As the 61st annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby rounds the corner into the second half of the tournament, the big story this week has been - well, that there is no big story.
"There's been a whole lot of standing around, waiting," derby headquarters volunteer Martha Smith said yesterday morning. "We're all waiting for the conditions to change, waiting for the big ones to arrive."
Ah, the big ones. As water temperatures cool, the big bass start slipping in closer to shore, feeding on bait fish. Or so goes the theory. But what of the big fishermen? Ms. Smith said a lot of theories are circulating these days as to why some of the Island's best known fishermen have been uncharacteristically quiet.
"Where are the heavy hitters?" she said with a laugh. "Could it be the weather? The price of gas? Superstition? People are asking ‘Where is Patrick Jenkinson? Where are the Rosbecks?' "
Names like Jenkinson, Rosbeck and others who typically go after the big ones (and usually catch them) have been conspicuously absent from the leader board so far this year. However, another name synonymous with derby monsters - Lev Wlodyka - who also had been a fleeting sight around the weigh station, walked in Wednesday night with a 8.55-pound bonito caught from a boat that hurled him into the lead for that category.
So much for conspicuously absent.
"You knew Lev was going to walk in here sooner or later," Ms. Smith said.
Mr. Wlodyka's bonito joined David C. Hearn's 43.86-pound striped bass as the only two changes atop the leader board this week as high seas and winds made for less than ideal conditions. Mr. Wlodyka joins Bernie Arruda as the leaders in all-tackle bonito categories. Both men have finished previous derbies with the largest bonito.
Despite the wind and rough seas, which have lapped at Vineyard shores for most of the tournament thanks to several large offshore storms, fly-fishermen continue to find tremendous success. After an incredible first two weeks, Thomas J. Rapone finds himself leading one fly-fishing category and in second place in two others. His 10.60-pound boat false albacore leads Andrew Moore's by half a pound. His 9.45-pound bluefish is second in the flyrod boat category while his 6.36-pound boat bonito is second in that category.
Andrew Moore's brother, Ally, still leads all fly-fishermen with his 26.78-pound striper.
Francis (Sandy) Fisher is sitting comfortably with his 17.36-pound all-tackle boat bluefish, which makes for a good family story. His father, Sandy Sr., sister Angie and nephew Cameron Maciel are all serious fishermen come derby time, but none have ever found their way onto the leader board (Cameron, 8, has won but is in the junior division). Considering the time spent on the water, that is saying something.
"He puts in man-years out there, not man-hours," Ms. Smith said of the younger Mr. Fisher, 30. "He deserves a nice fish like that."
And on an amusing note, John C. Hoy, the musician known around the Vineyard as the lead singer of Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, landed an impressive 36.20-pound striped bass to put him in third place in the all-tackle shore category. No word on whether he plans to change the band's name.
For more information and coverage of the bass and bluefish derby, including a link to complete daily results, visit the Gazette Web site at mvgazette.com.