An eye-popping derby to be sure but no eyes popped wider than junior angler Chris Morris’s when his key sprung open the padlock that awarded him the 19-foot Boston Whaler complete with a 115-horsepower Mercury motor and a trailer last Sunday at the 2007 62nd annual striped bass and bluefish derby awards ceremony at Outerland.
Chris, with the top shore bluefish, was one of eight division winners lined up on stage with a key and a chance to win either a 2008 Chevy Silverado four by four truck or the fishing boat.
Geoff Codding, winner of the boat bonito division, won the truck after sweating through three other candidates’ tries, the second straight year he’s driven off with the top prize. “Good for Geoff. His wife’s been needing a new truck,” a friend chuckled. All the winners received other prizes, including a signed Ray Ellis Island fishing print.
In all, 87 fishing award winners and 22 special presentation and award winners trooped to the stage under the watchful eye of former chairman Don Mohr and his wife Marion.
Chairman Ed Jerome, president John Custer and master of ceremonies Mike Cassidy had plenty to talk about at an event which drew an estimated 450 anglers, families and fans. Several records were set and a lot of history and generational handing down was done. For example, Chris Morris, 13, won 24 years after his dad, Jeff Morris, won in 1983. Janet Messineo competed in her 31st derby, exactly half of all the derbies. “Does that make me an old-timer?” she asked with some concern. And Martha and Charlie Smith retired after a combined 34 years of derbying, including 20 years for Martha as weigh-in station manager and Charlie’s 14 years as a weigh master in tandem with Dorchester’s own Roy Langley. While Martha hid behind Charlie in the back of the hall as John Custer thanked her for her extraordinary efforts, the audience spontaneously rose in a standing ovation, clapping and roaring their thanks.
A record 3,039 contestants entered the derby. “We believe that is a record,” said Mr. Cassidy. Contestants weighed in 3,099 fish, a 34 per cent increase over 2006. Seventy-five grand slams, a new record, were also recorded in a year where the often elusive bonito and false albacore were abundant. Ten shore bonito were landed from beach flyrods, also believed to be a record. None were landed in 2006. And both grand slam winner Lev Wlodyka and second place grand slammer Zeb Tilton each broke the derby record weight for boat grand slams.
More than $10,000 was awarded to daily and weekly big fish winners, also a new record, Mr. Jerome said, noting that the 2007 derby raised $30,000 in scholarship money for the second consecutive year. Over the past 62 years, the derby has raised an estimated $400,000 for higher education for Island children, Mr. Jerome said. He and several other speakers thanked sponsors Vineyard Vines, the Anne E. Clark foundation, artist Ellis, grand prize sponsors West Marine and Clay Chevrolet.
“The derby is about you. People make the derby,” said Dick Clay, whose Clay Chevrolet dealership in Norwood provides the derby truck. Mr. Clay, the day’s first winner when his lost reading glasses were found and returned, said: “The derby needs a committee and it needs sponsors to provide trucks and boats but what makes the derby special is people. We picnic, fish and kibitz together. Fran and I thank you for making the derby so special and we hope to do it again next year.” Mr. Clay and his wife Fran each made the leader board this year.
The community theme was clear as multiple generations of family anglers dominated the audience. “Someone once said that parents are the bows and our children are the arrows. It’s clear that we are shooting our children in the right direction,” one said during the mini and junior awards ceremony.
In the audience, not quite three-year-old Sofia Alexander, two rows directly behind octogenarian Mr. Mohr, boogied to hip hop. Sofia, the New Year’s baby in 2005, sat next to her mom Amelia Alexander, waiting for brother Justin to receive his first place boat false albacore award.
One of the first awards presented went to Mr. Cassidy, the master of ceremonies. Mr. Custer, in opening remarks, noted that Mr. Cassidy had told him before the derby began: “It’s been four or five years, Maybe we’re due for a controversy.”
He was right, Mr. Custer said, referring to the yo-yoed fish that had the derby abuzz for several days until the derby committee resolved the dispute. As a reward for his prescience, Mr. Cassidy was presented with a top of the line bright red Duncan Imperial yo-yo by Mr. Custer.
Watching a parade of both lifetime anglers and raw novices troop to the platform for prizes, Mr. Cassidy said. “You know what’s so special about this derby? It’s like the Bad News Bears taking the field against the New York Yankees. And the Bears win.”