The fish arrived slowly at the weigh station on the opening day of the 63rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. And when they did begin to show up, they were carried by top derby anglers.
William Pate, 34, of West Tisbury walked into the weigh station at 8:02 a.m. carrying a 7.54-pound bluefish that he had caught at 2 a.m. in the morning. Asked where he caught the fish, his answer was quick. “State forest,” he said.
Mr. Pate was the first angler to deliver a fish to the weigh station on the first day of a monthlong fishing contest that will engage as many as 3,000 fishermen in pursuit of big fish.
On Sunday morning when the traditional 8 a.m. bell rang, the weigh station at the foot of Main street in Edgartown had about a dozen onlookers, outnumbered by derby committee officials and office helpers. The morning was overcast with light drizzle. Dreams are realized inside that old cedar shingled shack.
Mr. Pate was among the top eight winners of the derby two years ago, for a bluefish he caught on the shore. He led the shore division with a 13.87-pound bluefish. Wherever he goes in the state forest to get his fish, it’s a good place.
Mr. Pate’s first fish was soon eclipsed by anglers with bigger fish.
The second fish of the morning was a false albacore caught outside the Edgartown harbor by W. Brice Contessa of Edgartown. His albie weighed 7.63 pounds and measured 26 inches in length. He said he caught the fish from a boat at 6:30 a.m. Last year he won a grand prize in the flyrod division for a false albacore weighing 12.36 pounds.
It wasn’t until 8:27 a.m. that an angler showed up with a striped bass. Bob (Hawkeye) Jacobs of Oak Bluffs walked in carrying a striper he caught from the North Shore using eels earlier in the morning. The fish tipped the weigh master’s scale at 22.63 pounds. Mr. Jacobs said he caught the fish at 2:15 a.m. He knew the time because of a conversation he had with himself. “I said if I don’t start getting bigger fish I will leave this spot,” he recalled. “This is a good start,” he added.
Minutes later Janet Messineo of Vineyard Haven walked in wearing her waders, carrying a bluefish. Weigh master Roy Langley put the fish on the scale and it registered 7.83 pounds. Asked where she caught the fish, Ms. Messineo lifted the fish up higher into the air and pointed with her finger at the fish’s mouth. “I caught him here,” she said.
None of the first three fish weighed in during the first 35 minutes of the contest became a leader.
On Sunday, the largest shore bluefish came in at 9.42 pounds and was caught by John Hathaway. The largest false albacore, caught from a boat, weighed 8.35 pounds and belonged to John C. Rapone. And the largest striped bass, caught on the shore, weighed 32.22 pounds and belonged to Matthew Gamache.
By the end of the day 1,000 pounds of fish had crossed the scales. There were 50 bluefish, 19 bonito, 15 false albacore and 27 striped bass.
The anglers ranged from juniors to senior citizens.
And while the numbers will change hourly, currently there are 1,200 fishermen registered in the contest: 841 men, 131 women, 129 juniors and 173 senior citizens.
Yesterday morning the weather improved. Skies were sunny with a breeze from the southwest.
Early yesterday morning Ms. Messineo was back at the weigh station with a striped bass she had caught overnight.
Bryan Begley came in soon after carrying a false albacore that would take over as the leader. His fish weighed 10.31 pounds and was caught at Menemsha from the shore.
There is a lot of emphasis on false albacore early in this year’s derby. Anglers competing for top prizes know that if they have any plans to land a false albacore they’ve got to do it soon, because there is no telling how long the albies will be around.
The derby recognizes four species: striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore. There is a special award for anglers able to land all four, called a grand slam.
Yesterday just after 8:30 a.m. Paul Bradshaw of Katama walked in with the second striped bass of the morning. Mr. Bradshaw, a painter, said he has fished the derby for at least 14 years. He said he caught the fish the night before at West Chop using eels.
The fishing continues into October. The contest ends on Saturday, Oct. 18.
Registration is at the weigh station in Edgartown or at Island tackle shops. The cost is $45; juniors and seniors pay $20. The derby has daily, weekly and special prizes throughout the contest.
Kids Day, a free fishing contest for youngsters, takes place Sunday, Sept. 21 at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf. The contest starts at dawn and lasts a few hours. Every young angler wins a prize.