Although relatively few weigh-ins took place Wednesday night at derby headquarters, the docks were crowded with curious out-of-towners, fresh from eating dinner at the Atlantic and on their way back to their hotels. Outside, bundled-up derby newcomers watched the fillet volunteers prepare fish. A woman snapped photos of a large bluefish on weighmaster Charlie Smith’s table. Another approached the derby ladies behind the counter and asked the difference between an albacore and a false albacore. Derby chairman Chuck Hodgkinson was called to the task.
“Don’t ask me these tough questions,” Mr. Hodgkinson laughed, adding (perhaps not helpfully) “One’s true and one’s false.”
Spirits are high at derby headquarters, on the shore and on the water as the 67th Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby enters its final days. The last weigh-in bell rings at 10 p.m. on Saturday. The awards ceremony, open to all, will be held at Farm Neck Golf Club on Sunday. The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. Over $300,000 in prizes will be awarded, including the two grand prizes of a boat from Eastern Boats and a 2012 Chevy Silverado truck donated by Bob Clay. (Mr. Clay is also a derby participant, and is currently leading in the flyrod shore striped bass category.) The ceremony also features a silent auction, with proceeds benefitting the derby scholarship fund. Silent auction items include a mount of the 2011 world record striped bass, an 81.88 pound fish caught by Greg Myerson and original works by artists Paul McPhee and Brian Kirkpatrick.
Mr. Hodgkinson reported over 3,100 entrants as of Wednesday, a number increasing even as he spoke: a line of people had formed at the registration table to drop off their forms. Last year, there were 2,707 total participants.
Over 200 anglers weighed in during the holiday weekend, the last full weekend of the derby. The number of people bringing in their fish Monday morning surprised even veteran derby volunteer Amy Coffey. Ms. Coffey said she has also been struck by the number of junior participants in this year’s event.
The holiday weekend also brought changes to the leader board. Robert Thomas, who won the Super Saturday bonito challenge, surpassed junior angler Tommy White for the largest shore bonito with a catch weighing 7.86 pounds. As is the fickle nature of the leader board, however, Mr. Thomas lost his spot Thursday morning when Eric Brown weighed in an 8.09 pound bonito. A similar pattern took place in the shore bluefish category. Will Powell weighed in his 14.16 blue last Friday, only to fall into second place on Sunday, when Robert Boyhan brought in a 15.39 catch.
Roy Langley at the fillet station was a very busy man.
— Ray Ewing
The junior boat-caught striped bass has a new leader as well: Luke El-Deiry brought in a 23.6 pound fish on Monday.
Roy Langley at the fillet station was a very busy man. Certain spots remain unchanged. First place in the shore-caught false albacore hasn’t changed since the first week of the derby (Morgan Taylor with a 13.22 albie), while Adam Cummings (boat-caught bluefish, 16.06 pounds) and Patrick Jenkinson (boat-caught albie, 12.75 pounds) have held on to their top spots since the second week. But perhaps the most notable lack of change is that of the largest boat-caught striped bass. Stephen Pietruska, a veteran derby winner from Sarasota, Fla. and West Tisbury, weighed in his 44.4 pound fish on Sept. 30. Since then, nobody has touched his catch. The next largest striper, caught by Sean Ready, weighs 39.61 pounds. Pete Spengler’s 37.34 pound striper holds on to the third-place spot.
Mr. Pietruska has been out on the water every day of the derby; this is his fourth year participating. He and fishing partner John Carroll went out on a Sunday morning fishing trip — the Patriots were on TV later in the afternoon — and headed first to Squibnocket. The pair fished all morning, catching mostly small bass and a few bluefish.
“I said, ‘Let’s just go to one more spot, and we’ll go in,’” Mr. Pietruska said on Thursday. After motoring to an unidentified location, “not too far from Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Pietruska offered, Mr. Carroll immediately had a large fish on his line. Almost immediately Mr. Pietruska set his own hook. But Mr. Carroll’s line popped, while Mr. Pietruska reeled in his fish.
“He was not too happy with me,” Mr. Pietruska said. “The truth is, of all the years we’ve been fishing, the biggest fish always bites first, don’t ask me why.”
Needless to say, the pair didn’t make it back for the Patriots game, and had to watch the recording later.
Nearly 10 tons of fish (19,921 pounds) had been weighed in as of Thursday. Brice Contessa, brought in 35.43 of those pounds and last weekend landed the only flyrod Grand Slam of the derby. There have been nine Grand Slams brought in so far, including three junior Slams. Mr. Contessa’s slam was boat-caught; there have been no flyrod shore Grand Slams since 1995.
“I try to get one every year, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Mr. Contessa said on Thursday. He has had four flyrod Grand Slams in over 10 years of fishing the derby. Mr. Contessa caught an albie and a blue before leaving the Island mid-derby, and “had a couple of lucky casts,” upon returning to nab the missing two links.
“For fly fishing, the bonito and the striper are the hardest ones to catch,” he said. “There’s just less of them.” But, he added, often the large bonito don’t arrive until later in October, so “you’re in it till the last day.”