Gone Fishin’: The 70th Bass and Bluefish Derby begins

Aidan Gates of Vineyard Haven, holding a false alabacore, was the first fisherman in line when the weigh station door slid open Sunday morning.

The 70th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby began with a false albacore. Aidan Gates of Tisbury was first in the weigh station line when longtime weigh master Roy Langley slid open the wood door of the small, weathered building overlooking Edgartown Harbor and rang the school bell that signifies the start of five weeks of fishing madness that annually washes over the Island.

Derby weigh master Roy Langley rang in the 70th Derby at 8 am Sunday morning, as John Custer, right, derby chairman, looked on.
Derby weigh master Roy Langley rang in the 70th Derby at 8 am Sunday morning, as John Custer, right, derby chairman, looked on.

Aidan caught his fish, one of four species that hold the key to Derby glory, just 15 minutes prior to the 8 am opening of the first official weigh-in. Not far behind was John Casey of Edgartown holding a 24.82-pound striped bass he caught fishing with brother Ned Casey in the wee hours of the morning. Many more fishermen will follow in their footsteps from 8 to 10, each morning and evening.

The weigh station will close at 10 pm, Saturday, October 17, when Roy Langley next rings the Derby bell and slides the weigh station door closed.

No matter the age or choice of tackle, the fisherman who catches the heaviest bonito, false albacore, bluefish or striped bass from shore or boat will be named the grand leader.

Accepted Island wisdom is that anyone who plans to fish at any point over the course of the next five weeks join the Derby. One cast and some luck is all it takes to claim one of the grand prizes, or one of many other smaller prizes.

I am counting on lots of luck. So far, all Tom Robinson and I have to show for our effort is lots of weed harvested while bait fishing with squid off the south shore.

Those new to the game are reminded that fishermen must possess a Massachusetts recreational saltwater fishing permit. There are some exceptions. For more information and daily results go to www.mvderby.com.

More important than Derby prizes is safety. I think every fisherman should always wear a PFD. I have a comfortable inflatable. The following story, I received in an email from Bob Lane, Derby committee member, illustrates the necessity.

“I took my son and his father-in-law out in a 22-foot Whaler, “Good Karma II,” for some fishing in the late morning,” Bob said. “We crossed over to the Woods Hole eastern approach area to look for signs of fish. The water in the sound was choppy and we had to go easy. When we got to the shallow area on the east side of Woods Hole my guests noticed a man fishing from a kayak and they asked if that was safe. I told them that fishing from a kayak has become very popular and that kayakers are careful to take precautions when heading out.

“Now, people who have been in emergency situations on the water will almost always say that when things go wrong on the water, they go wrong quickly. So, no sooner had the words left my mouth when the kayaker near us was in the water along with half his gear, and was waving us over for help. The man looked to be around 40, so this wasn’t a youngster with limited experience. To my surprise, he was not wearing a life jacket, nor was there one on the kayak.

“He held onto our swim ladder, handed us the loose gear and then climbed into our boat, somewhat embarrassed but about as thankful and apologetic as anyone who has just seen their life pass before them could be. We tied a line to his very small kayak and towed it to the beach near the WHOI dock and put him safely ashore there. I’m not sure, but as we pulled away it looked like he was kissing the beach!

“As we brought the kayaker to the shore, he and I discussed what had happened. He readily admitted that he had made a couple of bad decisions: setting out into choppy waters in too small a kayak, one meant for a pond was one; paddling near a busy channel where other boaters might not have seen him was another; and especially not wearing or bringing a life jacket, this was the biggie. I didn’t want to lecture him, but I did want to make it a teachable moment, so I related a couple of stories of people I had known who didn’t wear a life jacket on the water and paid the ultimate price for that lack of judgement. He was very quiet and pensive as he realized what had almost happened.

“On top of everything else, he also did not have any form of communication other than a cell phone in a sealable plastic bag, which of course had a leak, so the phone was out of commission as soon as the water got to it. A waterproof, floating, handheld VHS marine radio would have been a much better choice. I can also attest that I have had a LifeProof case on my cell phone and it has survived a dunking in salt water. It doesn’t float however, but if it’s in a pocket you will have access to it.

“Well, all’s well that ends well, but with anglers anxious to get out and fish, especially during the Derby, this should be a reminder to all, whether fishing from boat, kayak, or from shore that to use sound judgement and to err on the side of caution will greatly increase the odds of a safe return. If a person doesn’t do that for themselves, then they should at least do it for the ones they love.”

Good advice worth heeding.


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