Gone Fishin’: Fishing perseverance, luck opens Derby padlock

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The first place mini-junior fishermen (L-R): Sabrina McArt (shore bluefish), Paige Smith (boat bluefish), Jocie Smith (boat bonito), Aubrey Warburton (striped bass and false albacore). Photo Ralph Stewart.

Many years ago, three weeks into the Derby and already feeling the effects of a fishing schedule that left little time for a good night’s sleep or a dinner that included anything green or not wrapped in cellophane, I picked up a man hitchhiking. The fishing rods on my truck provided an easy conversation starter.

The traveler was unfamiliar with the Derby, and I provided a brief explanation. “Oh, fishing, that must be very relaxing,” he said.

I turned to look at him with my dark, baggy eyes as he sat in my front seat, his feet crushing an assortment of discarded candy wrappers and pizza-stained paper plates: “Not the way we do it,” I said with a slightly maniacal laugh that I knew he could not possibly understand.

I do not fish the Derby near as hard as I once did. But I understand and appreciate those who do.

On Sunday afternoon, with more than 250 excited friends, family members, fellow fishermen and Derby supporters gathered under a billowing tent at the Farm Neck Golf Club, eight hard fishermen waited for the big moment in the awards ceremony. One among the four shore grand leaders in the striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, and bonito divisions would win a new 22-foot Eastern boat, motor, and trailer. One among the boat leaders would win a new Chevy Colorado crew cab 4×4 truck.

Each fisherman would pick a number from 1 to 4 from a box held by Ed Jerome, longtime Derby president, that would determine his spot in the lineup. Then they would each pick a key, one of which would open a padlock. Ed would insert the key into the padlock and give it a turn. If the lock sprang open the lucky fisherman would win the grand prize in his division.

For several of the grand leaders, the five-week fishing marathon had already been a test of nerves as well as fishing skill. Donald O’Shaughnessey, 17, of Edgartown caught his 10.79-pound winning albie on the first day of the Derby and then sweated out each weigh-in for the next 35 days. Michael Ludwig of Edgartown and Charlestown caught a 5.66-pound bonito, small by Derby standards, on the third day. He had no good reason to think that he would be the only person to catch a bonito from shore and that his fish would put him on the stage Sunday.

Eddy Amaral of Oak Bluffs hooked his winning bluefish 10 days into the Derby, a 17.83 bruiser that stood up to a fleet of fishermen plumbing the depths for one bigger.

And there were upsets: three lead changes on the final day. Louis Kerr had led the boat albie division for two weeks, only to be bumped by Richard Schifter with three days to go. On Saturday, Dylan Kadison of Vineyard Haven, 14 years old and no stranger to the awards platform, walked in with a 11.77 albie to take the top spot.

With 10 days left, Westley Wlodyka of Chilmark, 9, weighed in a 36.42-pound bass he hooked in Menemsha Harbor that took over the grand leader spot in a shore bass division that up to that point was devoid of anything over 29 pounds. By the time the weigh station bell rang signaling the end of the Derby, the fish had been removed from contention due to what Derby chairman John Custer would only describe as a “clear violation of the rules.” Apparently, Lev Wlodyka, a skilled bass fisherman, had helped his son land the fish. However, Westley, with first- and second-place finishes in two junior categories, would not go away disappointed.

The Derby future
The fact that the two top leadership positions in the Derby organization are occupied by school principals — Ed is the retired principal of the Edgartown School and John is the principal of the Tisbury School — explains much about its success. The Derby often takes on the attributes of community fishing recess.

In his opening remarks, Ed said that 71 years ago, 1,600 fishermen fished the Derby. In 2016, more than 3,300 registrants joined, a new record. “The tournament and the Derby committee still focus on family values as they did 71 years ago,” Ed said.

John Custer echoed and amplified those remarks as he spoke about “what the Derby is truly about.” The message was obvious.

“As much as some may think,” he said, “it is not about the fish; it’s about friendship, camaraderie, tradition, and history. It’s about volunteerism; generosity; appreciating the ocean and its resources and honesty. The responsibility to pass along these values to others, especially children, is essential. The Derby grows and evolves over time. It always has and it will continue to, but its values will remain consistent. And when all of us — Derby committee members, Derby volunteers, sponsors, and the over 3,000 participants are mindful of this, acting as positive role models for kids, we are investing together in its future success.”

Click!

The Derby awards ceremony features a cavalcade of prizes in a variety of categories. There are prizes for the little kids, the littler kids, the big kids, and the old kids. There are special prizes and categories. One of the more touching presentations, and one that resonates with anyone familiar with the fishing tragedy that took the lives of two well-known fathers and sons, was the Beaulieu/Loud Memorial Award, given to father and son fishing pair Brian and Emmett Athearn of West Tisbury.

“How many days did you fish?” someone in the crowd shouted out.

To hearty applause, Brian answered, “35 days.”

Once the awards were handed out, the low buzz in the room began to amplify as the grand leaders were called back to the stage. We were under the circus big top now. Shouted names mixed with loud whistles and claps.

Evan Hammond of West Tisbury, 29, was first in line. A landscape architect, he caught his 15.11-pound winning shore bluefish the second week of the Derby.

As the false albacore, bonito, and striped bass grand leaders looked on, Evan stepped up to the podium. Ed took his key and inserted it into the padlock. The crowd hushed: Click! The lock sprang open [see video at mvtimes.com], and Evan was the winner of the grand prize of a new Eastern boat, motor and trailer.

Amid raucous cheers and a big hug from his fishing teammate, Casey Elliston, Evan stepped to the podium, where he graciously thanked the members of the Derby committee, volunteers, and sponsors. “As somebody that commutes to work in Falmouth every day on the freight boat,” he said, “this is pretty incredible.”

Evan said he had just moved back to the Island. This was his first Derby since being back. “I fished every day,” he said. “When I caught that fish, I was fishing by myself, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night on a Tuesday … it just goes to show that if you make a good plan and you work hard and you stick to it, you can do it.”

‘Eddy! Eddy! Eddy!’
There was no question who the crowd favorite was. Eddy Amaral, a son of Oak Bluffs, at 81 years of age, has prowled the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard his entire life. He fished the first Derby in 1946 and most every one since. But until Sunday, he had never stepped into the winner’s circle.

Five decades older than Evan, but possessed of the same fishing spirit, he watched as the key was inserted in the lock: Click! Pandemonium ensued and the crowd shared in the joy. Ed was the winner of a new Chevy Colorado 4×4 pickup truck.

“Oh man,” Eddy said, “I just can’t believe this.”

In his remarks, Eddy thanked all the friends he had made in the Derby. “I want to accept this for my brother Leo in California — he said to get a good fish, and I got the fish. I called him back — he’s suffering from cancer — and this is for him.”

Ed Jerome stepped to the microphone to tell the crowd that in looking at the Derby records, he saw that a junior named Eddy Amaral had weighed in a bass in the first Derby in 1946. The room began chanting Eddy’s name as he beamed in response to the accolades.

Following the awards ceremony, Evan told me he was trying not to think about what was on the line as he stood onstage and waited to walk up to the podium: “I’ve been waiting for that ‘click!’ my whole life,” he said.

Not as long as Eddy, who told me, “That ‘click!’ will stay with me the rest of my life.” Eddy was a happy man.

Thanks
I wrote my first fishing column for The MV Times in 1990. Over the past 26 years, I have shared the stories I found among the fishermen of Martha’s Vineyard with our readers. A writer, if he or she is honest, wonders if what he or she has written passes the test. The most rewarding compliments I have received have come from those people who told me they don’t fish but enjoyed reading one of my fishing columns. I end my tenure at The Times this month. It has been a pleasure.

2016 Derby Special Awards
Top Rod: All-Tackle Boat:David Kadison; All-Tackle Shore: Josh Kresel
Junior Boat:Katherine O’Brien
Junior Shore: Jack O’Connell
Thomas McCauley Award: James Joyce
MV Surfcasters Sportsmanship Award: Mark Wrabel
Beaulieu/Loud Memorial Award: Brian and Emmett Athearn
Robert “Huff” Langley Award: Shawn Emin
Cutler Bike Shop Award: (boat) Seamus McKeon; (shore) Riley Cameron
David Furino Memorial Award: Mason and Aubrey Warburton

Kayak Challenge Award: Margaret Penicaud
Cheeky Fly Reel Award: Abe Pieciak
Roberto Germani Catch & Release Award:
Fly: albacore: David Rimmer; bonito: Patrick Paquette; bluefish: James Cafferty; bass: Tim Sheran.
Spin: albacore: Douglas Tose; bonito: Steve Wood; bluefish: Don Scarpone; bass: Ernie Barracchini.
Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs Memorial Award: Evan Hammond and Casey Elliston
Catch & Release Photo Contest Winner: Carl Treyz (Albie release at East Beach)

LIVE paddleboard essay contest winner: Rick Wyckoff

The Derby Essay contest winner: Rick Wycoff (PA)
I LIVE to return to Martha’s Vineyard for the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby another year.
I LIVE for the dream, the anticipation, tying the last fly, making a leader, changing out old line, checking reels, rigging rods, packing bags and hitting the road for the overnight trip up the coast.
I LIVE for the early morning ferry ride, the smell of salt air, the ships horn, underway, standing on the bow leaning into the wind and blowing rain soaking it all in, scanning the waters for life in the sea, full astern the ferry slows, gently docked, here again.
I LIVE to drive cross island to pick a lucky pin, drop some green, enter the Derby, ears open, listening a hot tip, a direction to head, a place to start.
I LIVE to very humbly arrive at water’s edge to cast a fly, to catch a fish, to return  it to swim again, to share a story with a new or old fanatic fishing friend.
I LIVE to sleep at trips end, to eat on the run, to support local farm stands and markets…munch on wild field greens and yogurt or a free range egg, slurp a midmorning oyster dockside or a 2AM chocolate snail baked in a wood fired oven.
I LIVE to cast into the high and the low, the ebb and flow, at pastel sunrises and scarlet sunsets, while paddling a backwater cove, into a howling NE wind or occasionally a quiet sea.
Another Derby’s gone by, another year without a pin, another dream played out.
I am aLIVE and will return next year to LIVE again!For all the Derby results go to mvderby.com.