Gone Fishin’: Once upon a time on Martha’s Vineyard, when rooms cost $3

A copy of a 1948 Derby souvenir booklet provides a glimpse of the early years when the grand prize was a “New Moon” trailer coach.

The Derby weigh station, quiet on Tuesday night, will be a scene of excitement when Saturday night when the five week contest comes to a close. Photo by Sam Moore.

Imagine an Island famous for great fishing, where the residents heartily welcome visitors and place signs on roadways to direct fishermen to the best spots to fish for big striped bass, and almost no shore spot is off-limits. Imaginary place? No, that was Martha’s Vineyard 67 years ago.

I have a copy of the 1948 “Fishing and Vacation Guide to Martha’s Vineyard,” published by Salt Water Sportsman magazine and sold for the sum of 10 cents. The 20-page booklet was used to publicize the third annual Derby, run at that time by the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club.

This page from the 1948 Derby souvenir booklet includes an ad for the Mansion House, where rooms rented for $3 per night.
This page from the 1948 Derby souvenir booklet includes an ad for the Mansion House, where rooms rented for $3 per night.

Fishermen were urged to visit Martha’s Vineyard to enjoy great fishing and win valuable prizes in the Derby, held from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The booklet was filled with ads from familiar Island businesses. “You’ll sleep like a top and you’ll always win if you stay at the Mansion House,” was the headline for an ad for the Island’s only year-round hotel, which also boasted: “For your added convenience — doctor, dentist, tailor, and shopping center are on the premises.” Walter C. Woods was the manager, and a “European plan [was] from $3 single, up.”

The ArtCliff Diner was open to midnight every night, and the ArtCliff Restaurant was “open at 4 am during the Derby.”

Brickman’s on Main Street, now primarily a clothing store, sold Evinrude motors, Atom plugs, and Montague Rods.

Marketing copy touted the amenities and conveniences of a community where dirt roads outnumbered paved ones: “The Island drinking water is pure and sparkling. A modern hospital is available. Up-to-date electric and phone services are kept at high efficiency.”

This was the headline on page 5: “The World’s Greatest Striper Derby, $10,000 Worth of Prizes and BIG Striped Bass.”

The list of prizes included a 12.5-foot fiberglass “Beetle Boat,” 30 Capt. Bill’s plugs, nine Evinrude outboard motors, 15 Penn reels, six pairs of Converse rubber boots, one week’s vacation for two at Eastville Inn, six Warren Beryllium Copper Rods and “1 lot of land on the Vineyard.”

It would be interesting to know if a fisherman, as they still do, unhappy with his prize, asked if he could get the Evinrude motor instead of the lot of land.

“Enjoy the pursuit and capture of the big bull stripers of Martha’s Vineyard,” Derby organizers said in the promotional copy. “Ten to fifty pounders that strike with violence and fight with fury unrestrained. Plenty of bass, plenty of boats, plenty of furious fun!”

The Bradford Squid was a hot lure, or at least that is what the ad said.
The Bradford Squid was a hot lure, or at least that is what the ad said.

The Derby was limited to 2,500 participants and divided into three general classes of competitors: shore fishing, nonresident; shore fishing, resident; and boat fishing. The entry fee was $2.

There is a photo of Harry Clark and Clayton Hoyle surf-fishing at Gay Head. Another shows Massachusetts Gov. Robert Bradford and Saltwater Sportsman editor Hal Lyman surf-fishing from the beach.

Listed striper hot spots in 1948 would be familiar to today’s Derby fisherman. They included all the pond openings, Wasque Point, Gay Head, Big and Little Bridges and north shore points.

The grand prize was a “New Moon” 26-foot trailer coach made by Redmond Trailer Co. of Alma, Mich.: “Talk about luxury! This trailer coach will have dual wheels, awning track, Venetian blinds, water storage tank with pump, drop leaf table with two leather covered folding chairs …”

It would appear, based on the historical list in my Derby booklet, that Al Doyle of Edgartown, who caught a 42-pound, 14-ounce striped, drove away in that luxurious road coach. Henry B. Hartley of Boston won the bluefish category with — are you ready for this — a 4-pound, 6-ounce bluefish.

Much has changed in 67 years, including the size of the bluefish. With five days to go in the 70th Derby, and a basic entry fee of $55, the number of registrants stood at 3,216.

As the Derby enters the homestretch, there is no peace for the grand leaders who hold the eight top spots on the Derby board until weighmaster Roy Langley rings the school handbell that will signal the end of the five-week fishing marathon at 10 pm, Saturday, Oct. 17.

At the awards ceremony on Sunday held at The Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, the luck of the draw will determine the shore fisherman who will win a 2015 Eastern 22-foot boat motor and trailer. A new Chevy Colorado truck will go to one of four boat grand leaders.

In addition, a boatload of prizes will be handed out to fishermen of all ages in a variety of categories. Winners in the kids divisions will walk out with armloads of rods, lures, and tackle boxes. In some cases, tiny kids who would be perfectly happy to win a plaque will receive more tackle than they know what to do with, or can use.

The Derby is an Island institution guided by a committee of hard-working volunteers who represent a cross section of Island life and backgrounds. They take great pride in what they do, and work hard throughout the year to gather bigger and better prizes.

But how important are prizes to the Derby? I wonder about that question, and I am concerned that too much emphasis is put on prizes.

I do not think the majority of fishermen fish for the prizes, I think they fish for the fun and glory and that small pin that signifies a daily finish.

I am not suggesting the Derby do away with all prizes. I would just make the grand prizes more modest. It might eliminate the motivation to cheat.

Years ago when I was on the Derby committee, we sent out a survey to gauge what fishermen thought. It was a good way to solicit input. As the Derby enters its 71st year, I think it is a good time to take stock. I would be interested in hearing what other Derby fishermen think. Email nelson@mvtimes.com.


70th Derby grand leaders (as of Oct. 13)

Boat bluefish: Clinton A. Fisher, 17.87 lbs.

Shore bluefish: Karen A. Altieri, 15.65 lbs.

Boat bass: Stephen J. Pietruska, 41.98 lbs.

Shore bass: Miles Whyte, 37.95 lbs.

Boat bonito: Rob E. Coad, 11.32 lbs.

Shore bonito: Timothy J. Scott, 8.99 lbs.

Boat albacore: Fred Hoffman, 14.22 lbs.

Shore albacore: Donald R. Sicard, 13.10 lbs.

(Daily, weekly, and division results are available at mvderby.com.)


This article by Nelson Sigelman originally appeared on mvtimes.com.