Seconds after the bell was rung at 8 a.m. Sunday announcing the start of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, two fish were carried through the door, lifted onto the scale and recorded on the leader board in the Edgartown harbor weigh-in shack.
Peter Shepardson, 55, of Vineyard Haven, brought in one of each of the titular fish in the competition: a 10.65 bluefish, then a 12.44 striped bass, all caught from the shore. Fishermen are also vying for bonito and false albacore.
Mr. Shepardson, a real estate agent and veteran angler, has fished the derby for 15 years, he said. And with experience comes expertise — as well as stamina and patience. Mr. Shepardson plied the north shore with squid. His first fish was reeled in a 2 a.m., the second at 4 a.m. By 8 a.m. he had wended his way to the derby headquarters in Edgartown for the first weigh-in in the month-long competition.
But while Mr. Shepardson was the first to register his fish, he was not the first or only person at the door when the opening bell rang. A crowd of nearly 60 people had gathered, some clustered near the door with their catches, others lingering farther away to watch the scene unfold.
Among them was Matthew Bradshaw, 19, a tile worker, from West Tisbury. Mr. Bradshaw arrived first on the scene, but stepped away moments before the bell was rung, making him the second through the door. He, too, had spent the early hours of the morning along the shorelines. He reeled in his 7.05 pound bluefish at 1:45 a.m. from the Menemsha shoreline, he said.
The derby runs through Oct. 19, drawing anglers from near and far to fish Vineyard waters in search of The Big One. Prizes are awarded daily and weekly to adults, juniors and teams. Four of the derby Saturdays will be Super Saturdays, in which each species of fish gets its turn in the spotlight; the angler with the heaviest-caught fish in the designated species wins $500.
But the real prizes everyone is after will not be doled out until the end, at the awards ceremony held Oct. 20 at Farm Neck Golf Club. The overall top leaders in the shore fishing category will be entered into a lottery for a a 22-foot center console boat, courtesy of Eastern Boats. Boat fishermen will vie for a 2013 Chevy Silverado pickup, courtesy of Clay Family Dealerships
"This is a great turnout," said derby chairman John Custer, surveying the crowd and the clear, sunny skies. "Like the celebrating the beginning of the New Year, it is a happy start, with all the pomp and circumstance."
For more photos of the weigh-in, see the gallery Bell Has Rung, Let the Derby Begin!