At the entrance to Cooper Gilkes’s Edgartown tackle shop a sign on the door reads: “Talk Derby to Me.”

And while derby talk goes on all year long, this week it reaches its annual fever pitch as the 76th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Gilkes had just returned from fishing the jetty by the Big Bridge, one of his favorite spots, he said.

“But nobody was home,” he said, referring to his empty haul.

“But it’s increasing every day,” he added. “I think we will hit it right on time for the derby.”

An eternal optimist when it comes to life both above and below the water, Mr. Gilkes admitted he probably says the same thing every year.

The tournament runs through Oct. 16, with weigh-ins each morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and evening from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. According to derby committee president John Custer, this year’s tournament will look a lot like last year, with the same Covid precautions in place at the weigh-in station, but a lot more experience in the organizers’ tackle boxes.

Giulio Capau works the waters by the Big Bridge. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We are remarkably similar to our practices last year,” Mr. Custer said on Wednesday, after a long day ushering in a new school year at the Tisbury School where he hangs up his derby hat and replaces it with his school principal hat. “There is no gathering at the weigh station, the public can’t come inside or hang out along the dock.”

Last year the committee decided to take striped bass out of competition for the good of the species. “The same reasons are still valid,” Mr. Custer said, referring to the committee’s decision to keep striped bass out of competition again this year.

Other than precautions at the weigh-station, the derby will look like it has for the last 76 years.

“The mystery prizes are back and Eastern Boats is sponsoring the grand prize again,” Mr. Custer said.

Cape Codder boats had supplied the grand prize boat the last few years but when they felt they couldn’t continue and Eastern Boats reached out to the committee, it felt like a win-win, he said.

There will be no grand prize truck or car this year. “Just one single grand prize, with six leaders,” Mr. Custer said.

As of earlier this week just over 1,000 anglers had entered the competition, which is about normal for this stage, Mr. Custer said. “A lot of people wait until the last minute or until they come to the Island to officially enter,” he said.

Last year saw near record entry, he added, with about 3,500 fishermen out on the water for the 75th derby. Mr. Custer said they had planned a big celebration for last year’s anniversary but in the end, just being able to hold the derby during the Covid uncertainty of 2020 was celebration enough. He said he expects around the same number of entrants this year.

A few of those early entrants were out this week, hitting the Menemsha jetty at sunrise on Tuesday. Father and son duo Gary and Jules Stuber unpacked fly rods from their jeep, looking to hook into some albies before work.

Starting young at Memorial Wharf. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Doing that first light thing,” Gary said.

Gary has been fishing the derby since 1992 and his son Jules fished his first derby when he was 10 years old. They will frequent Menemsha, hit the spots along the north shore and hop in a friend’s boat whenever the invitation arrives in the coming weeks.

But mostly they look forward to fishing together. “Whenever we can,” Gary said.

Out on the jetty, Patrick Norton was finding nobody at home after repeated casts. He said he’s been fishing the derby for three years. He moved to the Island over 10 years ago, but it took some time to get hooked.

“Now, there’s always a pole in the truck,” he said.

He heads out each morning before work, and plans to take Fridays off during the tournament. He works as a plumber and as the Island hangs up its “Gone Fishing” signs, the pace at untold number of work sites will likely slow down a bit.

Mr. Norton said he loves the adrenaline that spikes when an albie hits the line, but really there is no bad day when out on the water.

“You see all parts of the Island when fishing, places you wouldn’t go to,” he said. “And even if you don’t catch anything, you look up and think, wow, that is an incredible view.”

Bill Bennett is heading out for his first derby this year. And at 83 years old, it’s a long time coming. When asked what his excuse was, after all he moved to the Island about 20 years ago, he said he was busy with other aspects of the derby.

“I worked as a volunteer picking up fish caught during the derby that goes to the senior centers,” he said. “That kept me in the mix. You are dealing with people who love fish and really need it; often it is the main part of their meal.”

Making memories at Eastville Beach. — Ray Ewing

The derby fillet program is a longstanding initiative that provides free fish all over the Vineyard to the Island elderly. Mr. Bennett said the volunteer work has been especially rewarding, but this year he decided to switch it up.

“There’s always a lot of chatter at the senior center. How much did they catch, where did they catch it, how come they didn’t catch more. Well, I figured it was time to experience the other end of the process, the catching of it.”

He will be accompanied by his son-in-law Mike Schmelzer out on the water. Mr. Bennett turns 84 on Oct. 19, just a few days after the derby ends, but he’s looking for an early birthday present.

On the other end of the experience spectrum, Mr. Gilkes will be fishing his 67th derby. When asked for a favorite memory he didn’t hesitate.

“The guys I fished with,” he said. “Ed Jerome, Eddie Medeiros, Arthur Winters. So many good things happened.”

His eyes took on an extra twinkle: “Especially the Columbus Day Blitz.”

“We took the wives out all night and brought them in the morning,” he recalled. “Nothing happened that night but as we dropped our wives off we picked up a rumble that down the beach there was something happening. We told our wives we would be back in about an hour. But we didn’t return until 5 p.m. that night. There were 30-pound stripers all over the place.”

Albies on the rocks. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Gilkes is also excited about his favorite day of the derby, the kids fishing tournament he organizes each year for ages 4 to 14 that takes place on the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier. This year’s event is Sunday, Sept. 19.

“That’s the best,” he said. “Seeing all those kids bring up maybe their first fish.”

In addition to helping to hook the next generation of Island fishermen and running his tackle shop Mr. Gilkes is ready to help out down at the weigh-in station if needed.

“I’m on call if they need me,” he said. “But they never call. The younger generation, they are great. They have it down.”

For more information and daily results for the 76th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, visit

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