Essay: The Derby on the home front – her view

In our house, the fever begins to build months before the official start of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Around March and April, the chatter starts about the upcoming Vineyard fishing season and the Derby. My husband, Sol, and his fishing buddy, Ed, start having conversations about what the strategies will be for making sure they have the right stuff to fish with.

What lures and flies worked last year? What new gear do we need this year? (They always manage to need something new. I smile.) When should we book a captain? And on and on.

Calls to other fishing friends take place as we get near summer. As I move throughout our apartment from one room to the next, I can hear Sol talking to his fishing buddies. “When will you be on the Vineyard? We need to lock in some fishing dates.”

When the phone calls are not occurring, still I can hear the constant, feverish clicking of the computer keys facilitating the hunt for fishing websites. The best sites convey the latest catch of various fish on Cape Cod and elsewhere. The online fishing reports are almost always supported by the reporting fisherman’s take on how big his/her fish was, tips on the lures or flies of the day, and let’s not forget those video playbacks with the sounds of roaring seas, whistling reels, and excited fishermen’s voices, as they bring in their catch. All of that allows the viewer to relive the fishing experience and pass it on to other fishing buddies.

Uh-oh, here we are, it’s July and then August. Boat captains, fishing buddies, and fishing strategies must have been locked in long before this.

By the end of August, the children and grandchildren have finished their vacations on the Vineyard, and have left the Island for home. It’s time to focus on Derby activity. There are flies to tie, lures to buy, captains to confirm, Derby badges and hats to buy — and make sure you pick a lucky number for your Derby button.

Spouses and significant others get ready, the Derby is about to start. There’ll be fishing from the boat; fishing from the shore, high tides and low tides, squeaky doors at 6 am and 10 pm, leading into and out of our house. There are sandwiches to make, alarm clocks to set. non-Derby activities to be scheduled around fishing dates and times, early morning fishing buddy calls to answer, stops to make (usually on the way to some place that I want to go) at Coop’s, Larry’s, and Dick’s Bait & Tackle, to buy more stuff and get the latest scoop on hot fishing spots. There are fishing clothes to wash, weigh-ins to attend — we hope. G grand slams; leader boards to appear on and prizes to be won — if we’re lucky. But the best part of all, is hearing the stories at the end of each daily fishing trip. And of course, the “one that got away” is always bigger.

On one Wednesday during the Derby, Sol came in around 10:30 pm after fishing for hours. Though I had settled into bed, I sat right up to hear the night’s fishing adventure. Sol filled me in. “I threw out a fresh eel and got a bite. The fish took the bait. It was a good fight before I got it to shore. The hook was right in the corner of his mouth. I’m glad I got the fish in before the hook pulled out of his mouth. The striper weighed in at 17 pounds. I’m glad Ed invited me along tonight.”

Sol could not have been happier than I that he caught such a wonderful fish. As any spouse, or anyone close to a Derby fisherman knows, you don’t want too much time to pass before there’s a Derby-worthy fish — right kind, size, method of catching — caught.

Sol continued, “I’ll be fishing on Friday. Oh, and we’re going out Thursday too. What’s on your schedule? Do you need me to help with anything?”

As he was talking, I was thinking to myself: in spite of all the fishing excitement, he’s pretty good about checking in to see if I need anything, and I’m pretty good about knowing when to take him away from the Derby and when not to.

On one Thursday, Sol returned from fishing and filled me in again. “It was slow today. We went a lot of places and drifted out some eels. The fish were too small, we had to throw them back. The captain was good. What’s for lunch? I’m whipped, I’m not going out tonight. Strike that, I just got a call from Ed, we’re going out tonight. I have to make sure I have the right flies. I’m going down in the basement to tie one more fly.”

It’s almost the end of September and I’m hoping to make it through another Derby.

Looking at the Derby from the other side — my side — it is never boring, lots of fun, and I’m always happy when Sol returns home safely. When the Derby is over, I look forward to the next year when the fever starts to build and the stories start to flow.