Anglers and Their Fish

By Red Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for the New York Times and a Chilmark seasonal visitor for nearly three decades. From the October, 1982 files of the Vineyard Gazette, originally appearing in the September 23, 1974 edition of the New York Times.

Circuit avenue was beginning to stir when the official weighing station for the 29th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby opened at 8 a.m. Ted Hartman,Weighmaster, took his station beside a pair of hanging scales behind a trestle table on which he had spread newspapers two or three pages thick. Facing him from behind desks across the room were Bill Grunden and Helen Scarborough. “Spelled like the race track.” They would handle the paperwork when anglers who had fished through the night started bringing in their catches. Bill Grunden is a retired Methodist minister who fills his time now writing books about bridge and serving as fire warden on a lookout tower in the middle of this Island. Mrs. Scarborough divides the year between Martha’s Vineyard and Amherst, Mass.

“Ted has been weighing 19 years, is that right, Ted? she said.

“Seventeen years,” Ted said, “and this is the last, don’t forget that.”

“He always says that,” Mrs. Scarborough said, “Ted was interviewed on the radio. What was it you told Henry, Ted — that you had weighed 87,000 pound of fish?”

“Something like that.”

“I don’t fish,” Mrs. Scarborough said, “but my father was a hunter and fisherman and I could dress out anything with fins or feathers, but not fur. I never could bring myself to do a rabbit. I’ve been around here enough so I thought I might as well help out.”

Walls were covered with scoreboards, bulletins and photographs of anglers and their fish. A blackboard in the rear had an up-to-date list of divisional leaders in the month-long contest, which opened Sept. 14. There are five main categories, bass taken from shore by residents, bass taken from shore by off-Islanders, bass taken by boat, bluefish taken from shore and bluefish taken by boat.

“The leader of the shore blues there,” Mrs. Scarborough said, “that W.D. Roberts of Sewickley, Pa., that was the first fish he ever caught in his life. Fourteen pounds, one ounce. He came wearing a big straw hat saying, ‘My wife will never believe this.’ As soon as his name went up he posed for a picture pointing to his name.”

“Does anybody ever tell honestly where he caught his fish?’ a visitor asked.

“Hard to say,” Mrs. Scarborough said. “The other day somebody said Wasque Point and that night it was wall-to-wall fishermen there.”

“I hear Doug Fischer took a party to the brickyard the other day,” a man said. “Couple of guys who hadn’t got around to registering in the Derby. They got a striper of 41 pounds and one of 38. I see the leader here, Dave Perry of Attleboro, Mass., weighted in at 47-1.

“You never know,” Bill Grunden said. “The biggest shore bass for visitors so far is 15-1 but 6-9 led for almost a week, and you wouldn’t expect that.”

Almost an hour passed. Then Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Danielson of Oak Bluffs came in. He toted a rubber trash can with the flukes of a bluefish showing above the rim. He had three blues up to 10 pounds 2 ounces. Mrs. Danielson had bass of six and seven pounds and three bluefish about that size.

“You won a prize last night, Harriet,” Mrs. Scarborough said. “I did?” “Yes, $15.” Each fish weighed is given a number, and lucky numbers are drawn each evening.

Three young men followed with bluefish. When Ted weighed a fish he would sing out the weight, then clip off a corner of the tail. “Come again,” he told the young guys pleasantly, “when you have bigger fish.”

Joe Thibodeau of Oak Bluffs strode in swinging a good blue by the tail. “That weighs about — Mrs. Scarborough guessed. “Not enough,” the angler said. “Eleven-fourteen,” Ted said, watching the dial.

Stephen Morris, aged 11, brought in a striper and a blue caught at East Chop, he said. “Eleven even,” Ted said, weighting the bass. “Two-thirteen on the blue, same gentleman.”

The station was filling now with fishermen lining up. Henry Carreiro, the radioman who had interviewed Ted, had six blues which he offered around. Al Doyle of Edgartown had a 26-pound striper, good but not a leader, and seven blues up to 11 pounds 3 ounces. “Want any?” he asked. “Big or little?” Mrs. Scarborough stowed one under her desk, wiped her hand on a paper napkin and resumed writing, crediting 28 blues and one bass to Jaime Gaspar and Michael Dolby, both Edgartown.

Waiting in line were two men with a dozen or more fish hung on a pole held between them. Mrs. Scarborough had tried several times to wrap the fish lying at her feet but she was too busy. “We had 183 blues yesterday,” she said.

“Come down to buy one, Joe?” a voice in the crowd asked.

“Just came down to smell ’em,” a voice answered.

Compiled by Eulalie Regan