Derby fisherman vows a revived effort

Peter Shepardson of Vineyard Haven got his fish weighed in first — a 10.55-pound bluefish and a 12.44-pound striped bass. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Do not go gentle into that good night/ fish, fish until morning light (apologies to Dylan Thomas).

The 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby began Sunday at 12:01 am. In recent years I have lacked fishing ambition. My Derby strategy rested on a combination of hoping for the best and letting events take their course. This year I want to step foot on the podium.

I am raring to go mentally. Not so much equipment wise.

Until Saturday, most of the big bait rods I use to lob hunks of bait to unseen fish remained in the corner of the shed where I left them in October, at the end of last fishing season. My tackle was in disarray.

I rose to the challenge because it is Derby time and hope springs eternal, or at least it lasts for a few weeks until, bored out of my wits, I start to imagine that my rod tip actually bent under the force of a fish.

I suspect this Derby, Tom Robinson and I will revert to our tried and true strategy of bottom fishing squid in likely big fish spots and second guessing every decision we make. Optimism will give way to resignation, and we will await the end of the Derby so the pain can stop.

But that point is still weeks away. Sunday morning I woke in the dark and headed out to a rocky point, armed with a bucket of eels. A fisherman with eels means business.

There is a technique to using eels. The key is to hook the snake and cast it into the water before it writhes into a snotty, slimy knot. It takes a bit of doing, but there is no better bait for hooking a Derby-winning striped bass.

I prefer to use a heavy mono leader about 24 inches long, tied to a barrel swivel that is then connected to my main line. I do not use a steel leader to protect against the sharp teeth of a bluefish. Depending on how the fish is hooked, there is always the risk a big bluefish may bite through the line, but I’ll take that chance.

This year, the Derby may revert to its roots — striped bass and bluefish. There has been a noticeable lack of bonito and false albacore.

In recent years, bonito have been scarce, but not albies. As of Friday, I had not heard any confirmed reports of either fish. There have been years when the albies arrived late in September and the bonito hit in October. I hope that will be the case, but either way I am content to chase stripers.

No fish stands for the Derby like the striped bass. I give full credit to the fishermen who pursue albies, bonito, and bluefish to the point of exhaustion. Good fishermen claim all three categories. And the boat bass winner deserves congratulations, even when all he or she did was crank a reel under the direction of a skilled charter captain.

But, in my mind, the shore bass winner will always be the Derby champ. He or she went toe to fin with a big bass in the suds and current, letting the fish make its first long run, then another, shorter this time, and several more until the time was right to apply more pressure and ease the fish to the shore.

Kids day is Sunday

The Kids Mini-Derby is Sunday, September 22, from 6 to 8 am, at the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier. 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 not for adults. No matter how bad you want your kid to catch a fish do not do the fishing for your kid. It is against the rules, it violates the spirit of the event, it irritates the people who follow the rules, it teaches your kid all the wrong lessons, and if that is not enough, you risk the embarrassment of being told all of the above by a Derby committee member in front of your kid.

It is also the one and only time fishing is allowed from the pier. The event is free, and open to all kids.

Big kid reminder

And a reminder for big kids, the “Super Saturday” event begins on September 21, with bluefish. The fisherman who weighs in the heaviest bluefish from shore and boat this Saturday stands to win $500.

Bluefish is the species for the first week, followed by false albacore, striped bass, and bonito.

The Derby committee still needs volunteers to help out on the fillet table, mornings and evenings, 8-10. Contact Matt Malowski ( or sign up at the weigh station. Derby information is available at Island tackle shops or at

Mill Pond is a muddle

While West Tisbury residents continue to discuss how to maintain their scenic, artificial mud puddle, communities across Massachusetts with less of a sense of environmental benightedness are dismantling dams left over from the industrial age and restoring streams and free passage for a variety of fish.

There appears to be no question that removal of the dam that creates the Mill Pond would benefit herring, perch, trout, and eels. Yet, the muddle over the puddle continues.

Meanwhile, last week, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan announced $148,000 in grants for river and wetland restoration projects in six communities.

All of the grants are funded by the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Ecological Restoration (DER). Your license dollars at work.

“In partnership with local communities, landowners and many other partners, public and private funds are invested in these projects to restore degraded habitats that benefit numerous fish and wildlife species,” said Commissioner Mary Griffin in a press release.

The projects include the removal of the Bartlett Dam, owned by the town of Lancaster, for the purposes of improving the ecological health of Wekepeke Brook; the restoration of natural stream flows to improve aquatic habitat in three rivers in the Housatonic River watershed, namely Pecks Brook, Larrywaug Brook, and the West Branch of the Housatonic River; and the Town Brook restoration project and the removal of the Off Billington Street Dam in Plymouth.

“The project will restore and enhance self-sustaining populations of anadromous fish through removal of the dam, dispense with a potential public safety hazard, and provide significant social and recreational benefits through its contributions to the Town Brook Greenway and the continuation of the Pilgrim Trail.”