Following last weekend’s foul weather, Island anglers have jumped back into fishing with a new urgency. This is the start of the third week of the 63rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and with two weeks to go, a lot can happen — and is happening.
A shifting on the leader board took place on Tuesday, before the past weekend’s storm clouds and the big waves had settled.
Three respected Island boat fishermen walked into derby headquarters Tuesday evening with huge stripers, all over 40 pounds. Lev C. Wlodyka, a frequent leader in past derbies, weighed in a 46.82-pound striped bass. His friend Morgan A. Child weighed in a 46.74-pounder, and Nicholas Warburton weighed in another at 41.09.
Mr. Wlodyka now leads the grand overall contest with his fish, the heaviest striped bass caught on a boat.
Scott D. Tompkins took the lead this week for the largest shore striped bass. He weighed in his fish on Wednesday. It tipped the scale at 40.12 pounds.
The top fishermen with a bluefish, both with fish over 14 pounds, have stayed at the top: Don W. Eber’s boat bluefish, caught earlier in the derby, weighed 14.43 pounds. The shore angler Ralph J. Peckham weighed in a 14.05-pounder on Sept. 23. Those two fish will be hard to beat.
Last year’s largest shore bluefish was just under 12 pounds. The biggest boat bluefish last year was 14.62 pounds.
As of Wednesday night 270 striped bass had been weighed in, 750 bluefish, 143 false albacore and 95 bonito.
The big question on the waterfront is why the shore fishermen haven’t gotten into the Atlantic bonito as everyone would like. Greg Skomal, a biologist with the state Division of Marine Fisheries is sympathetic. Derby statistics over the years show that happy shore bonito fishermen are few. It is tough.
Jared Stobie’s 7.22-pound shore bonito is in the lead position. It is slightly lighter than last year’s top shore bonito, which weighed 7.77 pounds.
Last year was a good year for catching bonito compared to the previous 12 years, Mr. Skomal said. “Boat fishermen account for most of the bonito that are weighed in,” he said. “Last year only 12 per cent of the bonito weighed in were by shore fishermen.
“The year 2006 was bad for both species. I think bonito were at a 20-year low and they were virtually all caught by boat fishermen,” Mr. Skomal said.
Why do the shore fishermen struggle for bonito? Mr. Skomal offers this thought: “Either the bait is not there or the bait is elsewhere.”
Atlantic bonito and false albacore are related little tunas. They compete for the same food; both favor sand eels, silver sides and all small schooling fish.
So much of finding fish is tied to finding out where they eat. “False albacore and Atlantic bonito are highly predatory visual feeders with a significant dietary overlap. They eat the same thing,” Mr. Skomal said.
It has long been known that when false albacore arrive on the scene, the bonito tend to back off. False albacore are highly aggressive; the bonito, while aggressive, aren’t as nasty.
The number of fish caught shows the striped bass and bluefish are definitely migrating through Island waters now. The competition is about catching the biggest, no matter what the species.
The best, the luckiest and the most persistent fishermen will lead the derby when it comes to striped bass and bluefish.
A tougher derby surrounds the false albacore and the Atlantic bonito. Even the brightest, most skilled small tuna angler may feel shut out if the fish aren’t here.
There is more than $250,000 in prizes at stake in this year’s annual contest. This weekend offers the best weather so far in the contest, and that means more than 2,000 anglers will be out in force. They will fish during the day and they will fish at night. Many of them will get very little sleep.
Tackle shops will register the latest arrivals, and hundreds of new registrants can be expected. Last year, 3,000 fishermen competed. Registration is $45. For seniors and junior fishermen, it costs $20. There are daily, weekly and grand overall prizes to be had. There is a division for rod and reel fishermen who use conventional spinning reels, and there is a complete fishing tournament for flyfishermen. Junior fishermen are competing for the biggest fish too.
Show time is every day at the weigh station at the foot of Main street in Edgartown, 8 to 10 a.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. With the bad weather, most big fish have been weighed in at night. If the weather is fair, there will be more activity in the morning weigh-in.
Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said this week he is noticing that more and more fishermen are taking their catch home instead of donating it to the derby fillet program. Fish that are donated to the derby are filleted and distributed to the Island’s senior centers for free distribution. While the fish are still being donated, it is definitely off from past years. “It is the sign of the times,” Mr. Jerome said.