Outside the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs, a plaque rested on the counter of a makeshift weigh station. In the center of the plaque was the name Luke Gurney along with his prize-winning fish weight and the year 2007. Ten spaces ahead, the 2017 tile was blank.

Over 400 people signed up to fill this year’s space.

The VFW has held an annual fluke fishing derby on this July weekend for many years, but this year a group of Mr. Gurney’s friends organized a new tournament to serve as a memorial and fundraiser called Fluke for Luke. The funds would go to the family of Mr. Gurney, a commercial conch fisherman who died in a fishing accident in June of last year.

At the Saturday afternoon weigh-in at the P.A. Club, fishermen were busy carrying coolers of fish to the scale. Mark Smith explained that the derby was experiencing an outpouring of donations, volunteers and a surprising amount of participants.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he said.

Luke's son Sam Gurney took part in the event which will provide college scholarship money for Sam and his brother Jacob. — M

Mr. Smith credited the organizing team with the event’s smooth operation. Looking around the shack, he pointed at each member. “There’s Luke’s best friend, there’s Luke’s best friend, there’s Luke’s best friend.” The friends started planning in December and met monthly and then weekly as the date approached.

Mr. Smith gestured to Amy Coffey, a veteran derby organizer who was updating the event’s website. Ms. Coffey likened the experience to Stone Soup, a folktale in which a community is fed by the small contributions of many. Merchandise printed with the words Fluke for Luke had sold out. Linda Jean’s Restaurant donated boxes of food for the closing reception barbeque.

“When we found out how many people were coming, Linda Jean’s called us the next day and said, ‘we heard you might need more food so we’re sending more,’” Ms. Coffey said.

The Island’s generosity humbled the team. “It’s a real reflection of Luke,” Ms. Coffey added.

The derby is a fundraiser for the future college education of Luke’s two sons, Jacob and Samuel, and later will support the scholarship fund that his wife Robyn Gurney established at the regional high school. This year, three $1,000 scholarships were given to students who work on the Island waterfront. Mr. Smith said the event would be held “every year or at least until the boys are through school.” Participation level was through the roof with fishermen even traveling from New Bedford, where Mr. Gurney went to high school.

Kid winners show their prizes. — Mark Lovewell

“Now we know what to expect,” Mr. Smith said. “Just wait til next year.”

On Saturday, at 5:30 p.m., a 6.28-pound fluke was placed on the scale, the then-heaviest catch in its category. A small group of fishermen in caps and sunglasses clapped and took sips of beer. The fisherman who’d pulled in the catch didn’t want to give his name and neither did one of the volunteer organizers. No one was there for recognition. “The name I want to see most is Luke’s,” the volunteer said.

The next night, a crowd of over 300 people attended the closing ceremony and reception at the P.A. Club. Volunteers grilled hamburgers and hotdogs. More volunteers shucked oysters. In the sea of people, the words No Regrets, the title of Mr. Gurney’s boat, floated around on hats and shirts.

Joe El Deiry, Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby weighmaster and chairman-elect, stepped onto the porch to welcome everyone and announce the winners. Bennett MacDougal won the adult fluke category with a fish weighing 7.98 pounds. Bev Bergeron won the sea bass category with her 4.91-pounder. Dylan Cafferty won the 12-and-under category with a 4.69-pound fluke and Lily Moran won with a 3.42-pound sea bass. Team Payback was composed of Donnie Benefit, Jim Cornwell and Peter Jackson. The group earned first place with a total catch of 29.02 pounds.

“To see everyone out there on the water yesterday with their hats on, Luke would have loved it,” Robyn Gurney said. The West Tisbury school teacher and administrator was surrounded by friends all evening. “I’m sure he was watching everyone, going ‘That’s it.’”

Greg Skomal speaks to the large crowd at the P.A. Club in Oak Bluffs. — Mark Lovewell

Mrs. Gurney said her husband made a living as a carpenter in the winter, but during the summer he loved to fish every day. “He lived his dream for sure,” she said.

Phoenix Rogers donated handmade wampum jewelry to the event’s silent auction. The purple and white pendants were carved in the shape of a fluke, with the characteristic two eyes on one side.

“I had made conch jewelry for the family before,” Mrs. Rogers said. “Over 20 pieces. It was only natural to make fluke for tonight. I don’t know Robyn all that well but the family is so deserving.”

The silent auction featured 68 items and was organized by Beka El Deiry. Fishing reels, weekends at Island inns, a seven-cubic-foot camouflage defrost chest freezer were available for bidding, with items going for much higher than their retail value.

The silent auction raised approximately $18,000.

“People were flagging me down on the street,” Mrs. El Deiry said.

While she talked about the many donations that came in until Sunday morning, Nils Leaf of Martha’s Vineyard Smokehouse tapped her on the shoulder. Mr. Leaf apologized for interrupting but said he wanted to make sure he was on the list to donate next year.

Many attendees called the community’s support characteristic of the Vineyard, saying when an Islander is in need, they don’t often stay that way for long. Mr. Leaf also competed in the derby but as for how it went on the water, he said, “It does not matter.”

For more information, visit the Fluke for Luke Facebook page.