The start of the 59th annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby may be only two days away, but the planning and preparation go back a year. This Sunday at 12:01 a.m. the first wave of avid anglers will head for their boats and the shore in pursuit of fish. It is the start of the annual pilgrimage to the water. No matter what their vocation, as many as 3,000 fishermen will share a common avocation, competing for daily, weekly and grand overall prizes for the biggest striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito.

Sunday begins the five-week season when visiting and local fishermen brag about the big fish caught and moan about the winning ones that got away.

Derby headquarters opens for the first weigh-ins at 8 a.m. Sunday. A line of fishermen is expected at the door, located at the foot of Main street in Edgartown, next door to the Edgartown Yacht Club. There are prizes for the first fish weighed in and a mystery prize to one of the anglers who shows up to weigh in a fish of any size, as long as it meets the derby minimum.

John Custer, 34, chairman of the derby, said it has been a busy year preparing for Sunday's start, a year of countless meetings and hours of volunteer effort. The $300,000 in prizes is the richest in more than a half-century of fishing, and a lot of attention has gone into making this year the best.

While the goal is giving the fishermen a great contest, the second crucial ingredient is raising funds for the organization's scholarship program. This year's derby goal is to give $20,000 to two seniors next spring, up $4,000 from this year. "Instead of offering $8,000 scholarships to two graduating seniors at the high school, this time we are going to give each senior $10,000," Mr. Custer said. To do that will require some fine-tuning of the contest. Fees collected from registrants, the donation of prizes from the community and a lot of volunteer help make it happen.

Mr. Custer said that work on the elements of this year's contest began last fall, just as the previous derby came to a close. The organization comprises more than 30 committee members meeting monthly at the Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown. "We meet on the last Thursday of every month. The meetings can take from an hour and a half to two hours," Mr. Custer said.

There are four subcommittees within the organization, now called clusters. There is a cluster that puts together the souvenir book and registrations, a technology cluster that deals with the Internet and the software issues that keep track of the competition. There is a cluster that focuses on developing relationships with the sponsors. Last of all, there is a weigh station group that is involved with staffing.

All four groups report at the monthly meetings. On the broader scale, the whole committee meets to discuss rules and conservation issues. Mr. Custer, serving in his second year as chairman, is a fifth and six grade social studies teacher at the Tisbury School.

A big change in the derby this year concerns the awarding of the grand prize. In past years the eight top fishermen in the contest, those who have caught the largest of the four species from a beach or from the shore, were eligible to walk away with a new Boston Whaler, Mercury outboard and trailer. Last year, for the first time, the derby added a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. That meant that a shore fisherman with the biggest of one of the four species had a chance to win a $30,000 pickup truck and the boat fisherman with the largest of one of the four species had a chance to win a $30,000 boat.

"During the derby last year, I got e-mails from participants suggesting that we go a different direction. I brought it up at the December meeting and we literally talked about it for three months. At the March meeting we made the change," Mr. Custer said.

This year, the shore fisherman with one of the winning four species will walk away with a boat. And the boat fisherman will get a truck. Mr. Custer said that the idea stems from feedback given in past years by fishermen. Boat fishermen often have boats they want to keep, but might need a truck. And shore fishermen can benefit by winning a boat, not the other way around.

The derby committee as a whole reviews all the rules and regulations. In the past the derby committee has moved to change fishing boundaries when it became apparent that there were issues associated with where fishermen were catching their fish. The derby rules and regulations are subject to change from year to year, but as Mr. Custer points out, every year there is an effort to make the contest better, and that requires some tweaking.

One idea that arose but was put aside concerned how the derby would treat the false albacore, a fish that nobody eats, but is all about sport. "We've discussed it several times," Mr. Custer said. The fact that it is inedible and isn't always around during derby season raises the question of whether it is time to remove the fish from the contest or set up some kind of limit.

Mr. Custer said the committee relied heavily on advice from Greg Skomal, a state senior fisheries biologist and member of the committee. "Greg has been instrumental in providing us with the raw data, so that we aren't just relying on anecdotal information." In the end, the derby committee decided to leave all its rules regarding the false albacore unchanged.

The derby minimum size for striped bass is 32 inches, four inches larger than the state minimum of 28 inches. Bluefish entries have a minimum size of 22 inches and bonito have a 21-inch minimum, even though there is no state minimum size for either species.

Decisions were made this past winter to promote the derby in regional publications and on television. "Joe Uranker [committee member] said it right, we've been preaching to the choir too long. We need to step out and promote the derby in other places. Already, it is working. I have received dozens of contacts from the tri-state areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I am hearing from people who have never fished the derby but saw the advertising," Mr. Custer said.

This year's derby will attract close to 3,000 anglers. As in past years the fishermen will come from around the globe. "We have a regular group of fishermen from Europe," Mr. Custer said. And there are anglers from Japan.

The derby couldn't be as popular as it is without the location in downtown Edgartown. Mr. Custer said that the Edgartown Yacht Club owns the shack where the derby headquarters is housed. While the club lets the derby use it without fee, Mr. Custer said: "Some time ago we upgraded the electrical in the building."

There has been talk over the years about there being a permanent location for the derby. "I was in high school when they were talking about securing their own space. If it is feasible we'll do it," Mr. Custer said. But always, the emphasis is on the scholarship fund.

Mr. Custer said the derby committee puts in a lot of hours to make the derby happen. There is nothing passive or ceremonial about being a member of the committee. "I started on the derby in 1999. My first task was to organize our storage shed in Edgartown, a 10-by-10-foot space where Old Colony is located. "It was a total mess," he said. "These derby committee members are very committed to what they do. They range from plumbers and contractors to principals and retirees. They are not all fishermen. They are people who care about what the derby means to the Vineyard," Mr. Custer said.

While the derby committee buys the grand prize, the boat and the truck, the price it pays is low. "The generosity of the sponsors is staggering, it is overwhelming to me," Mr. Custer said. "Some of these sponsors are Mom and Pop lure operations and some are Boston Whaler and Mercury. What they offer the derby is huge."

Derby buttons are available at nearly all of the Island tackle shops. Registration is $40 for the all tackle fishing division and $40 for the flyfishing division. Seniors and junior fishermen pay $15. The contest runs until Saturday, Oct. 16, at 10 p.m. Derby results and information about the contest are available at the web site,