“People get crazy.They don’t go to work. They don’t answer the phone. Derby fever is in the air.”

‘Tis derby season. In just two days the Vineyard community will undergo a large transformation as the 67th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the Island’s annual Olympics for fisherman, begins.

Close to 3,000 fishermen will compete in the month-long contest, vying for the biggest striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. Fishing begins at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday morning. Anglers will fish for daily, weekly and grand overall prizes. They’ll be fishing for over $300,000 in prizes, including a large 22-foot Eastern boat with an outboard and trailer, and a Chevy four-wheel-drive pickup truck. There are prizes for children, prizes for seniors, prizes for women and even a daily prize for those who didn’t catch a big fish but at least weighed one in.

David Nash's signage at dock
David Nash lends a hand as derby headquarter preparations get underway. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Fishermen will cast bait, lures and flies out onto the water. They will fish from the shore. They will fish from about every kind of boat. They will use rods of every length. But in the end, it will be all about the fish and some help from Lady Luck.

The derby was designed to take advantage of the great fall migration, when large schools of fish move southward along the coast. Just as birds migrate, so do fish from September into October.

Fish will be stalked from Memorial Wharf in Edgartown to some secret place near Squibnocket.

“People get crazy. They don’t go to work. They don’t answer the phone. Derby fever is in the air,” said Steve Morris, 49, owner of Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Morris is a three-time winner of the derby. Last year when he won the contest, he took home a bright orange 22-foot Eastern boat with an outboard. And he has been using it all summer.

Mr. Morris caught the largest bluefish from the shore. The fish weighed 14.86 pounds and was caught with an eel. The derby has an interesting way of awarding the grand prize boat and truck. The boat winner is the angler who catches his winning fish from the shore. The truck winner is an angler who catches the largest fish from a boat.

Mr. Morris said winning the derby last year hasn’t changed his life at all. But he said he knows he’ll be followed by a lot by anglers when he decides to start fishing.

“I am going to wait a little while before I start,” he said.

Green lures
Pick your lure wisely — and ask assistance from Lady Luck. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Location, location, location becomes secret, secret, secret during the derby.

“All summer long fishermen will talk to each other about where they caught their big fish,” said Doug Asselin, who works with Mr. Morris at Dick’s Bait and Tackle. “As soon as the derby starts, they don’t talk at all. All of a sudden it gets real quiet.”

While much has changed in the world, the derby remains a constant in the lives of anglers and the Island community. The month-long contest runs until 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, and is for young and old. The entry fee is $45 whether one enters the all-tackle contest using a conventional rod and reel or the flyrod division. Senior and junior fishermen pay $20.

Super Saturday contests are an additional $10. For each of the next four Saturdays the derby will have a featured fish (next Saturday is bluefish), and whoever catches the largest of that type fish from boat or shore could win $500. The derby is actually many fishing contests wrapped into one. On Sunday, Sept. 16, there will be a morning fishing contest just for youngsters under 15 years of age, held at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority Wharf. That contest runs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and is free to all participants.

Registration for the derby can be done at every Island tackle shop and at the derby weigh-in headquarters at the foot of Main street, Edgartown. For additional registration locations, visit mvderby.com. The weigh-in hours are from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day throughout the contest.

The weighmasters are again this year Roy Langley in the morning and Charlie Smith in the evening. Amy Coffey provides oversight at the weigh-in station, a converted fish shack that for most of the year rests dormant as a junior yacht club storage area for the Edgartown Yacht Club.

Within the derby there will once again be a special tribute fishing event for more than 12 veterans. The Beach Plum Inn American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, now in its fourth year, is a fishing event for veterans who have been injured in the service of the country. From Sunday, Sept. 23, to Friday, Sept. 28, these veterans will be treated to free transportation, fishing instruction and celebrations, thanks to the sponsorship of the Beach Plum Inn and friends. They will be given free membership in the derby and have their own contest within the derby, too.

Chuck Hodgkinson, chairman of the derby, said there weren’t any rule changes this year, but that the contest has reached an important milestone.

“This past June we awarded $30,000 in college scholarships,” he said. This amount put the total given to Vineyard students over the years at $400,000.

Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said his wife Maryanne has been sitting at the computer for two weeks entering the early registrations. “This year we have a box in the registration which you can check and commit $10 for the scholarship fund,” Mr. Jerome said. “And we are getting quite a few people doing that.”

David Nash setting up at the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby
David Nash lends a hand as derby headquarter preparations get underway. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Mr. Jerome said he is optimistic about the fishing prospects during the derby. “The bait is around and as the temperature starts to drop, the bait will thicken up.”

Those on the water are seeing a little more bonito than last year, but they are also reporting that striped bass have become increasingly harder to find. False albacore are here in tight schools. Bluefish have been around all summer.

Mr. Asselin said there has been plenty of discussion in the local shops about what lures work best with bonito. The three top lures suggested are Deadly Dick, Maria and Swedish pimple.

The day-to-day results and other news about the contest will be available online at mvderby.com