Call it a race to the top for the old pros. With the end of the 66th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby one day away, the leaderboard is loaded with big fish caught by well-known fishermen.

A total of nearly 2,700 fishermen registered for the derby this year. Representing all age groups, they’ve lined the shores and been out in boats seeking striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and the elusive Atlantic bonito.

Many said the fishing was tough, with unseasonably warm weather partly to blame and nagging worries about dwindling fish stocks, but beyond that the contest remained largely unchanged.

“I think the derby has been consistent with its heritage and its traditions,” said derby chairman Chuck Hodgkinson this week. “It was what people know and love and expect from the derby.” The derby ends tomorrow night at 10 p.m. with the last weigh-in. An awards ceremony will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. at Nectar’s. Following a trend seen in the last few years, the fish were scarce this year, confirmed Janet Messineo, a veteran Vineyard Haven fisherman who takes the month off to fish the derby. “I don’t think I missed a single sunrise or a sunset,” said Ms. Messineo, who runs a taxidermy business the other 11 months of the year. “I feel fortunate that I can do this,” she said. “But when it comes to February, I want to look back and say I fished as hard as I could.”

This year’s derby included strict enforcement of state regulations that now require a permit for recreational fishing. “I think the big challenge for the entire derby committee was how to work with this new state recreational fishing permit,” Mr. Hodgkinson said.

Early in the contest, two unnamed fishermen who had not obtained the state permits saw their fish disqualified at the weigh station. Mr. Hodgkinson said the incident served to send out a message to others in the derby.

The scarcity of fish was seen most keenly in the junior shore and fly-fishing categories.

Junior shore fishermen — 274 registered — caught just 34 fish during the derby, most of them striped bass. No bonito were weighed in by juniors. Junior boat fishermen fared better, landing 218 fish.

In the fly-fishing division, 210 registered fishermen weighed in 40 fish. Only 13 fish were caught from the shore by fly-fishermen.

Steve Morris of Oak Bluffs, who led the derby in his category at press time yesterday with a 14.86-pound bluefish caught from the shore, said it was not an easy catch. “I went through 16 eels feeding small two-pound bluefish. They were eating the tails off my eels,” Mr. Morris said. “I had been casting and retrieving, casting and retrieving. I was just thinking of going home,” he said, when the big one hit.

A derby veteran, Mr. Morris won the contest in 2000 with a striped bass that weighed 41.78 pounds, and also in 1983 when he caught a 49.96-pound bass.

Still, the two-time derby winner said: “It has been a tough contest. When you fish night after night and all you see are small fish here and there, that is tough to keep going night after night.”

He said he keeps a log of his fishing ventures and this year showed an improvement over last year. “There aren’t as many bass around here as there were five or six years ago. But I have seen a lot more striped bass in the seven to ten-pound range, than I did a year ago,” Mr. Morris said.

On Tuesday morning this week, Jim Cornwell, 74, of Edgartown weighed in a 15.46-pound striped bass that took a third place for the day. Hours later he was out with his son Jonathan, 42, fishing the Wasque rip. The retired nuclear chemist remembers being introduced to the derby as a child and fishing the derby with his father. “I remember when a derby button was $2,” he said. “I fish every day of the derby, as if it was my last,” he added, standing next to his truck while watching his son cast a lure deep into the churning surf. “I feel blessed.”

Melissa Schellhammer, 31, of Vineyard Haven, was in the top spot Thursday for the boat grand slam for catching all four fish. She has caught a 12.20-pound bluefish, a 7.80-pound Atlantic bonito, a 9.38-pound false albacore and a 36.20-pound striped bass. The total weight of her catch is 65.58 pounds, two pounds above David C. Kadison, who is in second place in the grand slam category with 63.61 pounds.

At the awards ceremony Sunday, more than $300,000 in prizes will be awarded, including the grand prizes: a 22-foot Eastern outboard boat and a 2011 Chevrolet four-wheel drive Silverado pickup truck. A drawing for the truck will be held among the top four boat fishermen who caught the largest striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. The boat will go to one of four shore anglers who caught the largest fish.

And special recognition will go to two derby veterans: David Pothier of Oak Bluffs and Nelson Sigelman of Vineyard Haven will be inducted into the derby hall of fame. Mr. Pothier has served on the derby committee for 25 years, including for a time as chairman. Mr. Sigelman has served on the derby committee and also in his role as managing editor and writer for the Martha’s Vineyard Times. Mr. Hodgkinson said both men have made significant contributions to the derby. “It is more than what you have done for me, it is what have you done for the community,” he said.

For the latest derby results go to