As the 78th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby draws to a close with the final bell ringing on Saturday evening, fishermen feel that the bonito and false albacore categories are wrapped up, with huge fish in both categories already recorded.

For many, the focus has turned to bluefish, which are still arriving on shore in heftier sizes.

“There’s a lot of people out here where I am right now, trying to beat that fish,” said derby chairman Phil Horton, speaking to the Gazette during a fishing trip on East Beach. The fish Mr. Horton referred to, a 14.56 shore-caught bluefish from Robert Bottary, was unbeaten at the time of print.

But hope remains with the awards presentation taking place Sunday at Farm Neck Golf Club, beginning at 11 a.m. The highlight of the event is the traditional ‘key ceremony’ to decide who wins the grand prize boat.

Current leaders as of Thursday morning in all six categories are: Elizabeth O’Brien (16.41 boat bluefish); Robert Bottary (14.56 shore bluefish); David Kadison (10.6 boat bonito); Rick Zappala (10.02 shore bonito); Bill Potter (19.21 boat false albacore); Joseph T. Cefalo (14.67 shore false albacore).

The derby began on Sept. 10, with nearly 3,000 registrants casting their lines this year. Overall fish numbers were down but bluefish accounted for the drop, with just 605 bluefish weighed in as of Tuesday, compared to 1,272 last year. False albacore and bonito numbers were slightly higher than last year.

The bluefish decline, Mr. Horton said, is something of a return to form after several strong years.

The leaderboard story is always shifting.

“We’ve had a fairly significant long-term decline in bluefish weigh-ins,” he said, a trend which has prevailed over the last two decades, though bluefish weigh-ins have been higher since 2020.

Doug Asselin of Dick’s Bait and Tackle affirmed that hope remained alive in the waning days, with fishermen still looking to earn a spot on the bluefish leaderboard.

“As close as we are to the end, there is definitely a bigger bluefish out there,” he said, a prediction borne out when Elizabeth O’Brien shot to the top of the leaderboard with a 16.41-pound boat bluefish on Wednesday night.

Mr. Asselin attributed the unpredictable weather during this year’s derby as part of the reason for the lower numbers.

“We’ve seen a lot of weather, that’s for sure,” he said.

Cold, wet days at the beginning of the contest made it unpleasant for shore fishermen (and sometimes impossible for boaters). Then the pendulum swung too far in the other direction with excessively calm waters making it difficult for shore fishermen to find a bite.

“Consistent fishing was tough to find,” Mr. Asselin said. “But the guys that braved it, they caught fish.”

Jackson Fernsen at Coop’s Bait and Tackle noted that the calm waters created good conditions for fly fishermen. He agreed that some last-minute submissions were likely to shake up the leaderboard, and that he hadn’t given up hope either.

Mike Carotta brings in a false albacore. — Ray Ewing

“I’m still looking for a bluefish,” he said.

A trip to the derby weigh-in station Tuesday evening revealed an enthusiastic crowd of derby-competitors, with the junior and mini-junior categories well-represented in line.

“It’s the battle of the sisters,” exclaimed Jeff Pollard, who stood in line with his daughters Grace and Amelia, each of whom waited to weigh in boat-caught bluefish. Grace ended up winning the battle that evening, with a 12.43-pound catch.

Further down the line, Christian Fisher and Nathan Browder also awaited their turn to weigh in their catch. As Mr. Browder held his bluefish tight against his brown sweatshirt, leaving a sheen of fishy slime behind, Mr. Fisher said that the secret to his Lobsterville catch was a “deep diver lure.”

Mr. Horton was on hand Tuesday night, weighing in fish and commenting on the strong season for false albacore and bonito (colloquially known as “bones”).

“We call them the unicorn from the beach,” said Mr. Horton of the bonito, a notoriously difficult fish to catch. “They’re random. They don’t show up consistently in one place or another.”

“There were more bones than I can remember in a long time,” said Mr. Asselin, who noted the large size of the top bonito in each category.

Bill Potter’s boat-caught shore albacore remains the talk of the derby, which at 19.21 pounds came in just below the state record of 19.39 pounds set by Island angler Donald MacGillivray during the 1990 derby.

But as the last weigh in on Saturday evening looms, Mr. Asselin said he felt most of the top prizes are far from certain.

“This is one of those ‘till the fat lady sings’ things,” he said. “The water’s still warm, and there’s still lots of bait . . . . You really never know with the derby until the end.”

Visit for up-to-date statistics.