As the 76th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby heads into the final week of competition, a day 40 years ago is on a lot of fishermen’s minds — the Columbus Day blitz.

“This is the 40th anniversary of that day in 1981,” recalled derby president John Custer this week. “It is special to me, the story of that day with Ed Jerome, Cooper Gilkes and my father in law Eddie Medeiros fishing together.”

The men had been out fishing all night with not much to show for it, but when they came in with their wives to drop them at home they heard something was rumbling down at the Tisbury Great Pond opening. It would be 12 hours before they made it back home again, the stripers and blues were so thick.

“My father in- law caught the winning

Jetties will be crowded this weekend. — Mark Alan Lovewell

striped bass that day, a 55-pounder,” Mr. Custer recalled. “Every year around this time I remind him of it and he tells me the story again.”

The story, like all good ones, is a mixture of past and present. The days of monster striped bass almost leaping out of the ocean are gone. In fact, striped bass are not included in this year or last year’s derby, due to a decline in the species.

But hope on this holiday weekend, and second to last weekend of the derby, continues to spring eternal.

“We have 2,983 people registered thus far,” Mr. Custer said. “But we usually see a bump heading into Columbus Day weekend as people come over and sign up during the holiday.”

Mr. Custer said they have a gentlemen’s wager down at derby headquarters on what will be the final number of registrations. His number is 3,341, which would be close to last year’s near-record number of participants.

There has been talk all derby that the fishing has not been robust this year. But it would seem fishermen drink from a cocktail mixed half full and half empty.

“Last year people said the fishing was fantastic but you haven’t heard that this year,” Mr. Custer said. “And yet last year we had 1,444 fish brought in for the whole derby. This year we are at 1,072 with a whole week left. It all depends on the weather.”

The leader board contains a mix of familiar names and some newcomers, like 12-year old Elizabeth Thompson, a seventh grader at the West Tisbury School, who leads the boat-caught bonito division with an 11.68-pound fish. Elizabeth is no novice, though, having broke the derby’s junior record for boat-caught bonito last year.

Can't beat the view. — Ray Ewing

For most of the derby David Kadison sat at the top of two leaderboards: boat-caught bluefish and boat-caught false albacore. He weighed in his blue on the first day of the derby, a 16.54-pounder. It wasn’t until Sept. 30 that another big blue, brought in by James Joyce, threatened his standing. Mr. Custer was there that night, volunteering at the weigh station. “I thought, that looks like a big bluefish,” he said, recalling the moment.

Mr. Joyce’s fish weighed in at exactly 16.54 pounds, creating a temporary two-way tie for first place in the boat-caught bluefish division. But according to derby rules, the first fish landed wins.

“So at the time, Joyce’s fish was effectively in second place,” Mr. Custer said.

Then Richard Wood dashed most bluefish hopes by weighing in a whopping 20.11-pound fish on Oct. 1.

“But there are still a lot of opportunities on the leader board,” Mr. Custer said. “Most of the chatter is that the shore-caught albie division is beatable. That’s what people are saying but it’s been there for a couple of weeks.”

“It” would be David Nash’s 9.85-pound albie, caught from shore.

The filet table has seen its share of rush hours, as fishermen donate their catch to senior centers and other Island food organizations.

A late afternoon session. — Ray Ewing

“Lots of people are donating their bluefish and they are taking care of the fish, too, keeping them iced down,” Mr. Custer said. “Our motto is, if we wouldn’t eat it ourselves then we won’t donate them.”

“Island Grown Initiative is involved this year, too,” Mr. Custer continued. “They pick up on Sundays and have helped in a big way because the senior centers were overwhelmed with fish.”

D.J. Pothier and David Merry are the filet masters with plenty of on-call volunteers helping out.

“They go through a lot of knives so it’s good that one of our key sponsors is Dexter Knives,” Mr. Custer said.

The committee is still working out the details for the awards ceremony, to be held on Sunday, Oct. 17. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, the ceremony was held at the Edgartown School with only the leaders and one invited guest allowed to attend in-person. This year the ceremony will be back at Farm Neck Golf Club.

“We think we will be able to put more elements back in,” Mr. Custer said. “We have an in-pencil plan at the moment and are reviewing it with the boards of health. We want to celebrate everyone and acknowledge the winners but also take into account what is prudent and safe.”

With his presidential derby duties and his day job as principal of the Tisbury School, Mr. Custer said he doesn’t have time to actually fish the derby. But with the Columbus Day blitz anniversary approaching, perhaps this weekend might be the time to wet line again — and have a story of his own to tell his father in law.

Mr. Custer laughed.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m headed off-Island this weekend to take my daughter on a college tour.”

Visit for a full list of leaders.