The 65th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby opens Sunday morning at a minute past midnight. The fishermen are waiting.
George Moran of Oak Bluffs will be out there. At 64, he is almost as old as the derby. “For me it is wonderful being outdoors, being on the beaches, out at night with the stars and moon,” Mr. Moran said.
More than 2,000 fishermen, perhaps 3,000, will enter the month-long contest that begins on a Sunday in the earliest hours of morning and ends on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. More than a quarter million dollars in prizes will be parceled out during the contest. Some prizes are awarded daily, others are weekly and then there is the grand overall winner. The prizes are not just for big fish. Anyone can catch a mystery prize, a satchel full of fishing gear, just for weighing in a fish.
Much of the drama of the fishing contest can be found at the foot of Main street in Edgartown, at the old gray-shingled weigh-in headquarters, from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 8 to 10 p.m. daily. Anglers will show up with their catch, wearing all kinds of clothes, from wet waders smelling of fish to dress suits. They’ll be carrying striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore. Then there will be the kids; hundreds of the Island’s youngest fishermen participate.
Three of the four species in the contest are edible (false albacore is not). So while the fishing technique will be the top topic among the anglers during the month, there will also be recipes floating around amongst those who have another reason for liking the derby. Just don’t expect to get a clear answer if you ask where the angler caught his dinner. There are a lot of secrets when it comes to where to fish.
The contest has few changes from last year. The color of the winning 24-foot Eastern center console boat, a grand prize, is lime green. Last year’s was off-white. That boat will be claimed by one of the top shore anglers who caught the biggest of the four species. The 2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck will be won by one of the top boat anglers who caught the biggest of the four. The award is made by a drawing among the four who have hauled the biggest of each species, a day after the end of the contest.
The only big difference in the contest is outside of the derby: every fisherman must comply by being in the National Saltwater Angler Registry. The registry is free this year. It is part of a federal initiative to encourage states to have a saltwater fishing license, to improve better data collection on recreational landings. Massachusetts will institute its own saltwater fishing license, to be in compliance, next year.
Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said this week effort will be made to encourage all participating anglers to get that piece of paperwork done. A poster will be placed inside the headquarters. “It is pretty easy registering. Pick up a phone, dial (888) MRIP-411 and in two minutes you are registered,” Mr. Jerome said. “It is not rocket science.”
A derby rule requires all anglers to comply with state and federal laws, and this is one of them. They put themselves at risk of not winning a well-deserved prize if they don’t register.
Mr. Moran has been a consistent winner in the derby. While he has been fishing the derby for 25 years, he has not tired of the sport or the fellowship. “I’ve never held the key, but I have been a division leader,” Mr. Moran said. On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Moran was busy changing hooks on old plugs, setting up his eel bucket and getting boxes of flies together. He bought his derby button a week ago at Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop. While many anglers insist on having the same derby button number from year to year, Mr. Moran said: “I just put my hand in the envelope and take one,” he said.
William A. Pate of West Tisbury already has registered for the derby. “I got my button three days ago,” he said. Last year he won a 2009 Chevrolet truck in the grand prize drawing. He won it for catching a 12.66 pound false albacore from a boat. “I’ve been fishing the derby as long as I can remember,” said Mr. Pate, who works at Cutler Bikes in Edgartown.
Of the truck, he said, “I use it every day.” He’s clocked about 5,000 miles on it.
In 2006, Mr. Pate won a boat in the derby for a 13.87 pound bluefish caught from the shore.
Molly Fischer of Aquinnah will be fishing the derby despite her workload as a senior at the regional high school. In 2005, Miss Fischer, then 12, caught a 49.22 pound striped bass from a boat, the biggest bass caught on the water. “She said, ‘Dad, I really want to fish the derby this year,’” her father, Albert O. Fischer 3rd said this week.
There is no age limit to the derby. If an angler can hold a rod and wants to spend the time, there is room for them at the derby. There will be past winners and anglers who have never won a prize, all fishing side by side.
That is part of the connection so many anglers feel with the contest. Mr. Moran said he likes the camaraderie. The fishing is great, but the friendships that arise is a bigger part.
Mr. Moran said he already has had a good season of fishing for stripers. “Fishing was very good up to the middle of July. Then it slowed down significantly with the hot spell. I think it was the warm weather,” Mr. Moran said.
Earlier in the year, Mr. Moran said, he had a great experience fishing that he hopes will be duplicated this fall. “One night I went out and hooked and released 25 bass. They were in the 12 to 20-pound range,” he said.
Mr. Jerome will make no forecasts about the fishing in this year’s derby overall, but he said he thought the start would be slow. “It has been blowing for three days,” he said. The water is murky. The wind has been blowing. “I do anticipate bigger bluefish caught than in the last several derbies, based on the reports I’ve heard,” Mr. Jerome said. This is Mr. Jerome’s 30th year as a leader within the derby; he has been a derby president since 1986.
As for striped bass? “I don’t have a clue. I think the bass will be smaller in size,” he said. “There will be bass around, but I don’t think they will be really large as in past years.”
The key ingredient to good fishing is already here: bait. There is plenty of it in the harbors and around.
“I am thinking there will soon be a lot of bonito and false albacore. Once they thicken up there will be an explosion of good fishing,” Mr. Jerome said.
The first morning could be slow, Mr. Jerome said. But no matter; at 8 a.m. Sunday, when the weigh-in opens for the first time, there will be a line of anglers ready to weigh in their fish.
Mr. Moran hopes to be one of them, as do a whole lot of anglers ready for the autumn fishermen’s season.
Derby registration can be done at most Island tackle shops and a few stores. The price is $45, same as last year. It is $45 for those who register in the flyrod division. It is $90 for those who register in both. Seniors and juniors are $20.
It is a pretty good deal, considering that there are saltwater fishing contests around the country that charge more for just a weekend of fishing.
The derby organization has its own Web site, mvderby.com. They’ll also have a presence on Facebook and on Twitter.