Shore Fishing Heats Up as Weather Cools
By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
For shore fishermen participating in the 61st annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the first three weeks of the monthlong contest have been tough. But on Tuesday, the tide of luck changed. Fishermen who hadn't hooked a fish or seen a splash began reeling in bluefish and striped bass from Chappaquiddick to Aquinnah. Fish were caught all around the Island, and at the weigh station in Edgartown on Tuesday night anglers lined up like hungry people at a soup kitchen. Since Tuesday the leader in the shore bluefish category has changed three times. Yesterday William A. Pate took the lead with a 13.87-pound bluefish, minutes after another big blue was weighed in.
Also yesterday W. Brice Contessa took the lead in the flyrod shore false albacore division with a 9.17-pound fish that was three one-hundredths of a pound heavier than the previous flyrod leader.
With one week left in the contest, the fall migration of big fish seems to have just begun. Three out of every four striped bass weighed in at the derby so far had been caught from a boat. And with the shift to cooler weather, shore fishermen in the next seven days are expected to do better.
"Two out of every three fishermen coming into the weigh in station on Tuesday night were saying, ‘There are no fish in the ocean.' It seemed every third person coming in had two fish in his hand," said Mike Cassidy, a derby committee member and a longtime shore fisherman.
On Wednesday, Martha Smith reported over 80 fish weighed in just two hours at derby headquarters.
A total of 2,817 fishermen are competing in the derby this year. This marks the last full weekend for fishing. The derby ends at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. Fishermen are competing for the largest striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito from the shore and boats.
The largest bluefish weighed in so far is 17.36 pounds, caught by Francis Fisher on Sept. 18. Last year's winning bluefish weighed 15.95 pounds; the derby all-time record bluefish weighed over 23 pounds.
The largest striped bass weighed in so far are in the 40-pound range. David C. Hearn weighed in a 43.86-pound striper on Sept. 25 and Leo B. Lecuyer weighed in a 40.19-pound striper caught from the shore four days into the contest. Last year's winning striped bass was caught by Brian Athearn - a 48.46-pounder.
"The bonito have jumped forward," said Mrs. Smith, who runs the weigh station at derby headquarters in Edgartown. As of yesterday 110 bonito had been weighed in, only four of them caught from the shore. In the flyrod division only eight bonito have been weighed in, all caught on boats.
But times are changing.
The largest bonito came in on Wednesday night, a 9.31-pound fish caught by Steve J. Baccelli of Vineyard Haven.
Among the derby registrants, 388 are women, and 295 are children under 15 years of age.
Four-year-old Taylor R. Blair of Edgartown has the luck of having an avid angler for a father. Young Mr. Blair weighed in an eight-pound bluefish caught Wednesday night from the shore. "He drags his father around," said Mrs. Smith.
Derby history records many unusual tactics for catching fish. Serio de Somov of Hampton Bay, a legendary derby fisherman, used lobster as bait when he went shore fishing for striped bass. Mr. de Somov won the derby for the largest striped bass in three consecutive years, from 1963 to 1965, and again in 1969.
As of yesterday 19,829 pounds of fish have been weighed in since the contest began on Sept. 10.
In derby lost and found news, on Tuesday a fisherman found an abandoned light tackle rod at Memorial Wharf and turned it in to the weigh station. Mrs. Smith said they are holding onto the box for the unknown owner to come forward.