Button-encrusted derby hats, hooded sweatshirts and waterproof rubber boots filled the tent at Farm Neck Golf Club Sunday as Island recreational fishermen gathered to celebrate the end of the 78th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

Over the course of the five week-long competition, 2,999 contestants submitted more than 17,000 pounds of bluefish, bonito and false albacore to derby headquarters. This year, longtime derby fisherman David Kadison took home the top prize, a donated 22-foot Sisu Hardtop from Eastern Boat Works, for his 10.6-pound boat bonito.

Grand leaders await their keys. — Ray Ewing

“I feel very lucky that I caught the fish that day,” said Mr. Kadison, who was previously awarded a truck for winning the derby back in 2018. “I love the derby. My whole year is organized to schedule a month of fishing…I’m so lucky, thank you so much.”

Each year’s derby winner is selected at random from the group of six grand leaders. Joining Mr. Kadison on stage were Elizabeth O’Brien (16.41 boat bluefish), Justus Conant (16.15 shore bluefish), Rick Zappala (10.02 shore bonito), Bill Potter (19.21 boat false albacore) and Joseph Cefalo (14.67 shore false albacore).

The grand leaders drew lots for their order in line, then selected a random key out of a bucket. Each key is inserted into a lock by derby president John Custer. The fisherman with the key that opens the lock wins the boat.

Anxious groans emerged from the crowd each time a key failed the test until Mr. Kadison’s key – the fourth in line – worked, soliciting cheers, whistles and applause.

From left to right: Chris Scott, John Custer, Bill Potter, David Kadison and Greg Hopkins. — Ray Ewing

The much-awaited key ceremony was the climax of the annual derby awards, led by Mr. Custer, which gave prizes to dozens of derby fishermen in all categories. “We work hard for 11 months to put on this event and it’s really, really gratifying,”  Mr. Custer said of the derby committee. “We’re here today because the derby means something to each and every one of us.”

Festivities began that morning with the junior and mini junior categories, awards that Mr. Custer said are as much a credit to the parents as they are to the kids.

“We’ve all heard of soccer moms and hockey dads. Some of you are that as well, but derby parents have their own special place in our hearts,” he said.

The adults came next and, according to derby chairman Phil Horton, it was another superlative year.

“The derby was a success, from a numbers perspective,” Mr. Horton said, noting that it was one of the strongest years he could remember for triple crown competitors (those who weigh in all three species). “We came very close to running out of triple crown pins,” he said.

In addition to the slew of 2023 winners announced during the ceremony, two Island fishing legends were enshrined in the honored derby hall of fame.

Paul Schultz, right, shakes John Custer's hand after getting inducted into the derby hall of fame. — Ray Ewing

Paul Schultz, a longtime ranger with the Trustees of Reservations, former derby committee member and a fishing mentor to dozens of competitors, was first to be honored.

“He is a true ambassador for the derby committee,” Mr. Custer said, adding that at least eight people had written in letters asking that Mr. Schultz be inducted.

Joe El-Deiry, former derby chairman and longtime competitor, was also inducted, honoring his years of service on the committee.

“He always has, and continues to, live the derby,” Mr. Custer said, recounting how Mr. El-Deiry piloted the organization through the sudden death of longtime derby organizer Ed Jerome and through the uncertain Covid years.

John Custer gives Joe El-Deiry, another hall of fame inductee, a hug. — Ray Ewing

In a tearful speech, Mr. El-Deiry recalled how, since he first competed in the 1990s, he has always hoped to be in the hall of fame, planning to win so many derbies that he would be known as “the fishin’ Egyptian.”

“That didn’t happen,” he joked.

Yet some of the best parts of the derby had nothing to do with the fishing, Mr. El-Deiry said, quoting from a letter his son wrote to the committee nominating his father.

“Fishing isn’t solely about the catch,” he read. “It’s about fostering connections…nurturing a sense of community.”

A full list of winners can be found at mvderby.com.