It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The congestion on the roads and beaches is starting to clear up, the bait fish are everywhere, and the Derby is upon us. Every year anglers from all over descend on the Island to participate in the anual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby. The 73rd tournament begins on Sept. 9 and continues until Oct. 13. There are daily prizes, big money Saturdays, and of course the coveted keys to a new boat or truck. The Derby is not just about the prizes, or bragging rights. Its roots lie in supporting the local community. Just last year alone, $37,500 in scholarship money was given to six Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduates through the Derby scholarship program.
The Derby is something we talk about all year; we save up money for piles of Hogy epoxy lures for fear that they will run out. We intentionally don’t make appointments, take personal days, go without sleep, and fish as hard as possible! For us locals who like to fish, it is a pot of gold perfectly positioned at the end of a very demanding summer — it’s the light at the end of our tunnel. I have never won anything in the Derby, but it is very easy to get caught up in the spirit, and I couldn’t be more ready for it.
When I first entered the Derby in 2015, I could barely catch anything, and was more caught up in the spirit than anything else. All I owned was an eight-foot spinning rod that was gifted to me by my father-in-law, and an old craft box with three or four lures. I came away from that Derby with a hat, my numbered participation pin, and little else. I learned very quickly that even my closest friends weren’t going to give up any real information about where they were catching fish, what they were using, or how to go about being competitive in the tournament. So, like most lessons learned the earnest way, I took it upon myself to just go out and fish, put in the time, and slowly build a collection of tackle. I have come a long way since that first experience, and armed with a car full of tackle, multiple rods and reels, and a whole lot more time on the water, I am as ready as I am going to be for this year’s Derby.
I was speaking to a friend last week who said he can’t fish for bass before the Derby, because if he catches a big bass before it begins, it will haunt him the entire Derby. While I understand his sentiment, I am doing everything I can to chase schools of bass, find bonito, and watch for the running albies whenever I can.
This year I have been lucky enough to get offshore a bit. Last week, I joined friends and we headed out of Menemsha, and tooled around off Aquinnah around Devil’s Bridge. The bait was dense from the harbor to the Gay Head Lighthouse, and even in the middle of the day there were some fish breaking off Dogfish Bar. My good friend had brought his father along, who was visiting from Europe. He was able to land a nice bluefish before becoming all too familiar with the phenomenon that if you take your eyes off the horizon for too long while you are on the water, you will most likely feel a little ill. I have had a few good nights on the north shore fishing for bass at night, but haven’t caught a Derby-worthy bass in a few weeks.
Stephen Morris at Dick’s Bait & Tackle says there are schoolie bass working hard all over the Island from shore, with larger bass being caught offshore. Bonito are being caught with regularity off the north shore. Some bonito have been caught from shore both on Chappy and in Menemsha. But his words of encouragement were in regard to the amount of bait in the water: “I think it’s going to be a good fall season,” he said. I have heard a few albies have been caught, but have yet to see any myself.
If you are interested in participating in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby, you can register at the following locations:
- Derby committee
- Larry’s Tackle, Edgartown
- Dick’s Bait & Tackle, Oak Bluffs
- Coop’s Bait & Tackle, Edgartown
- Menemsha Texaco, Chilmark
- Derby Headquarters, Edgartown
- Lil Larry’s (formerly Porky’s), Edgartown
- Keep It Reel Kayak & Tackle, Oak Bluffs
Gavin Smith began fishing when he moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2014. He is a self-admitted novice, but a truly avid one, eager to learn and share as much as he can. Gavin is a private chef and passionate foodie who appreciates the bounty that Vineyard waters provide, and likes nothing more than sharing his passion with his clients. He is a regular contributor to the Fishing Report.