The gray-shingled shack that sits in front of the Edgartown Yacht Club in the harbor goes unnoticed by most visitors to the Vineyard, but during the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby it comes to life for four short weeks when fishermen bring their fish in for the morning and evening weigh-ins. Twice each day they come to the derby headquarters and get their fish recorded in the official database. On a classic Indian summer day the morning weigh-ins are as good as any perfect day in July or August, but for pure atmosphere, the evening weigh-ins are best.
One evening a few years ago the brick sidewalks in Edgartown glistened in the night lights. This was what the summer people had yearned for just a few weeks ago, quaintness, stillness, and a nice glow on the moist bricks heaved up around town. But the tourists were gone now and the Islanders were beginning to reclaim the Island for themselves.
Down at derby headquarters on the harbor there was not much going on so late in the evening. Outside a young man was struggling at a filleting table with a big striped bass. The knife was brutally thin and sharp, but he was wasting lots of fish. One of the experienced fishermen came up, took the knife, slapped another big fish on the table and deftly dug his fingernails in to the tail to hold the fish in place while he skimmed the knife flat along the length of its body and sliced the fish off its intricate spine into two equal filets.
There was another filleting station for fish that people didn’t take with them. Two men were bagging these filets, a mix of blues and stripers, to go to the senior centers around the Island for free pick-ups the next morning.
A small crowd had gathered around one boat. On the deck was an enormous white cooler filled with ice and laid out on the ice was the sleek gray corpse of a very long fish, so long it draped over both ends of the cooler and nearly touched the opposite sides of their boat. Someone said it was a wahoo, an unusual fish for Vineyard waters. Everyone reckoned it was a state record for the species. The fishermen said they were going to take it to a state weigh station to get it recorded.
It was like the end of a cocktail party with couples wandering out of the Yacht Club. Everyone was winding down for the night, and the men on the boat seemed shy and overwhelmed by so much attention. They were ready to put their fish away for the night.
Back inside the gray-shingled shack, the man operating the electronic scale was taking it easy. He was wearing yellow rubber pants and boots. It was so warm he had his shirtsleeves rolled up and his bare arms were covered in tattoos. On the counter in front of him was a nice little bright-eyed striper, about 24 inches long, just resting there with its silver scales glittering in the lights. It was small by derby standards. The man propped one boot up on the counter next to the fish and joked with the wives who had been selling T-shirts and entering fish weights and badge numbers into the derby database. On the walls around the room the season’s leaders to date were posted in a myriad of categories and updated by hand. It was a better system than any computer printout could have provided. It looked like a patchwork quilt pattern.
A small boy came up to the counter. His baseball cap was covered with derby badges from past years. He asked whose fish that was on the counter. The tattooed man considered the boy for a few seconds and broke into a long slow smile.
“You want it?” he said.
The boy nodded silently.
“Take it,” the man said.
The boy reached up and slipped his hand behind the gills, and his entire hand fit into the pink cavity there. And he lifted the fish off the slippery wet counter and disappeared into the night.