When the striped bass she caught was weighed in at Derby Headquarters in Edgartown on Wednesday night, the gathered crowd of 30 onlookers applauded, as they only do for serious Derby contenders. The computer driven scale read in blue letters: 40.52 pounds.
Charles Smith, the weigh master, turned and smiled at the fisherman, who herself weighs in at 105. At 13, Annie C. Finnerty of West Tisbury is not only the front runner in the junior division - she leads the 58th annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
Annie is a familiar face at the old fish shack at the foot of Main street. She has been fishing as long as she can remember and catching big fish for much of that time. She fished the Kids Day derby for years and years. And she has always placed well in the annual derby junior division. Her father, Charlie Finnerty, is an avid recreational flyfisherman who works a charter boat out of Menemsha.
Clearly, Annie has done well. On the first day of the derby, Sunday, Sept. 14, she weighed in a 23.10 pound striped bass, caught with her father, and took a first place. Years ago she got a first place in the 1997 Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club trout tournament in the eight year old and under category. She caught a 16 1/2 inch pickerel.
"I've been fishing my whole life," Annie said.
On Wednesday afternoon, minutes after school, she and her father left the Menemsha dock at 3 p.m. They headed for open water in her father's boat, a 24-foot regulator, called Catlaina. "Catlaina is Annie's middle name," Mr. Finnerty said.
"We went to one of my father's favorite fishing spots," Annie said.
She chose the fishing lure, one of her favorites.
Waves offshore portending Hurricane Isabel were very apparent to the two anglers. "The waves were huge," said Mr. Finnerty. The seas were like hills, coming and going. The boat rose and fell as each one passed. "I told her this is our lucky day."
The two have long fished together. On the Menemsha waterfront, they are a pair. As a positive result of that father-daughter relationship, Annie has always placed well in the fall derby in the category of junior fisherman. A junior fisherman is any child under 15 years of age on the day the derby starts.
Annie said when she hooked the fish at close to 5 p.m., it was the only fish the two saw. She said it took 12 minutes to reel it in. "It wasn't difficult reeling it in, until it saw the boat and then it took off," she said.
The derby is six days old, and a leading fish like Miss Finnerty's makes the rest of the junior division tough. Last year the heaviest striped bass weighed in was caught by another young woman: Emilyanne Williston caught a 35.34 pound fish. Last year's grand leading boat striped bass weighed 53.60 pounds and was caught by Capt. Buddy Vanderhoop.
Whether Annie's fish stays at the top as a grand leader for the remaining four weeks of the derby is a tough call. In 2001 the largest striped bass weighed 44.96 pounds and was caught by Dan T. Pribanic from the shore. This contest ends Saturday, Oct. 18 and in fishing days that is a long way off.
Still, Miss Finnerty said Wednesday night, as her fish was being filleted for the senior citizen fillet program, she had every intention of getting back out on the water with her Dad to keep fishing.
The Kids Mini Derby scheduled for tomorrow is postponed for a week. Safety was a serious concern. With the remnants of Hurricane Isabel expected to build large waves today and tomorrow, organizers met yesterday afternoon and decided it was too risky to proceed.
Yesterday, Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said: "We have always had a standing rule that when we have the contest we will put a boat out there for safety. We would not allow children on the dock unless we could have boats there." He said with the forecast for big waves, they couldn't be certain that a boat could be positioned on either side of the dock.
Efforts will be made today to pass the word of the postponement through the schools, on the radio and through the cable television station.
Mr. Jerome urged fishermen to be careful in the days ahead. "We need to pass on a word of caution in this time of rough weather. Be very cautious whether you are fishing in the lee or not."