Last year kids ruled the Derby. Standing at the top of the leader board for boat caught fish were three junior anglers under the age of 13. Aubrey Warburton, age 10, took home the grand prize car, although it will be years before she can drive it to the water’s edge, its roof rack presumably layered with rods and reels, the trunk filled with tackle boxes and bait buckets.

A minute past midnight on Sunday morning, the opening bell will ring for the 75th time on the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. And perhaps kids will rule again this year. After all they will have a head start, with concerns about the coronavirus keeping schools closed a little longer.

This is of course a silver lining look, which we are always in need of, but especially in these dark days.

The Derby will be different this year. Striped bass are sitting this one out for the benefit of the species. There will be no lingering at headquarters either, to talk about the ones reeled in and the ones that got away. For safety, there will be no coffee served or crowds permitted around the filet table to watch the “Eli show,” as night weighmaster Mike Cassidy calls the magical powers of fish whisperer and filet master Eli Bonnell. 

On Wednesday morning Mr. Cassidy was making alterations to Derby headquarters in Edgartown. Ordinarily, a ramp leads up to the front door and fishermen walk inside with their catch. This year no one is allowed inside and so Mike was knocking down a railing and continuing the ramp so people could walk up to the door, weigh in their fish, and then walk down the other side without interacting with other fishermen.

But Mike will be there, working as he has done for 32 years, as will the many other volunteers who put this tournament together each year. Mike has been fishing the Derby since 1978 when he was still commuting to the Island.

Last year Mike was inducted into the Derby Hall of Fame, alongside Chris Scott, the latest of three dozen or so people to have received that honor. The contributions these men, along with many other Derby lovers, have made to the Island are thick as baitfish during a bluefish run.

The Derby is a community event, both on the water and off. Last year the Derby committee gave away more than $50,000 in college scholarships and over 3,000 pounds of fresh fish to Island senior centers. It is a family event with one generation teaching the next how to fish, how to be one with nature, how to trade a snug blanket in bed for bobbing under a blanket of stars out on the ocean. It is also a personal event, about having hope when faced with the unknown, believing that something is stirring beneath those waves, if not on this cast then the next cast or the one after that.

In addition to college scholarships and fish donations, the Derby has long extended the summer economic engine into the fall. Fishermen come from all over and they need places to stay, food to eat, places to shop. It is no easy job to put together the Derby each year, especially so during a pandemic, but Mr. Cassidy said there was never a thought not to keep it going.

Money does not drive the Derby and it never will. There is no grand prize car this year, but that doesn’t matter to the many fishermen hard at working already, checking on their rods, reels, lures and favorite fishing spots.

In his homage to the fishing life, Blues, Vineyard author John Hersey wrote of its myriad components, with the sheer beauty of being on the water bringing with it a love, awareness and respect for nature and the environment.

Fish on! Mr. Hersey wrote. Yes indeed, Fish on!