Derby fishermen answer the opening bell; a young man makes good on a promise

As he has for the last 17 years, Roy Langley rang the bell to signal the first weigh-in opening the 68th annual MV Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated 11 am Monday, September 16, 2013

A devout congregation of contestants answered the bell that rang in the crisp air of a picture perfect Sunday morning in Edgartown, for the opening weigh-in of the 68th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

Matthew Bradshaw, 19, of West Tisbury was the first in line at the Derby weigh station, with a bluefish he caught from shore.

“I caught it about 1:45 [am], and I came straight here” he said, capping a yawn. Mr. Bradshaw fished Menemsha with his two best friends, Jake Bilzerian and Hunter Cottrell.

Mr. Bradshaw, a soft-spoken, large-framed young man with a penchant for tattoos, has been fishing the Derby since he was four years old. He’s never won any prizes, nor was he ever the first in line to weigh in a fish, but he spent the night in the parking lot to keep a promise to a family friend.

“Herb Tilton is a friend of my dad’s,” he said. “We just found out Herb has lung cancer. He asked me to weigh in the first fish I caught. I promised him I’d do it. It feels like a dream,” Mr. Bradshaw said, yawning, then sipping his coffee. “When I was young I could stay up all night, no problem.”

Peter Shepardson, 55, of Vineyard Haven weighed in the first striped bass of the Derby, 33 inches, 12.44 pounds, along with an impressive 32-inch bluefish weighing 10.65 pounds.

Like Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Shepardson has also fished the Derby for the past 15 years. Mr. He won for the biggest shore bluefish four years ago.

“I started fishing at 12:03. I got off to a late start,” he said, spraying the sand off his quarry caught from the shore. “I caught the striper about 2 am and the blue about 4 am.”

Asked where he caught his fish, he said “North Shore…sort of.”

Mr. Shepardson planned to go out again Sunday evening. “I’ll sleep when the Derby’s over,” he said.

The weathered door to the weigh station slid open, and Roy Langley, Derby weigh master for the past 17 years, rang the ceremonial bell and announced, “The 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is open for business. You’re all welcome. Bring your fish.”

As the crowd of about 50 spectators and groggy fishermen applauded, Mr. Shepardson carried his fish up the weigh station ramp. Mr. Bradshaw was otherwise occupied, so although he was first in line, his wasn’t the first official fish to be weighed in. But it didn’t seem to matter. He’d spent a Saturday night on Menemsha Beach with his best friends, he’d caught a fish, and he’d kept his promise.