The ground pounders fought the tide and sea bass in the VFW fluke derby.
I fished a four-aspirin, two-Aleve weekend. After two days of bouncing lead weight in 80 plus feet of water in Vineyard Sound for two days in the VFW Fluke Derby held Saturday and Sunday my body felt like Poseidon had gone over every muscle in my back and arms with a hammer.
The key to catching fluke is to stay in contact with the bottom where fluke lie in wait for prey. That takes weight. How much depends on current and water depth.
On Saturday, the wind was calm and the fishing was relatively easy. Most of the competitors worked hard to pick up a fluke amid the carpet of sea bass. Sunday, conditions changed. A strong southwest wind coupled with the fast flowing easterly tide made it tough to hold bottom.
Many of the boats worked the deep water holes off Seven Gates, between Cape Higgon and Cedar Tree Neck, where the water depths range between 80 and 108 feet and the big fish always seem to lie. By about 11 am, Sunday it took an engine block to hold bottom.
Saturday, my teammates, Barry Stringfellow and Nathaniel Horwitz, met me at 5 am at Tashmoo landing. I wanted to get an early start so I could take full advantage of the morning rising tide. On Sunday, my major concern was not getting caught on Vineyard Sound about noon when the tide would begin to drop against the wind. Sea conditions change rapidly once the tide turns and the ride back would have been quite uncomfortable and wet in my 18-foot Tashmoo.
Team MV Times held the lead Saturday night. But I knew it was tenuous and that a big fish on Sunday would determine the winner. With teams led by Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown and Bill Dreyer of West Tisbury on the water we were hanging on to the lead with a frayed piece of braid.
On Sunday, Billy caught an 11.39-pound fluke that earned him the fluke king crown and lifted his team Breakaway (Roger Kubiak and Joe Altavilla) into the winner’s circle. It was a sweet victory for Billy, Roger and Joe, who have lost in the past by just ounces.
A cable news pundit Friday reporting on President Obama’s planned two week family vacation in August on Martha’s Vineyard described the Island as “ritzy and glamorous.” I suppose that impression would be accurate if one’s world only encompassed kiss-kiss cocktail parties and swank dinners in summer echo chambers. It sure does not describe the VFW Fluke Derby, and for that I am very grateful.
For the past ten years Roger and Joe have come up to fish the fluke derby with Bill. Joe is from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Roger is from some town in New Jersey he kept, as near as I could tell, saying was “Metouchem.” I could not get the spelling straight in the noisy dining room and since it is New Jersey I did not really care.
I asked the two winning team members why they like fishing the fluke derby other than the fact that Billy takes them out and shows them a great time.
“They do a great job for the kids,” Joe said.
“Basically for the kids,” Roger said.
I had to ask, “Have you guys ever run for elected public office?” They looked at me quizzically. I explained that whenever someone starts telling me they’re doing it for the kids I figure he or she is running for office.
“These guys come up here,” Billy said, “They have a great time fishing. they fill their cooler full of sea bass and fluke, mostly fluke, and then they go home and look like heroes. They feed the town.”
Daughters, sons, cousins and family members they never knew they had text and call to ask about fresh fish. “It’s a good excuse to get together and fish for a long, long weekend,” Bill said.
John and Janet Packer of Vineyard Haven loaded up a boatful of kids Friday night. The kids sleep on the boat so that the only one who has to get up early is dad. The family has been a part of the tournament every year. Same for Bill and Kris O’Brien of Oak Bluffs and their two daughters. This year the family could only fish one day, but Bill said, “If I can only fish a day I’m goin’.”
The highlight of the awards ceremony is always the auction. Think of it as the anti-matter of every swank, high-priced Vineyard fundraiser. No celebrities. Just fun and spirited bidding.
Tournament organizer Peter Herrmann began the bidding for a set of wine glasses with the derby fluke logo at $30. $40 — $55 — $65 said winning bidder Janet Packer, who was determined not to be outdone.
A large stuffed bald eagle doll generated a bidding battle between Mark Morris and Jarda Kral. The three Kral kids urged dad to stay in the mix. But when the price hit $80 he stepped off the pedal. Mark peeled off $80 and then turned to the Krals. “You guys can have it,” he said.
The VFW Fluke Derby is that kind of tournament.
Largest fluke: 1. Bill Dreyer (11.39); 2. Cooper Gilkes (7.05); 3. Peter Cox (6.68).
Largest sea bass: Kendall Nerney (5.4)
Kids (12 and under): 1. Joseph Medeiros (5.5); 2. Tate Buchwald (4.18); 3. Darien Kral (4.04); 4. Corbin Buchwald (3.8); 5. Radio Goulart (2.42).
Teens (13-16): 1. Brendon Morris (3.91); 2. Richard Gibson (3.75); 3. Nathaniel Packer (2.80).
Teams: 1. Breakaway (Bill Dreyer, Roger Kubiak, Joe Altavilla) 39.28; 2. Sole Men (Cooper Gilkes, Rick Harvey) 33.85; 3. Austin O (Keith Olsen, Walter Tomkins, Galvin Tomkins, Michael Tomkins) 31.86; 4. MV Times (Nelson Sigelman, Barry Stringfellow, Nathaniel Horwitz) 29.84.
Derby Book launch
Hold a five-week fishing tournament on an Island with lots of crazy fishermen for more than six decades and what do you get? Lots of fishing stories.
Add the skills 25 years ago of a talented Edgartown artist who was devoted to the nonprofit organization and agreed to create a print each year to be sold to help fund the tournament and what are you left with? A series of images by Ray Ellis that captured the excitement, mood and beauty of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard.
Ed Jerome, longtime Derby president, has collected 27 Derby stories, many previously published, and put them together with Ray Ellis Derby prints into an anthology titled, “An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby, Twenty-five years of Paintings, History and Fishing.”
There will be a reception and book signing to celebrate the publication of the book from 5 to 7 pm, Friday, July 18 at Edgartown Books on Main Street in Edgartown. Many of the contributors will be present to sign books. For more information, call 508-627-8463 or go to Edgartownbooks.com.
Speaking of the Derby and books, Ron Domurat of Edgartown has published a collection of Derby stories in a self-published paperback titled, “Three Decades of The Derby, A collection of Stories from Thirty Years of Participation in Martha’s Vineyard Fall Fishing Classic.”
I always knew Ron was a skillful fisherman. Now add writer to his portfolio. For anyone familiar with the Derby the stories will evoke memories of great fishermen and good times with men that include Don Mohr, Abe Williams, Gordon Ditchfield, Al “Angie” Angelone, Marsh Bryan, and Walter Lison.
Henry “Hank” A. Schauer died on Friday, July 4, 2014, at the Arnold Walter Nursing Home in Hazlet, New Jersey. He was 85. His obituary said, “He lived to fish.”
A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Saturday, July 19, at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Navesink. Interment will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the