66th Derby begins with a somber reminder of loss

Weighmaster Roy Langley rang in the start of the 66th Derby at 8:01 am, Sunday. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

It was about 7:30 am on a bright sunny Sunday morning, the first day of the 66th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Herb Tilton of Edgartown was in a remarkably cheerful mood for someone who had been up most of the night — morning technically since he said he began fishing at 12:01 am that day.

Herb and his equally cheery friend, Jeremy Bradshaw of West Tisbury, stood on the ramp and waited for weighmaster Roy Langley to slide open the door and ring a bell signaling the start of the 66th Derby. Herb wanted to be first in the door. His entry ticket was the healthy looking striped bass that lay glistening at his feet.

Herb, 64, said he had fished the Derby since he was about 8 years old. He had caught many fish over the years but he had never been first through the door.

He said he caught his fish soon after the start of the Derby, about 12:20 am. He and Jeremy arrived at the weigh station about 7 am, anxious to beat the perennial early arrivals. “It’s probably the most childish thing I ever did,” Herb said, somewhat embarrassed at being asked about why it meant so much to him to be first.

Jeremy also had a striped bass. It lay behind Herb’s fish. He had caught his fish after Herb so fishing protocol dictated that he be second in the door. The only prize was bragging rights and the distinction of walking in the door first. But that means something to Derby fishermen. In fact, I think it is at the core of the Derby.

The Derby gives away some great prizes, which include a new Eastern 22-foot center-console boat and a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 truck. I think the majority of fishermen fish for bragging rights and the small pins that signify a daily winner. Take away the prizes and the Derby would still survive, I think.

“We’re pretty shot,” Herb said when I asked how he was feeling. His answer was accompanied by a big grin and booming laugh.

The men volunteered that they had fished the north shore. “It was beautiful,” Jeremy said of the cool, clear night. “It was perfect. We usually don’t do so well.”

At exactly 8 am Roy Langley slid the door open and rang in the 66th Derby. Herb and Jeremy walked in holding their fish (21.19 pounds and 15.76 pounds respectively) and showed no evidence of fatigue.

The weigh station is a small wooden shack that overlooks Edgartown Harbor. The number of fish stories embedded in the planks far outnumbers the number of fish that have passed over the weigh station scale and is part of the charm of the place.

Fishermen who have not caught a fish and passerby who have never touched a rod visit the weigh station. It is an Island fall ritual.

Not forgotten

The significance of this particular day, September 11, was not overlooked amid the excitement and the fish of the Derby’s opening day. Just before 8 am, Ed Jerome, Derby president, flanked by chairman Chuck Hodgkinson and members of the Derby committee asked those present to gather.

“Ten years ago the most horrific act of terrorism occurred on American soil,” Ed said to the small group. “Thousands of Americans died at the twin towers of New York City, at the Pentagon at Washington, D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania. Brave New York City firemen, police, and emergency workers rushed to the aid of those trapped victims only to give up their lives as well. Please take a moment of silence to honor all those individuals and their families.”

Ed’s remarks honored the heroes of 9/11. Next week, the Derby will honor the men and women who continue to protect us from harm.

American Heroes Saltwater challenge

Casting from an Island beach or drifting off Gay Head, it would be easy to forget that our nation is at war. But on a daily basis men and women are sent in harm’s way.

On Sunday, approximately 12 members of the military currently undergoing treatment at government hospitals in Maryland and Virginia will arrive on the Vineyard at the invitation of the Nixon family of Chilmark and the Derby to participate in the third American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. They will depart on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The itinerary includes dinner at the Beach Plum Inn and fishing with some of the Island’s best charter skippers out of Menemsha.

This is the third year in a row the Nixons, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn, and Home Port Restaurant, will host a group of soldiers. The idea for the event began when Jack Nixon, now 10, saw a newspaper photo essay about the challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and told his dad he wished some veterans could fish the Derby.

In a telephone conversation Monday, Sarah Nixon said she was busy finalizing travel plans and arrangements. Sarah said that three years later it remains a very rewarding experience for her family, in particular the children.

She cited the spirit of generosity it elicits, people she did not know dropping by with gifts and contributions, and the opportunity to meet young men and women who have returned home from overseas, some with grievous wounds in body but not spirit.

“If we can do something that makes someone’s three or four days better and helps them to escape what goes on when they get back to the hospital, then we are ready, able, and willing to do it,” Sarah said.

Hosting a large group is not easy or inexpensive. There are several ways people can contribute to the Saltwater Challenge. Donations of time and or goods are welcome. An outright donation of $4,000 will sponsor one soldier and is tax deductible. For more information contact Maria Black at 508-645-9454 or mblack@innsatmenemsha.com.

Kids Day is Sunday

The Kids Mini-Derby is Sunday, from 6 to 9 am, at the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier. It is free. No casting skill is required and a simple fishing rod will suffice. Simply bait a weighted hook with a piece of squid or sand eel and drop it to the bottom where, with luck, a hungry scup or sea robin lies in wait.

The mini-derby is strictly for kids old enough to hold and reel a fishing rod, through age 14. It is the one and only time fishing is allowed from the pier.

A reminder, this is for the kids. The committee frowns on adults who, under the guise of “helping,” do the fishing.

A special bonus, David Pothier, a member of the committee and the Coast Guard Auxilliary, has arranged for Coast Guard Station Menemsha to send its 47-foot motor lifeboat. That should impress the kids, big and little.

Don’t forget the license

An important reminder for Derby fishermen. All Derby fishermen must hold a valid Mass. Saltwater Fishing Permit, or a permit from a state with a reciprocal agreement, to weigh in a fish. For more information or to register call 1-866-703-1925 or go to www.mass.gov/marinefisheries.

Don’t forget the camera

Send me your Derby fish photos (photos@mvtimes.com). I will post them with my column on mvtimes.com and in print depending on space.

Hook a million

Mustad®, the world’s largest-selling fish hook brand according to a press release, is sponsoring a promotion that could be of interest to Derby anglers. Called “Hook a Million,” the company said it expects to deliver $1.4 million in cash to lucky anglers who set new world and state records.

Mustad General Manager Tom Kurtz said the company was looking for a fun way to involve anglers across the country. “With over 50 new state records set in the last year or so and several world records pending certification, we felt the time was right for a program that rewards these accomplishments. We all know that the next cast could be the new record, and this promotion makes it easy — anglers fish on their schedule and their waters.”

The “Hook a Million” promotion kicks off in October and runs 12 months. It targets 10 of the country’s most popular fresh and saltwater fish, including striped bass and yellowfin tuna. It’s open to US residents 18 and older. To participate anglers must use a Mustad hook and register only once at least 24 hours in advance of fishing during the contest period.

Cash awards for the promotion total $1,400,000 and recognize both fresh and saltwater all-tackle state records and new IGFA certified all-tackle world records.

For more information go to the Mustad website.