Derby drama goes down to the wire

Cooper Gilkes holds up his leading shore striped bass flanked by admirers (left to right) Ella Blodgett, 5, granddaughter Audrey Polleys, 5, and grandson J.J. Polleys, 7. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The 66th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby appears to be heading to a photo finish. The weigh station will close at 10 pm, Saturday with no shortage of drama leading up to the final bell.

“He fishes hard,” is one of the highest compliments a Derby fisherman can pay another fisherman. I recently heard that said in connection with Jaemon Gillies of Vineyard Haven, who holds the lead in the boat false albacore division.

I would not be surprised if Jaemon’s nerves are a little frayed. Talk about the loneliness of the long distance runner — he brought his 14.77 pound fish to the Derby weigh station on opening day just after it opened at 8 am, Sunday, September 11.

Domingo Canha holds the lead in the boat bonito division. He wrested the top spot from his fishing partner and brother Joe Canha on October 2 with a 9.79 pound fish that beat out Joe’s 9.40 pound fish caught September 24.

The brothers are very familiar with the Derby stage. Dom was the albie boat grand champ in 1992. Joe was the boat bonito champ in 1997 and 2006. They are good fishermen and great Island guys.

The bonito division race is often a competition of fractions. I am sure Joe will be breathing down Dom’s neck until the sun drops Saturday, and right behind them is Lev Wlodyka of Chilmark in third place, a fisherman who knows more than a little about what it takes to finish first.

There is no shortage of drama in the bluefish and striped bass shore divisions.

In the like-father, like-son, like-father category, on Monday, Steve Morris, 48, of Oak Bluffs, owner of Dick’s tackle shop, took the shore lead with a 14.86 pound bluefish. In 1983, Steve, then 20, won the striped bass shore division with a 49.96 pound fish.

In 2007, Steve’s son Chris, then 13 years old, won the shore bluefish division and the grand prize of a new Boston Whaler. On Sunday, the four shore grand leaders will have a one-in-four chance to win a new 22-foot Eastern boat, motor, and trailer.

The current shore bass division leader is Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown, owner of Coop’s bait and tackle. Coop is leading with a 34.34 fish.

By historical standards, it is a small fish, but not compared to last year when Paul Stamos won with a 31.87 pound fish, the smallest winning shore fish in Derby history.

In 1987, Coop took the bonito shore lead. In the heart-stopping pick-a-key-open-the-lock raffle he won his familiar Boston Whaler.

On Sunday, I expect plenty of drama and excitement. The Derby awards ceremony begins at 1 pm, in Nectar’s Restaurant, located off the entrance road to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Striper run

In a fishing column published July 3, 2008, “The hook is to have something to sing about,” I described a chance fishing trip with a visitor.

A woman staying in a house a few doors down from my house stopped to talk to me. One topic led to another. She was from Nashville, Tennessee and worked in the music business. I said I loved country music, the schmaltz with the ballads.

She said she and her husband, Pete Huttlinger, liked to fly fish. Pete had even named an album “Catch and Release.” They regularly went to Colorado to fish but had never fished on the Vineyard.

I invited Pete to join Tom Robinson and me that night. Secretly, I hoped that he would be a card-carrying red neck country western full twang kind of guy.

I later learned that Pete is an established top-notch session guitar player, composer, arranger, bandleader, songwriter and sideman and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music.

On his third fly cast in saltwater Pete hooked up to a big striped bass. The fish were there in numbers.

A combination of no moon and fog combined to make the night very dark. The splashes of bass striking bait echoed across the water.

Pete was frustrated. The fish were striking the black sand eel I provided but he could not hook a fish. I asked to examine the fly. There was no hook point, just a shank.

I explained that he had likely dropped his backcast and struck the rocks on the beach behind him. It was a common error for someone not used to fishing at night standing in the water.

I told him he had a great title for a country song. “It takes a hook to catch’em,” I said. Fish, women, and men — it is all the same.

This summer I wrote about my fondness for country music (August 24, 2011, “There’s a jukebox and vote in every tackle shop”) and I was reminded of Pete. I emailed him to say hello. I learned he had battled some serious medical issues but was doing well and optimistic that he would soon be fishing again.

A few weeks ago I received an email. “Here’s a tune I wrote after you took me fishing,” Pete wrote.”I call it ‘Striper Run.'”

The joyfulness of this instrumental tune will strike a chord with any bass fishermen (available here).

Another chip in the fabric

Fishing access on Martha’s Vineyard is part of the Island lifestyle. It exists in many formal and informal ways.

Formally, the towns and local conservation organizations provide shore access. Informally, beach associations and other organizations often allow fishermen to park out of season. Then there are the nooks and crannies that fall between the cracks.

Until recently, a property in Vineyard Haven where the NSTAR power lines arrive was one of those nooks. I received several calls from irritated Island fishermen when a new gate and boulders appeared.

I know the spot and have used it. I never recall seeing more than one or two vehicles.

I did some research. Town officials were unaware of the gate. Mike Durant, a spokesman for NSTAR, said the company does not own the property but has access through a right of easement.

He said in May, the company received a letter from a lawyer representing the property owner that said people not associated with NSTAR were using the land “and that was not part of the agreed-upon easement.”

“We took a closer look and we realized two things: it was apparently being used by vehicles other than our vehicles and because of that trespass on the property the security of our equipment was not at the level that it needed to be.

“The primary agreement that we had with the land owner is that we would erect the gates and do what we could to prevent unauthorized access to their property,” he said.

Mr. Durant refused to identify the property owner.

I called the property owner’s lawyer, Elizabeth Bates of Roberts and Bates in Stamford, Connecticut, and asked her what she could tell me about the new gate and boulders.

“Nothing. I am an attorney. It is attorney-client privilege information,” she said. “I am fascinated that you got wind of the letter.”

I asked her if she could tell anything about why the property owner wanted a gate or the letter. She said the letter was not for “public consumption.”

I didn’t consume it, I said, or even read it. I asked Ms. Bates to have her client call. I received no call.

I was unable to reach the property owners, Michael and Elizabeth Buddy of Greenwich, Connecticut.

On the flip side, I recently fished a well-known point on the Island’s north side. The property owner came out to speak to me under a moonlit sky; she said she liked to see fishermen standing and casting from the boulders.

Good company

I received the following press release from Derby president Ed Jerome. “The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Committee is proud to announce that Nelson Sigelman and David Pothier will be inducted into the Derby Hall of Fame at the Awards Ceremony to be held at Nectar’s on Sunday, October 16th at 1 pm.

“The Derby Hall of Fame was created to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant and positive contribution to the sport fishing community of Martha’s Vineyard. These two individuals have demonstrated good sportsmanship, honesty, and integrity while exhibiting a concern for fish and our Island environment.

“We are extremely proud of them for the contributions they have made to the success of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Ed’s call was a surprise. The members of the Derby Hall of Fame include good friends and fishermen I respect and admire. It is an honor to be in their company. Clearly, given my recent history, catching fish is not one of the requirements.

Tired and forgetful

Bob Beal left his fishing utility belt on the fence at the Wasque parking lot late Friday night “after a long day of fishless fishing.” Contact Derby headquarters or call The Times.

Cooper Gilkes left a box chock-full of squid jigs on the dock. It can be identified because it contains 3,482 squid jigs. Call Coop at 508-627-3909.

On Saturday, October 8 on Beach Road a fisherman found an Orvis stripping basket and black bag full of plugs. All appear new. Call 857-753-1015.

A fisherman found an Orvis fly box with flies at Lake Tashmoo. Call John at 508-696-8904.