The long poles and the antennae of deep-sea fishing boats lined the harbor in Oak Bluffs on Thursday as fishermen from on and off-Island prepared for the first annual Oak Bluffs Blue Water Classic fishing tournament.
Pete Przygocki of Brewster and his friends were getting ready for a trip about 120 miles southeast of the Vineyard, where they hoped to catch yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, and blue and white marlin.
Departing from the Monster Shark Tournament, which drew crowds in Oak Bluffs every summer for 27 years, this year’s competition does not target sharks, and catch-and-release is required for marlin and all non-edible species.
“We’re definitely attracting a different crowd,” said Damon Sacco, who along with Christian Giardini is organizing the event. “It’s not about the party, it’s about the fishing.”
Mr. Sacco estimated that about 80 per cent of the fishermen on Thursday were from off-Island.
Boats are allowed to go as far as 130 miles from the Gay Head Light, said Mr. Giardini. The biggest catches require a trip of at least 80 miles.
In the lobby of the Wesley Hotel, where the tournament is based, Mr. Sacco’s first mate, Damon Burden of Orleans, watched the overcast harbor and chatted with hotel guests. Mr. Burden remembers taking part for many years in the Monster Shark Tournament.
The Monster Shark Tournament’s longtime organizer, Steve James, died in a hunting accident in January. The Boston Big Game Fishing Club, which holds the Monster Shark Tournament, moved it to Newport this year.
In February, the Oak Bluffs selectmen decided to grant a harbor permit to Mr. Sacco and Mr. Giardini, rather than to an applicant who had proposed a shark tournament with a catch-and-release option.
“These guys are pretty serious fishermen,” Mr. Burden said. “You don’t get all the craziness that comes with the shark tournament.”
Mr. Sacco said that 25 boats had registered between Wednesday and Thursday. “We’re hoping to grow this event and get to 100 boats if we can in a few years,” he said.
Boats will typically stay out on the ocean for two out of three days, he said. Fishing began on Thursday evening and will end on Saturday.
Catches will be scored on a point system according to weight, and no points will be awarded for sharks. Marlin will be catch-and-release only. Weighing will take place at the dock next to Our Market on Saturday between 5 and 7 p.m., and awards will be given at Dreamland at 10 p.m., followed by a party with live music.
Ten per cent of the tournament’s proceeds will be donated to the Island Autism Group, and sales from a raffle on Saturday will benefit the Massachusetts General Hospital colon cancer research fund.
Opposition to the annual Monster Shark Tournament was often vocal, with protesters opposing the practice of weighing-in dead sharks at the harbor. Police also had concerns, saying tournaments over the last few years led to excessive drinking and many arrests.
Mr. Burden estimated that between 500 and 700 people were in Oak Bluffs for the tournament on Thursday.
“For a first-year tournament, we’re impressed,” he said. “Everybody seems to be having a good time. We just hope the weather just holds for the fishing. This is about the fishing for us, not so much the partying and all that stuff that comes with it.”