Fluke derby proves that boat size does not matter

The eleventh annual VFW Fluke Derby provided proof that it does not take a big boat to catch big fish; that perseverance and a good attitude are as important as fishing skill; and sometimes, nice guys do finish first.

On a weekend when the fishing was very, very slow and the frying heat made fishermen feel like a piece of calamari, Peter Cox of West Tisbury and Monroe, Conn. landed a 15.1-pound fluke.

For readers unfamiliar with fluke, also known as summer flounder, catching a fish that size is the equivalent of landing a striped bass that weighs about 60 pounds or catching a bluefish over 20 pounds.

To provide some historical perspective, the Massachusetts saltwater record fluke is a 21 pound, 8 ounce fluke Joseph Czapiga caught off Nomans Island on Sept. 25, 1980.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries sponsors an annual saltwater derby. In the last ten years only one fish broke 15 pounds, in 2007.

To qualify for the derby, a fish must be weighed on an official scale. Peter weighed his fish in at Dick’s in Oak Bluffs to qualify it. I do not think we need the services of that World Cup octopus handicapper to predict this year’s derby winner.

On Saturday I met Tom Robinson and Lucas Mercier and his sister Holly Mercier at 5 am. After organizing our gear we headed for the deep water off the gap between Pasque and Naushon in Tom’s 19-foot Seastrike. The morning fog provided some temporary relief from the hot sun.

We had some initial luck on what was left of the rising tide. But the fishing soon died off. There is always the temptation to run to another spot. On that day we resisted the urge to head for deep water off Seven Gates or any of the other well-known fluke spots around the Island.

Based on the reports from other fluke fishermen it was a wise strategy. Many fishermen did a lot of running around without much success. This tournament was all about putting in time for one or two or three fish. Or, in the case of Peter Cox, one fish that was the equivalent of three fish.

Most years, Peter fishes the tournament with his daughters Madeline and Kelsey and his niece, Nina Patterson of Ridgewood, N.J. His daughters were busy working so he enlisted his younger brother Thomas Cox of Vineyard Haven.

On Saturday, it was only Peter and Nina in the boat. The tide was slack, and Peter was fishing with one rod and another was in the rod holder on his 16-foot Lund. Nina was also fishing. They had been at it for several hours without a fish.

When the fish hit Peter said he thought it was a seven-pounder. When he saw it come to the surface he thought, “Oh my God.”

At first, Peter tried to net the fish himself. “It was quite a balancing act,” he said.

Twice the fish managed to escape the net. As any experienced fluke fisherman knows, one rarely gets a second chance.

“Can you help me,” Peter said to his niece. I cannot verify at what octave he made his request. She took the rod and he netted the fish. He did not want her to bear the awesome responsibility should the fish have escaped.

The fish barely fit in the boat cooler. “I wanted to get it in there so it wouldn’t get away,” Peter said.

I heard about the big fluke when I got home Saturday. Tom Cox lives nearby. “He could die tomorrow and be a happy person,” Tom said about his brother. “He’s out of his mind over this.”

And why not? For Peter and every longtime Island fisherman it is not about the prizes, it is about the glory that comes from growing up on an Island with a tradition of hard fishermen.

Peter said his fish helped prove that you do not need a big boat and advanced electronics to catch big fish. It can be done in a sturdy Lund with a 40-horse engine.

VFW Fluke Tournament chairman Peter Hermann said there were 150 single entries and 18 team entries entered in the tournament. That number was down from last year’s 223 individual entries and 25 teams.

Forecasts of thunderstorms and rain beginning late Saturday and continuing into Sunday, and the generally slow fluke fishing leading up to the tournament may have had an influence.

The bad weather never showed up but the forecast for slow fluke fishing was accurate. But that did little to dampen the mood at the one-story post building on Towanticut Avenue Sunday.

“The weather scared some people off,” Peter told me in-between weighing in fish and keeping an eye on his two very cute grandkids, Dylan and Darien. “But we had 150 entries so it was very good.”

Peter said the fishing results were mixed. Some people didn’t catch anything and others did very well. The 15-pounder weighed in Saturday generated a lot of excitement, he said.

The “Slabmen” team provided some last minute drama when they drove up with just minutes to spare as the clock ticked towards the 6 pm final weigh-in. Their fish were not big but respectable enough to move them into second place in the team standings.

I do not normally provide fourth place team standings but I figured I owed it to my teammates, particularly Holly. She is one tough fisherman. Holly shrugged off a temporary bout of seasickness, crushing heat, and withstood a boat pounding over two days in an effort to put us on top.

At the awards ceremony Sunday, Peter Cox spoke about how his attitude towards fishing had evolved over the years. Like many Island fishermen, he was once a hard charger. He felt the need to cast a fly 100-feet and would think nothing of casting a plug all day.

Now, he said, he could find pleasure in drifting and bouncing a sinker on the bottom. “I’m feeling content,” Peter said about his approach. “I enjoy just spending time on the water.”

It is a good approach that more people would do well to share.

11th annual VFW Fluke Derby results

Men’s division: Peter Cox (15.1 pounds), Charlie Pachico (9.1), and Antone Silvia (7.8).

Women’s division: Beverly Bergeron (7.3), Nina Patterson (6.5), and Emily Williston (6.4).

13 to 16 years of age: Tony Canha (5.8), Joseph Turney (4.4), and Evandro Medigi (4.3).

12 years of age and under: Chris Ferry (3.8), David Packer (3.2), Dennis “Radio” Goulart (3), Charlotte Packer (2.7), and Blake Nerney (2.6).

Largest Sea Bass: Antone Sylvia (6)

Team division: “Madkel,” 46 pound total, (Peter Cox, Tom Cox, Nina Patterson); “Slabmen,” 43.2 (Jim Chionere, Steve Barrow, Eamon Solway, Todd Stempien; “Breakaway,” 41.1, (Bill Dreyer, Roger Kubiak, Joe Altavilla, Eric Floeck); “Poor Alice,” 39.7, (Tom Robinson, Holly Mercier, Lucas Mercier, Nelson Sigelman).

Fish pier hearing

The Oak Bluffs conservation commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a proposal by the Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Fishing and Boating access to build a public fishing pier off Sea View Avenue extension between the Steamship Authority terminal and the harbor entrance south jetty.

Fishermen who have looked longingly at the Steamship Authority pier and would like a pier of their own are advised to attend the hearing. The director of the office of fishing and boating access is John “Jack” Sheppard, a great guy who has done much to provide launch ramps and fishing access across the state, including on the Island.

The hearing begins at 4 pm in Oak Bluffs town hall.

Check is in the spin cycle

People call me with all sorts of fishing-related questions and concerns. Florence Koster of Vineyard Haven, a very nice woman, figured I would be able to identify a very nice man (tall, sandy-colored hair) named Brian who goes by another name she could not remember and is an avid fisherman.

He wrote a check for a $15 wicker table he bought at Florence’s yard sale on Franklin Street. Florence washed her shorts and the check was in the pocket. “I now have a shredded check,” Florence said.

Surfcaster’s website

The Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association has refashioned its web site with a lot of help from members Dave Balon and Victor Kwortnik. They have done a great job. Check it out at: www.mvsurfcasters.org.

Coast Guard Auxilliary Exams

The Coast Guard Auxiliary will be at Maciel Marine and the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard in Vineyard Haven from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm, Saturday to provide free safety inspections to boaters.

Auxiliary personnel will examine the vessel’s safety systems and offer advice on anything that should be replaced, improved, or added. Boaters will not be fined or reprimanded for any deficiencies; the program is designed to help boaters identify how they can enjoy recreational boating safely. Contact examiners on channel 9.