Fishing the Derby is no cruise down the Danube. Daniel Hiemer knows that. If he did not when the Derby began, he knows it now, after walking into the weigh station with a bluefish that propelled him to the boat bluefish grand leader spot.
Daniel, his wife Karen (a Willoughby from Edgartown) and their soon to be three-year-old daughter Analiesa live in Diemelsee-Adorf, which is in the German region of Waldeck.
On Sunday, Daniel went fishing with Tony Serpa, son of Margaret Serpa, Edgartown’s longtime selectman and Daniel’s wife’s aunt. Daniel thought he could be cagey when I reached him by telephone, but fishermen talk, and proud aunts talk too.
Daniel told me he caught his fish about 6:30 pm, “on the east coast on a boat.”
I asked who he was fishing with when he caught the blue. “I don’t know if he wants me to tell you his name or whatever. I need to talk to him first,” Daniel said. I assured him the boat captain would not mind, but Daniel, an industrial mechanic by profession, was skeptical. “You’re sure he won’t mind,” Daniel said. I could hear Karen, an Islander well versed in Derby behavior, coaching him on his answers in the background.
“Wasn’t it Margaret’s son,” I said, stopping him on his verbal autobahn. There was a pause. “How do you know,” he said with a laugh. “Yes, it was Margaret’s son.” Karen laughed too.
He quickly added, “But I can still say I didn’t say the name.”
Daniel said this is his third or fourth time fishing the Derby. Asked why he likes to fish it, he answered precisely: “It’s the Derby.”
Daniel said he likes to fish. “It’s nice Indian summer, all the people are nice, and it’s competition,” he said.
With some more coaching from Karen, he quickly modified his answer. “Yah, we come to visit family,” he said.
Daniel was trolling when he caught the bluefish. A quick glance at Derby records shows that it is the biggest blue to be weighed in since 2000, when Joe Uva caught a 19.18 blue. Most of the winning buefish caught in the past 10 years have averaged about 16 pounds.
Daniel said the reaction at the Derby weigh station was overwhelming. “There was so much going on around, it was amazing. I couldn’t pick up everything,” he said. “I realized it this morning [Monday] when I saw my name on the board in first place.”
Daniel and his family must leave on October 12. If his fish makes it to the awards ceremony on October 20, Tony Serpa will be his stand-in when it comes time to draw for the new truck. After all, what is family for?
A good fishing partner
Bait fishing at night is best done with a friend. Easy conversation helps pass the time while you wait for a Derby-winning fish to hit the bait. A good fishing partner is important.
Monday evening, my regular fishing partner Tom Robinson was unable to fish. So I invited my wife Norma to spend a few hours on the South Shore while I fished. To my surprise, she said yes.
Not that Norma is unwilling to spend time with me. She is just wary of going anywhere with me when I have a fishing rod in hand. I have done lots to justify her caution.
Promised short beach drives have turned into long, cold ordeals, and what were supposed to be brief excursions have turned into hunger-filled outings. On Monday, I said we would only be gone a few hours, and she believed me. I was on my best behavior.
We arrived just as the sun was setting in the west. I pounded in a sand spike and set my surf rod in it. The mechanics of surf fishing were new to Norma.
I turned on a small glow light attached near the top of the 11-foot surf rod, an old fiberglass Fenwick that has served me well when the job requires heaving a lead pyramid sinker and hunk of bait. I cast my bait and sat in one of two low chairs that are an integral part of our surf fishing kit.
“So this is what you do?” Norma said, as though there should be more effort on my part. “Sit and watch the rod tip.”
We sat and chatted as the sky turned crimson, then dark. Stars filled the night. An occasional meteorite streaked by. The rod tip dipped in response to a wave. Norma wondered if it was a fish.
“No,” I said, “You’ll know when it is a fish.”
A short time later there was a solid bend. There was no mistaking the hit. I jumped up and took the rod. After a short tussle I slid a striped bass, about 18 pounds, up the beach. My circle hook did its job and was firmly embedded in the jaw.
A few more fish and we left. Norma agreed that it had been a pretty evening.
Strange events are not unusual in the Derby. Most are related to the fishermen, and sometimes the fish.
Jonathan Searle of Edgartown was fishing with his young daughter Emma off Chappy near the green can that marks Tom’s Shoal. In an email, he said it was about 7 pm, and he was making one more pass to look for a bluefish.
“A huge splash caught my eye about 20 yards from the can,” Jonathan said. “I called Emma’s attention to it. Shortly thereafter, the source was revealed. An 80 to 100-pound bluefin came sailing out of the water. A spectacular sight at about 50 yards away.”
It scared his daughter but also explained the lack of bluefish, prime tuna bait, he said.
Many Island fishermen will remember when a shore fisherman caught a yellowfin tuna on a popping plug from Chappy, about 25 years ago.
Kayak fleet prepares
The Derby will hold a kayak tournament this weekend. The winner gets a loaded sea kayak from sponsor BassYaks. Kayaks only. No canoes or other imitations. For more information go to mvderby.com.