The reels are oiled. The rods are checked, the lures are packed into tackle boxes. At 12:01 Sunday morning, lines will sing out of reels all over the Island, as the 73rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby gets underway. If early signups are any indication, this year’s event may top the 3,500 anglers who participated last year.

There will be early mornings of fishing and late nights of fishing. — Jeanna Shepard

As always, four species of fish are up for grabs: striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. The competitors who catch the biggest fish by weight of each species from shore will wind up on stage at the suspense filled awards ceremony five weeks from now with a chance to win a Cape Codder fishing boat, while those who catch the biggest fish from a boat will join them on stage with a chance to win a Clay Suburu vehicle.

While anglers will experience the same excitement on the beaches and in the boats, and the same festive scene each morning and each evening at the weigh station in Edgartown, there is an important change in this year’s derby.

The derby brings a shoulder season economic boon to the Island. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Joe El-Deiry assumes the role of chairman of the derby, inheriting the position from John Custer who handled those duties for many years. Mr. Custer, along with longtime derby participant Ed Amaral, were inducted into the derby hall of fame this year.

Mr. El-Deiry is a veteran of the derby committee and the weigh station, and says he is ready for the challenge. It’s in his blood.

“I’ve lived by four seasons, winter, spring, summer and derby, for the last 24 years,” Mr. El-Deiry said as he was finishing up last minute details of this year’s competition. “The derby has been a huge part of my life since I moved to the Vineyard 24 years ago. I haven’t missed a derby since I moved here. When I was young, I used to eat, sleep and drink fishing. It was the only thing that I really thought about for five weeks. Now I’m much older and I have a lot more responsibilities, so I’m not able to fish as much or as crazily as I used to. I definitely still get derby fever.”

A big part of the thrill for Mr. El-Deiry is helping kids participate. The derby has divisions for mini-juniors (age 4 to 8) and juniors (age 9 to 14) which always generate plenty of enthusiasm.

The derby gives back to the Island community in lots of ways, including a scholarship fund. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Probably my favorite part of being involved with weigh master duties is watching little kids come down to the weigh station and weighing in fish, and being able to high five them,” Mr. El-Deiry said.

There will be an important rule change this year. In previous competitions, fish had to be weighed in within 12 hours of being caught. This year the derby committee stretched the time limit to 14 hours. That will eliminate the quandary of leaving an active fishing spot, or trying to beat the clock back to Edgartown to weigh a fish. With a 14 hour time limit, anglers can opt to wait until the following weigh in session.

The weigh station in Edgartown is open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the derby.

This week, Peter Sliwkowski was busy signing up derby anglers at his new venture, Little Larry’s Tackle Shop (formerly Porky’s Bait and Tackle) just across the way from the derby headquarters.

The weigh station in Edgartown is open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the derby. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“It’s been a really good start, the sign ups seem to be, at least up to this point, a little bit better than last year,” Mr. Sliwkowski said. “Saturday will be the day of reckoning, because of all the sign ups on Saturday. Everyone waits until the last moment. But we’ve had a pretty good turnout already this week.

Mr. Sliwkowski also co-owns Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown. The derby brings a shoulder season economic boon to hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals, and, naturally, tackle shops.

“September represents 20 to 30 per cent greater than any other month of the season, it’s a big boost,” Mr. Sliwkowski said.

He said with waters beginning to cool down and fish beginning their fall migration through Vineyard waters, the fishing is getting better by the day.

September is a good time of year for false albacore. — Jeanna Shepard

“A lot of the excitement in the derby is the false albacore,” Mr. Sliwkowski said. “The striped bass and bluefish are always challenging, but that makes it fun. I’m a Chappy guy, so first light on East Beach in September is always really good for false albacore. The bigger bass tend to be up-Island, Squibnocket, North Shore, where there’s a little bit more structure. You’ll see a lot of the bigger fish, at least from shore, coming from up-Island.”

Derby president Ed Jerome will once again help open the weigh station Sunday morning, where fishermen will vie to be the first to weigh in a fish, insuring, if just momentarily, a place atop the leader boards.

For Mr. Jerome, a big part of the derby goes beyond the fishing.

“Out goal is to give back to the Island community in lots of ways, making sure the economy is benefited over the fall,” Mr. Jerome said. “We give a large portion of our income to graduates of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and Public Charter School. We want to make sure they all have an opportunity to further their education, to get out and see the world, and get off-Island, grow. Our way is to make sure that they have some funds to do that. Kids are going all over the country to some of the best schools available, and we’re really proud of them.”

Summer is in the rear view mirror. — Jeanna Shepard

Last year the derby awarded $37,500 in educational scholarships to Island students.

Fish come and go each year, but Mr. Jerome said what endures are the friendships.

“It’s into its 73rd year if you can imagine, started in 1946,” Mr. Jerome said. “There are so many people who have become friends as a result of this tournament, fishing, bumping into people on the beach, talking over coffee, sharing stories, lots of laughs, and coming back year after year. It’s such a good feeling to know you have such an extended family, all the result of such an incredible event. People cherish being part of the derby. We’re awfully proud to participate in one way or another.”

So with rods strapped in the rack atop the vehicle, coolers mounted on the front bumper, and summer in the rear view mirror, the annual rite of fall begins again. For many, it’s the perfect time of year.

“After a long busy spring and summer,” said Mr. El-Deiry, “it’s kind of perfect to know that the derby is coming up, and know that there will be early mornings of fishing, and late nights of fishing, and just talking to people about fishing.”