerty added that Annie actually landed a larger bass than his second-place entry, but the line broke when it was right at the boat.
“It’s the one that got away — they’re always the biggest, as every fisherman knows,” he said.
Joel DeRoche of Edgartown and four-year-old daughter Georgia are new to the ranks of father-daughter derby duos, but no less successful. The DeRoches went shore fishing on Monday afternoon, where Georgia landed a 3.03-pound bluefish (as well as a needlefish, said her mother Joanne Cassidy). The bluefish is the only one in its category — junior shore-caught bluefish — so far.
“You should have seen her hugging that fish [when she brought it in],” Amy Coffey said.
“She checks every day to see if she’s still on the board,” Ms. Cassidy reported.
The Kids Derby takes place this Sunday at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf from first light until 9 a.m., and is open to those age four to 14. Over 200 juniors participated in last year’s event. No preregistration is required, and every participant receives a T-shirt.
For the adult competitors, the previous day marks the first Special Saturday of the Derby. The fishermen weighing in the heaviest bluefish (in both the shore-caught and boat-caught divisions) will win a $500 prize. Next Saturday, the focus will be on false albacore.
For more information and results from the 67th Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, visit www.mvderby.com.
Mark Alan Lovewell contributed to this story.