This holiday weekend is the last full weekend for those competing in the 67th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Anglers will see the sunsets and note the sunrises, and quite a few will fish through the full three-day weekend, hoping to catch the largest striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore.
Nearly 2,800 fishermen are registered in the contest. Of those, 300 are junior anglers.
The derby headquarters is at the foot of Main street in Edgartown. The building, a reminder of the fish shacks of years ago, is usually a busy place in the days before Columbus Day weekend, with the weigh-in open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and in the evening from 8 to 10 o’clock.
But landing big fish has been hard and mornings have been quiet in the past week. Roy Langley, derby weigh master, said yesterday morning he hadn’t yet seen a fish in the first hour of the two-hour morning weigh-in.
Blame it on the “de-bait” last night, Mr. Langley said, referring to the presidential debate held on television.
Despite the scarcity of fish at the weigh-in station, there are fish out there.
The heaviest fish weighed in so far this contest is a 44.40 pound striped bass caught from a boat by Stephen J. Pietruska last Sunday.
Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said this is a significantly different derby from a year ago due to more bonito and considerably more false albacore swimming around Vineyard waters. Mr. Jerome, who also works as a charter fisherman, said anglers have watched acres of false albacore swim in large schools off East Beach and Wasque.
Even better, there are more bonito around, some of which are being caught by shore anglers.
Edgartown’s Kathi M. Pogoda leads the derby with the largest all-tackle adult caught bonito. The seven-pound fish was caught on Tuesday at her favorite fishing spot, Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. Eleven-year-old Tommy White, a junior angler, still leads the derby with a shore bonito that he caught on Sept. 17. The bonito weighed 7.65 pounds. If no one can get a bigger bonito from the shore, Tommy is eligible to win the grand prize, a boat.
Mr. Jerome said it has been several years since we’ve seen a good turnout of bonito and false albacore, both “tuna-like” fish that are fast-swimming rockets in the water.
Menemsha jetty is the most popular and productive fishing spot on the shore for these fish.
The derby has a restrictive, conservation-minded method for reducing the fishing effort on false albacore, also known as albies. Anglers are allowed to weigh in only three albies through the contest. Plus, there is a 25-inch minimum size. So while anglers are catching, they are encouraged to release the small fish and only bring in the biggest, competitive fish.
Bonito are also limited. Only 21-inch fish and larger are eligible to be weighed in.
Restrictions are not so necessary for plentiful bluefish. When it comes to fish being weighed in, bluefish outnumber the other three species combined. As of Wednesday, 848 bluefish, at a total of 7,199.54 pounds, had been weighed in. Compare that to 323 striped bass, weighing a total of 5,321.58 pounds. There were 287 false albacore weighed in, totalling 2,087.83 pounds. A total of 180 bonito have been brought in, weighing 1,044.41 pounds.
These numbers reflect a more balanced reflection of the state of the fish around Vineyard waters.
The derby continues through the coming week. The final day and weigh-in is on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10 p.m. Until then, anglers will be working the beaches from shore, and floating above the many different rips and hidden sandbars offshore to catch the biggest from a boat. More than $300,000 in prizes are being awarded. The awards ceremony will take place Sunday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. at Farm Neck.