More than $300,000 in prizes are stashed and ready for the 64th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, which begins at 12:01 Sunday morning and runs until 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.
And this year if you catch a big one, watch for the tweets. Derby chairman Greg Skomal confirmed yesterday that updates will be sent out on Twitter this year. Yesterday’s tweet? “Windy, windy windy . . . but reports of albies in THICK. Boats hooking dozens/day. Final weigh station setup Sat. Derby starts @ 12:01 AM Sun!!”
Thousands of fishermen are expected to enter; many have already registered at local tackle shops. “This year, if we get close to 2,700 entrants in the contest, it is a home run and we will meet our budget,” said derby president Ed Jerome.
There is concern this fall about how the derby will do, given the state of the economy. Mr. Jerome said his committee worked last winter on ways to cut back on spending, including by having sponsors donate products and prizes that in years past were bought by the committee. For example, until last year, the derby committee used to buy the hats that are given to fishermen who enter. Beginning last fall, the hats were donated by Vineyard Vines.
Participation in the derby has fallen a bit in recent years. Three years ago the contest attracted 3,000 fishermen. Two years ago the number dropped to 2,900, and last year it dropped to 2,700. Organizers say the $45 entry fee is still a bargain for a fishing contest that runs for more than a month and offers numerous big prizes for catching striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and Atlantic bonito.
In an open letter to participants in the annual souvenir book, Mr. Jerome wrote: “In these difficult economic times, we have all had to adjust our lifestyle, and quite often, the only things we can do to save a little money are reduce those activities that impact our personal enjoyment. So, for you to be here, we are most grateful and understand the effort you have made.”
Much of the month-long event is unchanged. This year the boat grand prize is a 24-foot Eastern center console powerboat with a 135-horsepower outboard Honda and trailer, valued at over $60,000. And again this year another grand prize will be a Chevy Silverado 1500 truck. The winner of the truck will be an angler who caught his fish while boating.
There are daily and weekly prizes. There are prizes for junior fishermen aged 14 and younger, and special prizes for the youngest anglers, from four to eight years old. There are daily mystery prizes.
There is a separate flyrod division with its own prize structure and registration fee.
The old cedar shingled weigh-in station is located at the foot of Main street in Edgartown. It is open daily from 8 to 10 a.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. A group of volunteers will be on hand to fillet donated fish for distribution to Island senior citizens.
The minimum size for striped bass is 32 inches, bigger than the state minimum size of 28 inches. The minimum size for bluefish is 22 inches (there is no state minimum size for bluefish). The minimum size for Atlantic bonito is 21 inches and for false albacore, 25 inches. Anglers are only allowed to weigh in three false albacore during the contest.
Mr. Skomal, a fisheries biologist and noted expert on sharks, is this year’s derby chairman. Speaking by telephone yesterday from a shark management workshop in Washington, D.C., Mr. Skomal said he looks forward to getting back to the Vineyard. He credited his predecessor, John Custer for his years of service as chairman. “I commend him. He still takes on a lot of responsibility,” Mr. Skomal said.
The derby which has grown up with the Internet and has posted results overnight on its Web site for some years, will be even faster this year; Mr. Skomal confirmed the plans for Twitter updates. “We have a mix here at the derby committee of those who have an expertise in modernization and those with a history of tradition. I think that is what makes the derby so successful. I am for rapid communication and discussion. Feedback is important to us,” Mr. Skomal said.
The derby Web site is mvderby.com.
This year’s weigh masters are veterans Roy Langley, who will do the morning shift, and Charlie Smith, who will take over the evening shift. “Both have done it for a long time and thy do their jobs well,” said Mr. Jerome. And as she did last year, Maria Plese will oversee managing the operation of the weigh-in with helpers.
This week another derby committee member William (Will) DeBettencourt, who owns Bink’s Auto in Oak Bluffs, is busy building a new fillet shack to replace the old one that fell apart. Plus there are new windows at derby headquarters.
If all goes well, the derby committee will again donate $30,000 to a high school senior scholarship fund and another $10,000 for other charitable purposes. The organization has awarded $300,000 in scholarships since 1986. “We’ve got our scholarship goals,” Mr. Jerome said. They also hope to keep growing the organization so some day there is an endowment fund.
There will be plenty of catch reports in the weeks ahead, but a final report will take place at the awards ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Nectar’s.