The 64th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is winding down and it could be practically over with today and tomorrow’s bad weather. Though the weather already has shut down the shore division, there has been a new development every day this week in the boat division.
On Sunday, the derby committee announced that a fish weighed on Oct. 5 was removed from the contest because it had ice in it.
Stephen J. Pietruska, of Tisbury, who already leads the derby with the heaviest striped bass, a 44.68-pound fish he caught on a boat on the first day of the derby, had weighed in a 13.86-pound bluefish. The entry was almost immediately put on hold when derby officials found ice still in the fish cavity when it was examined. It is routine to cut open all derby leaders.
The issue of a couple of shards of ice was critical. Derby officials determined that the weight of the ice had added .11 pounds to the entry. All fishermen are required to remove foreign objects such as ice from a fish prior to weighing it.
The bluefish was held from the contest that night, pending a committee decision. That decision came on Saturday.
On Monday evening, 11-year-old Wyatt Jenkinson of Chilmark became an Island favorite candidate for winning the grand prize, a truck, after he weighed in a 9.71-pound bonito he caught with his father, Patrick, earlier in the day. Wyatt drew a large crowd at the weigh station, including his grandparents, Joannie and Patrick Jenkinson, who all watched as he put the fish on the table. The crowd cheered.
On Tuesday, Mr. Pietruska returned to the derby weigh-in with another boat bluefish, this time without ice inside. The fish weighed 13.71 pounds, and as of yesterday, it was slated to take a second place in the boat bluefish category.
On Wednesday, Henry R. Fauteux weighed in a new leader, a 14.04-pound bluefish, and it takes over the boat bluefish category.
“We are in the home stretch,” said Greg Skomal, derby chairman. More than 2,800 anglers are competing and they’ve landed over 17,000 pounds of striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and Atlantic bonito. Attendance by both fishermen and fish is above last year.
“We know that the last couple of days can be fiercely competitive,” Mr. Skomal said. With gale force winds predicted today and maybe tomorrow, there is concern some boat fishermen may take unwise risks to catch the biggest fish. “We certainly want our participants to keep in mind the weather conditions [and] don’t allow their enthusiasm to compromise their safety,” he said.
There is a lot to win. The grand winner of this year’s boat division can walk away with a new Chevy Silverado pickup truck. A grand winner of the shore division can win a 24-foot fully rigged Eastern powerboat. There is $350,000-plus in prizes, much already awarded, but all to be given to winners on Sunday afternoon at the final ceremony, held at Nectar’s. The awards ceremony begins at 1 p.m.
Young Mr. Jenkinson has captured the imagination of the community. “We are all excited about his presence on the leaderboard,” said Mr. Skomal. If the boy wins the truck, it could be years before he is old enough to drive it.
Fishing from the shore this year has been one of the toughest challenges in fishermen’s memory. Though big fish are being weighed in, they aren’t at the level many anglers recall. Call it desperation, or call it innovation; Doug Asselin at Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop said he saw anglers trying all kinds of new ways to catch a fish, including amber-colored lures.
“It has been terrible fishing weather. Every three or four days the wind gets up to 20 to 30 knots,” Mr. Asselin said. When it comes to shopping for lures, he said, “I see more people experimenting.”
Mark Carlson, of Bethlehem, Conn., fished the derby this week. He was out on Wasque on Tuesday afternoon, feeling grateful just to be here in these economic times. He works as a carpenter for the city of Waterbury. Mr. Carlson said he wondered where the fishermen and the fish are hiding. The last time he fished the derby was seven years ago. But after reading the newly published book The Big One, by David Kinney, he decided to return to the Island and re-ignite his love for the Vineyard and fishing and to get re-acquainted with old friends.
“I fished on East Beach on Columbus Day. The weather was beautiful. I think I was the only one on the beach. I had the whole beach to myself. I find that unbelievable. If this was seven years ago, on the last week of the derby, that beach would be packed,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, Memorial Wharf in Edgartown had half a dozen fishermen casting into the rushing water. With the stiff breeze off the water, there was but one fisherman standing at the jetty entrance to Menemsha.
To the angler who caught a winning fish, this was a great derby. To the angler who was skunked after three days of fishing, it’s a different story. All of them will get together on Sunday at the awards ceremony and share their stories before the prizewinners step on stage.
Mr. Skomal said he has already heard a lot from anglers and derby committee members on the flavor of this year’s contest.
“The weigh station was quiet for the last few nights. How do you put the pieces together to figure out what is going on? Is it the lack of fish? Is it the weather? We’ve had that persistent wind. Is it the economy?” Mr. Skomal asked.
“If you have a choice to go out and play or go to work, with this poor economy, you go out and work. You chose the days you play carefully. I think work comes in first in a tough economy,” Mr. Skomal said.
While that didn’t impact the number of fishermen entering the contest, the economy may have had an influence on how often they put a line in the water. For sure, Mr. Skomal said, he expects the fishermen will be sharing their opinions on Sunday. He described the awards ceremony as “fish story central.”