The spirit of the Derby lives large in Roger Schaefer.
Looking to share the thrill of watching his own kids weigh in a fish at the Derby, Oak Bluffs contractor and former Derby winner Roger Schaefer put an invitation on his Facebook page this week, offering all anglers in the mini-junior category — ages 4 to 8 — who haven’t yet weighed in a fish a free guided trip.
“A friend of mine’s son fished and fished and fished the Derby last year, and he didn’t get a fish to weigh in. I felt so bad for him,” Mr. Schaefer told The Times, when asked about the impetus behind his largesse. “I think once you have kids, you almost see every kid as your kid. When I’m heading out of the Lagoon with my son and daughter, and I know we’re probably going to get fish, and I’m passing all these kids fishing the jetty, wearing their Derby hats, I just want to get some of them out there.”
Mr. Schaefer, 45, said the shore fishing has dropped off dramatically since he was a young fisherman on the Vineyard, and he sees the boat as the great equalizer.
“I love shore fishing, that’s where kids are going to get their start, but it’s harder for kids to catch fish from shore than it used to be; the blues and bass have dropped way off,” he said. “We used to get big bonito off the Steamship pier in O.B. You can’t fish off of the pier anymore, but you don’t even see many boats working there. Menemsha jetty still produces, but that’s a dog-eat-dog world. There was a fight there last year. It’s a rough spot for an adult to fish; you don’t want to be taking a 7-year-old kid out there.”
Mr. Schaefer said the big increase in private land along the shore has also limited surf-fishing options.
The boat he now owns is an indirect result of his Derby-winning 13.2-pound bluefish he caught from shore in 2010. “I caught it in a howling nor’easter; it was my last cast of the night,” he said. “It put up a great fight. I almost threw it back. I’m glad I didn’t.”
That last cast landed him the grand-prize boat, which he sold to buy a used boat that was better equipped, which is the boat he’s using in this Derby to take out two mini-juniors at a time, with an accompanying adult.
“Response has been very good so far; I know of several kids I’ll be taking out in the next week,” he said. “I definitely want a parent to come along. I like meeting the parents. I want them to have that memory together, most importantly. And if a kid isn’t used to being on a boat, it’s good to have a parent there.”
On Monday he took out Peter Williamson and his father, Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson. It was Peter’s bad luck in last year’s Derby that gave Mr. Schaefer the idea to take out mini-juniors this year.
“He caught a nice albie on Menemsha jetty two days before the Derby started,” Tim Williamson said. “It was definitely big enough to weigh in. It was pretty amazing that he landed it. But he didn’t catch anything during the Derby.”
Roger Schaefer has already changed Peter’s luck this year. Peter ended up weighing in a nice bluefish, taking second place for the day in the mini-junior division.
“It’s a big deal to get that pin when you’re a kid,” Schaefer said. “I was thrilled when I won a pin when I was a kid.”
Mr. Schaefer’s daughter Sawyer, 10, currently leads the junior all-tackle boat bluefish division with a 12.6-pounder. His 8-year-old son Logan has weighed in a 6.5-pound bluefish, which won the day for the mini-junior division.
Mr. Schaefer thinks his family might have set an unofficial Derby record last year when he, his wife Lana, and his two children all won the daily category in the same day. “It was neat to see four Schaefers on the board,” he said.
Late Tuesday night, he got another message on his Facebook page. On Wednesday afternoon, he met two kids and two parents at the Lagoon boat ramp, and took them out fishing.
Interested parents can sign up on his Facebook page. People can also suggest prospective fishermen for Mr. Schaefer to contact.
Halibut on a roll
Last week, the grapevine was ablaze with word of a 50-pound halibut, caught in local waters by high school home economics teacher Ann Frederick under the guidance of Vineyard fisherman Donny Benefit. Fishermen pay thousands of dollars and travel thousands of miles to catch large halibut, which are more rare than mermaids in these waters.
However, this week, Mr. Benefit established himself as the halibut whisperer, landing one the size of a picnic table, which he estimated to be about 100 pounds. He said he was about 60 miles east of Edgartown when he hooked up. The gargantuan flatfish was caught on 100-pound braid line with a super fluke rig. Mr. Benefit described the fight as “wrestling a Jeep hood that vacuums itself to the bottom.” He estimated the fat flatfish to be about a foot thick. “My brother told me to sell the meat, but I gave it all away,” he said.
Only four days into the Derby, there were six times more shore bonito weighed in than all of last year. There was only one shore bonito caught during the Derby last year, but still, an encouraging sign, especially for sashimi lovers.
Stripers are skinny so far. Nothing on the board has cracked the 30-pound limit. The leading all-tackle striper so far belongs to John Stasiuk, who weighed in a 29.6-pounder caught from shore. William Kadison weighed in a beefy 18.5-pound bluefish to take the lead in the all-tackle boat division.
This Saturday, bluefish are the “Super Saturday” fish. The top three blues in the boat and shore categories will win cash prizes.