Big bass the big buzz at the Derby

First 50-pound striper in a decade shakes up the leaderboard.

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Stephen Hansel with his 51 pound striper and Jamie Simmons.

Striper fishing has been slow in this year’s Derby. With three days left in the five-week tourney, not one shore bass has cracked the 30-pound mark. Boats have fared little better, guides have been grumbling and fishermen have been scratching their heads with eel-slimed hands.

But on Saturday, Stephen Hansel of Tiverton, R.I., landed a 51-pound striper, fishing with close friend Jamie Simmons. The beefy 48-inch fish put him atop the leaderboard, and put he and Jamie in first place in the team competition.

It’s been a good week for Stephen. Two days ago, he weighed in his first albie, giving him the Grand Slam and rocketing him into first place, with a commanding 10-pound lead.

“It’s what you dream about when you fish the Derby,” he told The Times.  

Stephen said they were fishing with eels off the Elizabeth Islands, close to slack tide, in about three feet of water, when he hooked up.

“It was the last drift of the night,” Jamie said. “All we’d seen was small fish. My brother didn’t even have his line in the water.”

Stephen said he and Jamie have focused primarily on bass, making for a lot of late nights. “Unless it’s blowing over 25, we’re going fishing,” he said.

Both men have day jobs, Stephen at Raytheon and Jamie at Imtra Marine Systems. “When I look like a zombie at the lunch table at work, my friends know I’ve been fishing,” Stephen said.

“We’ve gone through a lot of coffee and Red Bull,” Jamie said.

Although he’s a fishing guide at Buzzards Bay Outfitters, Jamie doesn’t take any customers during the Derby. “I shut down, I don’t take any trips,” he said. “Me and my buddies fish the Derby as much as we can.”

 

Stephen and Jamie have been fishing buddies since their days at the University of Rhode Island, where they would sometimes duck out and fish between, or during, classes.

“Steve’s my best friend,” Jamie said. “He’s the only person crazy enough to put in so many hours on the boat with me.”

The long hours have paid off.

“I’ve had bigger fights with stripers, the 25 to 35-pound range seem to be the strongest,” Stephen said. “But the head shakes on a fish that size is like nothing else. It’s unbelievable.”

“It’s a fish of a lifetime,” Jamie said.