Gone Fishing: Annual Derby Begins Sunday
By MAX HART
Want some plot lines from a typical Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby fish tale?
How about the salty old fisherman who landed the winning fish on a dark beach in Edgartown in the waning hours of the tournament?
Or the time the Grand Slam winner was decided by a mammoth false albacore that was unintentionally snagged off Lobsterville while trolling for bluefish?
Or maybe you prefer the one about the 50-pound striped bass caught by a 12-year-old girl in stormy seas off Squibnocket?
Whether real or imagined, these are just a few examples of what to expect during the next five weeks as the 61st annual fishing frenzy begins anew on Sunday. Vacation time will be expended. Plumbers, electricians, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers will be away from their desks and out on the water. School kids will be out sick. Striper-hungry spouses will leave wives and husbands alone at home for days on end.
And it will all come with a story - the preposterous, the arcane, the surreal and the downright ludicrous stories that make their way across the Island during the tournament, as we are again reminded of how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
"Not too much has changed on our side, and I think that is a good thing," derby committee chairman John Custer said yesterday. "We have a few new members of the committee and there are a few new details, but it's the same thing everyone has come to expect - 35 days of world-class fishing."
One needs only to survey a few years of the contest's 60-year history to be reminded of how wildly unpredictable this autumn tradition can be.
Two years ago, a local fisherman won the grand prize for a fish weighed in in the first minute of the first day of the derby. Robert W. Thomas won a new Boston Whaler with 12.48-pound false albacore he hooked off Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. Mr. Thomas weighed in his winning fish at 8:01 a.m.
Last year, Keith Ogren of Windham, N.H., and Leo Lecuyer of Blackstone were strangers before they met through a fishing Web site two months before the derby. They chatted, met up on the Vineyard, fished together a few times, and ended up taking home the top two prizes. Mr. Ogren won the new Chevrolet 4x4 truck with a 14.19-pound false albacore he caught from a boat, and Mr. Lecuyer won a new 19-foot Boston Whaler with a 45.18-pound shore striped bass caught on the third day of the derby.
And those were not even the top two stories from the tournament. Jared MacKenzie won the boat bonito category with a 10.38-pound fish that he landed on the one and only day he fished during the entire derby.
And of course there was Molly A. Fischer, the 12-year-old derby darling who landed a 49.22-pound striped bass in a downpour off Squibnocket. The image of young Miss Fischer hoisting the large fish off the ground made its way into national newspapers and sent a buzz rippling across the Island. While she did not win the keys to the truck, she was clearly the sentimental favorite as she stood next to the older men on stage at the awards ceremony.
"Nobody knows what you'll get, and I think that is the lure of the derby," Mr. Custer said. "Molly was a great story, and it proves you just need that one cast to catch that big fish."
New this year is a special prize event which will take place on each of the first four Saturdays during the tournament.
"We are calling it a derby within the derby," Mr. Custer said. "It is something we thought would add a new element to the weekends."
Each Saturday will feature a particular fish, and the heaviest of that species weighed in that day will earn a $500 cash prize. Prizes will be awarded in both boat and shore divisions. Fishermen will be eligible by signing up at the time of regular derby registration; the cost is $10 on top of the regular derby fee. The schedule for the special prize event is as follows: Sept. 16, bluefish; Sept. 23, false albacore; Sept. 30, striped bass; Oct. 7, bonito.
More than $350,000 in prizes await winners in an array of categories and divisions, including the two grand prizes: a 2006 Nissan Titan XE pickup truck and 19-foot Boston Whaler. There are daily and weekly prizes for adults and juniors to go with the dozens of awards presented in the ceremony at Outerland on Sunday, Oct. 15.
"The water temperature seems to be good, the albacore are now in, and the weather is improving, so what more could you ask for at the start?" Mr. Custer said. "Time for some names to be put up on that leader board."