With six days left to catch the winning fish, a new name was scrawled in chalk atop the leaderboard, capturing the hearts and minds of all in the waning moments of the 60th annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
But it wasn't a Wlodyka or a Jenkinson or even a Rapone who walked into the weigh-in station in Edgartown at 8:09 Sunday night with a gigantic striped bass in tow. It wasn't some old salt or professional sportsman who had braved miserable weather to land the big fish in high, rolling seas somewhere off Squibnocket.
It was 12-year-old Molly Fischer.
Struggling to hoist her catch off the ground, Molly slowly made her way to the scale, hoping she had landed the derby's first 50-pounder. Then her arms gave out, and she was forced to drag it, waddling as she tugged her prize between her legs. Anxious onlookers, mouths agape and eager to know the fish's official weight, had to sit patiently until she reached the table.
But the crowd could easily forgive her for the delay. Molly was only a little bigger than her fish. "It felt more like 150 pounds than 50," she said. "My arms got really weak pretty fast."
Eventually, the West Tisbury School seventh-grader got there, and the official weight was revealed - 49.22 pounds.
Suddenly the tournament had a new grand leader.
The big fish also moved Molly well into first place in the junior division for boat striped bass. The 30 or so spectators who had crammed into the small shack erupted into applause.
"It was amazing," Molly said, grasping for words. "I was all pumped up."
If a 12-year-old landing the biggest fish to lead the derby with less than a week left isn't enough drama for you, you might want to check your pulse. Now, with only two days remaining, there is a good chance she will be standing on stage during Sunday's award ceremony with a 25 per cent chance at winning a new Chevrolet truck - something she would have to wait until 2009 to enjoy. The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. at the Atlantic Connection in Oak Bluffs.
"It's pretty wild," her father, Albert Fischer, said with a laugh.
The fish moves ahead of Brian Athearn's 48.46-pounder, caught Sept. 27. And with high winds and more rain forecast throughout the weekend, the likelihood of another bass that size being hauled in from a boat is even more diminished.
Molly's tale is remarkable, especially given the poor conditions she was fishing in. She went out Sunday with her father, family friend Jack Schlossberg - who, coincidentally, was bumped into third place in the junior boat striped bass category by his pal's striper - and Scott McDowell on Mr. McDowell's boat, the Slapshot II. When they began trolling at a spot off Squibnocket, around noon, the rain was only intermittent. Then came the tug.
"I was holding the rod and all of a sudden the line started going out and out," Molly said. "And it started pouring right at that moment. Everyone else was under the canopy, telling me not to give the fish any slack. I was soaked in about two minutes."
Molly said she fought the fish for about 20 minutes before it broke the surface.
"We saw a splash and I thought it was an alligator," she said.
After returning to Menemsha, they weighed it with a hand scale that said the fish was almost exactly 50 pounds. With about four hours to go before the weigh-in station opened, they packed the fish in ice and headed home for a shower and a little reflection on what may lie ahead.
"I wanted it to be 50 pounds so bad," Molly recalled. "I couldn't wait to get down to weigh it."
At eight, she and her father pulled into the parking lot in Edgartown to a crowd of people. Buzz had circulated around the Island that someone was bringing in a 50-pound bass. Once inside, she was surrounded by a sea of people.
"I remember the guy put it on the scale and the numbers just kept going up and up," she said. "When it got to 49.22, the place went wild. The women in the room were all slapping hands, saying ‘girls rule.' It was really exciting."
Just to make sure the fish was not loaded, Capt. Porky Francis shoved his hand down the throat for inspection. He quickly confirmed there was nothing in its gullet.
To celebrate, Albert took his daughter for an ice cream, where she was instantly identified as the girl who caught the big fish.
"People there already knew," she said. "It was weird."
So is she prepared for all the hoopla should the fish remain in first place until the awards ceremony on Sunday?
"I am good around a bunch of people, but only if I know them," she said. "I think I'll be nervous."
Regardless of whether she wins, Molly said the fish will always hold extra significance for her. Last month, Albert's first wife, Jeannie Wallace Fischer, who was very close with Molly and her older sister, Lydia, died from cancer. Out there in rain, Molly said, she could not help but wonder if there was something more at work.
"When I got the fish in the boat, I said, ‘I think I just caught Jeannie,'" she said with a laugh. "With her passing last month, I was thinking that this was a gift from her. I felt like her spirit was there."