With well over 2,000 fishermen competing in the 62nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the contest is now on the home stretch.
More than 13,000 pounds of striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore have been weighed in at the derby headquarters so far.
Last weekend the evidence of interest could be seen along Vineyard shores, all populated by anglers with gear. The flat waters from Chappaquiddick to Aquinnah were crisscrossed with boiling waves from fast boats, driven by intent anglers.
Except for two changes over the weekend, the monthlong contest leaders stayed put for a second week.
The largest striped bass is still Zeb Tilton’s huge 56.51-pounder, caught from a boat on Sept. 14. His success may very well continue to Oct. 13, when the derby ends.
But new leaders emerged in two more categories: bluefish caught from a boat and striped bass caught from shore.
Bruce E. McIntosh of Edgartown caught the biggest bluefish so far in the derby on Friday. The 14.62-pound fish caught from a boat tipped the derby scales at 8:24 p.m. and drew a lot of praise.
The largest striped bass caught from the shore weighed 27.99 pounds and was caught by Michael T. Trance on Friday morning. His fish pushed Matthew Sudarsky’s 25.53-pounder, a fish that has topped all shore striped bass since Sept. 12, into second position.
Mr. McIntosh, who caught the largest bluefish, said yesterday he doesn’t expect his fish will win big, but it certainly got him the daily, and some bragging rights that will last a couple of days.
Mr. McIntosh runs an automobile repair business in his town. He is a local guy. Most days, he is busy in the shop. Right after work on Friday, he left, got in his 24-foot power boat Amanda Lyn and went fishing alone. He went fishing off Chappaquiddick and caught his fish on a lure.
“People will go all the way to the backside of Nantucket to catch a big fish,” Mr. McIntosh said. “I just went outside of Tom’s Shoal green can. I get out there whenever I can, even if it is for an hour.
“I have to say it would be wishful thinking to say this is a derby winner,” he said. “Usually the biggest bluefish are over 15 pounds.”
He caught his fish at about 5:30 p.m.
Bonito are in the seven to nine-pound range and the leaders are expected to rise in size by fractions of an inch.
The largest false albacore, caught by Clark M. Goff., Jr. on Sept. 21, is a 15.86-pounder and is slightly heavier than the largest boat fish, a 15.33-pound albie caught by Sandy E. Fisher.
The contest began on Sunday, Sept. 9 and it has principally been a bluefish contest.
As of Saturday morning. 549 bluefish were weighed. Compare that to the 210 bonito, 266 striped bass and 293 false albacore weighed in.
The higher number of bluefish isn’t just because they are plentiful. Ed Jerome, president of the derby, said he thinks fishermen are targeting blues to get a derby winner.
“Most years, people who try to win the derby will target the fish that is beatable,” Mr. Jerome said.
“It is hard to beat a 57-pound striped bass, those big fish have moved on,” he said. “So now if you are looking to get on the board you pick another species. You’d be foolish to try to beat the 57-pounder.”
Mr. Jerome said the trends of years of fishing on the water tell similar stories. Winning striped bass are usually caught off Squibnocket and winning bluefish are caught somewhere between Edgartown and the south side of Nantucket.
Most anglers are serious players of the game. Winnings are significant. With more than a quarter million in prizes and prize money, it is not just fishing, it is competition.
The top eight winners of this contest — those who catch the heaviest fish in each of the four categories from a boat and the four who catch the heaviest fish in each of the four categories from the shore — will have their names put into a drawing for either a new Chevrolet pickup truck or a 19-foot Boston Whaler.
Mr. Jerome warns that one shouldn’t be too simple about attaching a theory to the winners and losers. If there is any certainty to the derby, it is this: winners can come out of nowhere. With up to 3,000 fishermen expected to eventually compete in this year’s contest, anyone can win.
“The beauty of this derby is that there is a leveling field,” he said. “The winning fish can be caught anywhere. It can be caught right off the dock,” he said. And they have.
“You can spend a lot of money or not so much,” Mr. Jerome said. “The good thing about the derby is that your position and place doesn’t matter half of the time. That is why the derby is so much fun. Anyone can win.”
Of the 2,240 fishermen registered in the contest, there are 271 women competing in the all tackle division. There are 245 junior fishermen and 268 senior citizens competing and all those numbers are expected to climb even in the last days of the contest.
The derby headquarters is open from 8 to 10 a.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. every day. During those times, the scene is always interesting. At any moment, an angler can show up with a new winner.
As of Sunday evening, derby grand leaders were Bruce E. McIntosh, who caught a 14.62-pound bluefish from a boat; Jim F. Creedon, who caught a 10.73-pound bluefish from shore; Zeb Tilton, who caught a 56.51-pound striped bass from a boat; Michael T. Trance, who caught a 27.99-pound striped bass from shore; Geoff K. Codding, who caught a 9.14-pound bonito from a boat; Neal J. Farrell, who caught a 7.38-pound bonito from shore; Sandy E. Fisher, who caught a 15.33-pound false albacore from a boat; and Clark M. Goff Jr., who caught a 15.86-pound false albacore from shore.