At the end of Main street in Edgartown, between the Yacht Club and the Atlantic Restaurant, stands a small shed, two-storied and unadorned, with a few small windows. For most of the year it serves as a home for the Yacht Club’s odds and ends. But for five weeks in September and October it is transformed into: DERBY HEADQUARTERS.

So says the sign that went up last Saturday as over a dozen members of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby’s organizing committee gathered to ready the weigh-station for this year’s tournament, which begins at 12:01 a.m. this Sunday.

This is the derby’s 77th year, and once again Islanders, seasonal residents and visitors will join together in a five-week hunt for the largest bluefish, bonito and false albacore to be found in Vineyard waters. Striped bass will not be a part of the competition again this year. Recent years have seen a turnout of well over 3,000 registrants all hopeful to claim the grand prize—this year, a 22-foot hardtop from Eastern Boats with an outboard motor and trailer. All proceeds from registration go to scholarships for local high school seniors, per the derby’s longstanding tradition. In the spring, the derby committee gave out $80,000 to Island students.

“We’re excited. Fall is such a great time of year on the Vineyard. Crowds are thinning out but the weather’s fantastic,” John Custer, president of the derby committee, said on Saturday at the weigh-station, taking a break from his weekday job as principal of the Tisbury School.

Menemsha jetty is the perfect fishing hole. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Custer estimated that nearly half of the derby registrants come from off-Island, and local tackle shops report that derby season is the “busiest month of the year.”

Phil Horton, the newly appointed chairman of the derby committee, said on Wednesday that the derby had around 900 anglers pre-registered. The number of registrants is bound to rise in the derby’s first few weeks, he added.

At Kismet Outfitters in Edgartown, owner Abbie Schuster sells live bait and some tackle, and takes derby competitors on guided fly fishing trips.

“We get the same clients every year who fish the derby with us,” Ms. Schuster said. “It’s great reuniting with them and the community around the derby.”

This year is Ms. Schuster’s first “carrying derby pins” or working as one of the derby’s registration hubs, where

Casting off from the Oak Bluffs fishing pier. — Jeanna Shepard

preregistered competitors can pick up their gear, including Derby pins and a hat. An Island native, she said she’s been fishing the derby on and off for her whole life.

“It’s the best time of year on the Island,” Ms. Schuster said.

Coming out of two pandemic derbies, this year sees a number of changes in the competition. Social distancing and masking requirements have been dropped at the weigh station, re-opening many derby entrants’ favorite gathering spot. The weigh station’s evening hours have also changed from 8-10 p.m. to 7–9 p.m. (The station is also open in the morning, as always, from 8–10 a.m.).

The final change tweaks the team

competition rules. Pairs who enter the team competition can submit six weigh-ins rather than three — each angler’s heaviest fish in each of the three categories. These six combined weights will make up the team score.

Teaching the next generation. — Jeana Shepard

“These people, when they make a change, they make damn sure it’ll be a good one,” said Cooper Gilkes, owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle and a long-time member of the derby committee. Mr. Gilkes said these days he prefers to let the younger members of the committee spearhead the organizing work.

“It amazes me, the time that these people put in for the kids,” Mr. Gilkes said. “It’s a community project that’s one of the best.”

According to tackle shops and local fisherman, it’s been a strong summer for bluefish. False albacore are also showing up in their robust autumn droves, but bonito are slow coming in.

“Bonitos have been tricky,” Ms. Schuster said. “They’re such funny fish. Some years they’re all over the place, but not this year.”

“The word has been that the bonito fishing has been slow,” Mr. Custer confirmed. “But we’re hopeful. Fall seems to bring a change in water temperature and bait.”

Edgartown Lighthouse Beach is always a popular spot. — Larry Glick

Mr. Horton said that to get a feel for fishing conditions, you have to get out on the shore or on the water and just start fishing.

“You never know with these fishermen,” Mr. Horton joked, referring to pessimistic reports on the water. “You have to check for yourself.”

The 77th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby runs from Sunday, Sept. 11 to Saturday, Oct. 15, with an awards ceremony on Oct. 16. Derby headquarters is located on Dock street in Edgartown, with weigh-ins daily at 8 to 10 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit

More pictures.