Gone Fishin' : The 63rd Derby was itself the prize
The story of the 63rd annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is summed up by a casual conversation aboard the Steamship Authority ferry Sunday morning between a letter carrier from Westport and an architect from Connecticut.
The two men did not know each other and had never met before. But as is so often the case over the course of the five-week tournament, fishing proved to be a common denominator.
Photos by Louisa Gould
The ferry was rocking and Scott Tompkins, the shore striped bass grand leader, went out on the deck to get some fresh air. Paul Harris, the boat bonito grand leader, was standing talking to his good friend David Solway.
Scott was wearing a Derby hat under his sweatshirt hood. Scott said Paul looked like a fisherman. The men struck up a conversation and found out they were both on their way to attend the Derby awards ceremony at 1 pm that afternoon in Outerland.
Paul, a long-time seasonal visitor, asked Scott if he was getting any prizes. Scott identified himself as the shore bass grand leader. Paul said he was the boat bonito leader.
"I told him, if you win the boat I'll try to win the truck and we'll help you tow it home," said Paul.
The Derby officially ended at 10 pm Saturday night. My Derby ended unofficially on a dark north shore Chilmark beach Friday night fishing with Tom Robinson.
"Well," said Tom as we set out our beach chairs and sand spikes, "we only have to catch four fish before Saturday night." The tackle-box is half full, that's the sort of guy Tom is. And he was correct - we only needed four fish.
No doubt a member of the Red Sox told Jason Varitek something similar in the ninth inning Sunday night. "Jason, all you need to do is wait until the bases are loaded and then hit a home run."
Actually, the Red Sox had a better chance of scoring in the ninth than either Tom or I had of catching a bonito, a false albacore, a bluefish or a striped bass before the final Derby weigh-in ended.
In fairness to the fish gods, the only way I would have caught a bonito or false albacore was if a fish, similar to one of those disorientated (or simply stupid) manatees or whales that television news is so fond of reporting on, came sailing over the sea wall by the drawbridge and through my open car window.
My Derby fishing ranged between half-hearted effort and wishful thinking. I trolled a lure I found in my tackle box thinking it might appeal to an albie. I cast an eel along Stonewall Beach imagining with each cast what it would be like to walk into the weigh station with a monstrous striped bass.
A total of 2,724 similarly hopeful fishermen entered the 63rd Derby - noticeably short of the 3,000 mark the Derby had achieved for five years past. What accounted for the drop? Most informed folks blamed a combination of poor weekend weather, poor fishing, and the economy.
There is no doubt that the fishing was off (see sidebar for an analysis). For example, last year fishermen weighed in a total of 432 bonito compared with 285 this Derby. The drop was starker for striped bass, from 745 to 392. The number of albies caught, the big daytime crowd pleaser, dropped from 509 to 168. The bluefish catch remained about even, 1,413 to 1,438.