At 12:01 a.m., the first minute of Sunday morning, the lines will zip off reels and lures will plop softly in the water. Boats will begin their first dark drift along tidal rips, and kayakers will make their first carefully balanced casts.

In that first minute, the contagion known as derby fever will spread at an astounding pace, and as derby competitors know, there is no cure.

This year’s contest marks the 71st Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, held every year since 1946. That is a phenomenon so remarkable that it still leaves veteran derby participants in awe.

“It’s trite and over simplistic to say it’s the people, but it really is,” said derby chairman John Custer this week. “We talk about friendships and camaraderie, a grand reunion. Those are nice terms, but they’re real. People plan their year around it. We already have people asking about the dates for the 2017 derby, so they can plan their vacations.”

More than 3,000 people are expected to buy derby pins and compete to weigh fish this year. If last year is any indication, about half of those will be local residents, and the rest will come from off-Island.

The Rubin brothers from Essex are all in at Memorial Wharf. — Timothy Johnson

Over the winter, the derby committee sent out a survey and collected about 500 responses. The committee wanted to find out if fishermen wanted to change the tournament.

“If there was one overriding sentiment, most people who responded said it’s great and don’t change a thing,” Mr. Custer said. “We feel good about that.”

There was some feedback in the survey reflecting concern about the diminishing number of striped bass. Only 259 stripers were weighed in over the five-week tournament.

The committee consulted Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries biologist Greg Skomal, among other scientists, and the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association. After lots of discussion, including consideration of limiting the number of stripers weighed, or increasing the size limit, the committee decided to leave things as they are.

“It’s hard to really let one piece of data inform our decision,” Mr. Custer said. “In the end, we didn’t make any changes. There was no compelling evidence or information. We obviously feel very strongly about striped bass and want to make sure it’s a healthy stock and a healthy species.”

Derby prizes are quite different from the first contest in 1946, when a 47-pound striper earned a visiting New Yorker $1,000 and a week’s stay at the Harborside Inn. The second place prize was a building lot in Gay Head.

In recent years, contestants dream of catching the fish that will get them a chance to win either a fully tricked-out Chevrolet pickup, or an equally tricked-out 22-foot Eastern Boats fishing boat.

Hundreds of other prizes will go to daily, weekly and overall winners who land the biggest striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito.

Every year the derby committee evaluates proposed rules changes. There are a few tweaks this year.

Derby fever, lucky numbers, it's all part of the Island's own fall classic. — Mark Lovewell

In order to widen the pool of winners, mystery prizes will be drawn from all registered participants this year, not just those who weighed in fish.

The team competition will revert to its original format, with four fish, one of each species eligible to count toward the team total.

As always, the committee reminds competitors fishing from boats of the boundary rules. You have to stay with in the boundaries, roughly the waters surrounding Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, part of Buzzards Bay, and the south shore of Cape Cod, for the entire time you are fishing. If you catch a big fish from a boat 10 feet off the beach in Falmouth, but duck into a harbor to refuel, that fish will be ineligible.

Stephen Amaral of Oak Bluffs holds a distinction that may never be matched. He fished the original contest in 1946, and when he gets his line wet next week, he will have fished in 70 derbies.

The only one he missed was in 1956, and he had a pretty good excuse. He was serving in the U.S. Army in Korea.

He won’t be hiking to Scrubby Neck or Hancock Beach this year however. He’s still a bit limited because of a surgery earlier this year.

“I signed up,” Mr. Amaral said. “I know I can get out. I can’t go crawling over the rocks like I used to and make these long walks all over creation.”

Mr. Amaral has hundreds of stories about the derby.

There was the time he made a deal with a buddy to help carry five fat stripers back up the Gay Head Cliffs. His friend agreed only after Mr. Amaral agreed to give him the plug that landed the big fish.

He has weighed in quite a few stripers in the 40 to 50-pound range over the years. But the fish story that comes to his mind is the year he left the derby awards ceremony and went back out fishing. With the tournament over, he landed a 53-pound striped bass. The day after that, he landed a 57-pound striper. The picture is still on his wall. By the end of November, he had landed five fish of 50 pounds or more.

Casting for the big one. — Maria Thibodeau

“I’ve learned over the years you’ve got to love doing it,” Mr. Amaral said. “You’ve got to take what it gives you. There were many nights we didn’t catch any fish, and you say, what am I doing out here, am I nuts? But you get a good night’s sleep and your head comes back together and you keep going at it.”

In his message to participants this year, Mr. Custer paid tribute to Luke Gurney, an avid sport fisherman, when he wasn’t working on the water as a commercial fisherman. Mr. Gurney died in a fishing accident earlier this summer.

“Our appreciation of the water and its resources is strong,” Mr. Custer wrote. “Luke Gurney demonstrated that more than most. Sadly, our community lost Luke this past June. But we take some comfort in knowing he was doing what he loved, fishing. His enthusiasm for fishing of any kind was obvious, as his lively stories illustrated. For him, all days spent on the water were good ones, and, as his boat’s name clearly reminded us, he had No Regrets. Luke loved the water, fishing with friends, and sharing fish tales. On many occasions, I heard him say, ‘Catch ‘em up, Dude!’ During this year’s derby, thinking of him, I offer you the same encouragement.”

The derby supports college-bound graduating seniors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School with substantial scholarships. Last year the organization was able to award two $10,000 scholarships and two $5,000 scholarships. Since the scholarship program began in 1985, the derby has awarded more than $500,000 to deserving students.

The fishing wraps up Saturday, Oct. 15, at 10 p.m., when the doors to the derby headquarters weigh station in Edgartown close for the last time in the 2016 derby.

The high drama of the awards ceremony at the Farm Neck Golf Club begins on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m.