Years ago during the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, Ron Domurat went out shorefishing with his old friend Donald Mohr. The two hit upon a school of false albacore and each hooked a fish at the same time. The fish were twins, Mr. Domurat recalled earlier this week, “down to the hundredth of a pound.” He brought the albies to weigh-in at derby headquarters and as a good friend would, gave the weighmaster Mr. Mohr’s fish first.
The two fish were tied for the heaviest false albacore weighed-in that day, but because Mr. Mohr’s was first on the scale, he earned the small gold pin that is awarded to daily derby winners.
Mr. Domurat is fishing in his 31st derby this year and has collected 75 pins in the past three decades. Fifty of them are arranged neatly in a shadowbox on the wall of his garage. In the bottom left corner of the box is a broken false albacore pin — Mr. Mohr and Mr. Domurat ultimately shared the glory of that day.
When anglers go out during the five-week long derby, the ultimate goal is to win it all. But within the grander picture are hundreds of small victories, each represented in the form of a fish-shaped pin.
“It’s better than money,” said longtime derby committee member Martha Smith. “These pins mean so much in all age levels, in all species.”
Weigh station administrator Amy Coffey has worked at six different Olympic games, where pin trading kiosks are set up throughout the venues and athletes and spectators alike trade pins. The derby “is more pin crazy than that,” she said. “They have a mass appeal.” And unlike the Olympic pins, these are more than souvenirs. Derby pins are trophies.
“To get even a daily prize is pretty special,” Mr. Domurat said. “It doesn’t get old, even at my age.”
A pin is small enough to not take up space on a mantle, but shiny enough to stand out against the fabric of a baseball cap, which is where many fisherman display their year’s worth of awards.
“I used to keep all my hats with the pins on,” said Janet Messineo, who has fished in 38 derbies. “I could look at the hat and say Oh, that was a good year.” Over time, she said, the hats got dusty and dirty, so she took the pins off and stored them in a shadowbox.
“I kind of wish I didn’t do that,” she said. Her hats from the past two years still have the pins on them and she’s now on the hunt for a daily pin from this year’s contest.
Daily pins are given out for first, second, third and fourth place, in three species — striped bass, bluefish and bonito. Pins are no longer given out for albies due to concern about overfishing. An angler can only win one placement pin per species.
On Wednesday night at headquarters, 13-year-old Otto Osmers weighed in a 13.62-pound striped bass. On his way out, he picked up a bronze striped bass pin for a Tuesday catch, which he placed on his hat alongside a golden striper pin he’d won on Monday. The Wednesday fish in turn would net him a second-place silver pin. Otto is one pin away from the coveted Hat Trick pin.
Mr. Domurat has earned four Hat Trick pins over the years, and also has a Grand Slam pin, meaning he earned a daily win for each of the four derby species of fish. A Grand Slam pin is now one of two ways to signify a false albacore catch. The other way is a weekly pin. Women’s weekly prizes have existed for some time but this is the first year men can also compete for a weekly pin.
Women’s weekly prizes were the brainchild of Ms. Messineo, who wanted to offer derby moms a chance at a pin. “The moms are the ones who have the least amount of time to go fishing,” she explained, and don’t always have “the time to be competitive.” Olga Hirshhorn donates the funds for the women’s pins, while Rick Hamilton donates his time to create them. This year, Ms. Messineo said that instead of a pin, “we had it made into a pendant, so people can wear it as a charm or around their neck.”
Not everyone will collect a pin during the derby, but every participant will go home with a registration badge, a simple circular button with a number on it. Stephen Amaral of Oak Bluffs has fished every derby but one since he was 11 years old, starting with the very first contest in 1946. There were no badges that first year, but he saved every badge from the past 68 years. They hang in a handcrafted display on his dining room wall made by his friend Jim Fraser. A quick glance at the display reveals that not much has changed in badge design since 1946. Most feature the outline of the Island, while a few have a striper in the center. Other than that, only the color scheme changes.
“That’s part of the mystique about them,” Mr. Amaral said. He’s been number 857 (“my phone number”) for the past 31 years. As for the fish pins, he had so many from his 60-plus years of fishing that he eventually started giving them away and selling them.
Ms. Messineo used to give her pins away to her co-workers, but “now as time has gone on I save them.” Her bonito pins hold particular significance simply because the species is harder to catch these days. “I don’t think I’ve caught a bonito in 12 years,” she said. “They’re really precious to me.”
Chelsea Bouchard, age 9, has been fishing the derby for just three years but already has more than 15 pins in her collection, including a Hat Trick she earned last year (the species was bluefish). She added two more pins to her total on Wednesday night.
For many younger fishermen, pin collecting starts with a Junior Angler pin, which is for “anyone who is a child or like a child,” Ms. Coffey said. David Nash was instrumental in reviving the Junior Angler pin, which is often given to siblings who are not yet old enough to fish the derby.
“They’re so cute when they get them, so proud,” derby volunteer Alex Planchard said.
“It’s the beginning,” Mrs. Smith said. “It’s the beginning of the fever.”