Leo Lecuyer, winner of a new boat, and Keith Ogren, winner of a new truck, with Derby president Ed Jerome. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Luck rubs off in 60th Derby awards ceremony
There was no fairy-tale ending for a 12-year-old Island girl who caught a winning fish, but there was plenty of magic in the 60th Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. And for two off-Island fishing pals — one who went home with a new truck, and the other with a new boat — there was plenty of good luck. By the final week of the five-week annual Island fishing marathon there was also plenty of strong wind and torrential rain and little black spiders.
The horrendous weather brought a small measure of comfort to the eight Derby grand leaders in the boat and shore categories. But as every Derby fisherman knows, no fish is safe until the final weigh station bell.
On Friday, Ronald Sullivan caught a 13.70-pound bluefish to take over the shore bluefish lead. On Saturday, John Smith walked into the weigh station in the final half-hour of the 60th derby with a 15.95-pound bluefish to take over the boat division lead.
Molly Fischer, boat striped bass division winner, and Jared MacKenzie, boat bonito division winner, on stage with a chance to win a new truck.
At the awards ceremony held in the crowded Atlantic Connection on Sunday afternoon, both men were among a group of eight grand leaders that included Molly Fischer of Aquinnah, the leader in the boat striped bass division and the undisputed hometown favorite.
The shore grand leaders in the bluefish, striped bass, bonito and false albacore categories each drew a key for a chance to open a lock and win a new Boston Whaler boat. While the four boat grand leaders drew a key to win a new Chevrolet Silverado.
The shore fishermen were first up. The key did not open the lock held up to a microphone by Ed Jerome, derby president, for Ronald Sullivan. It did not open for Dennis Gough despite the loud cheers of support from his fellow Memorial Wharf rat. That left Leo Lecuyer and Islander Bernie Arruda, the bonito shore champ. When the key opened for Leo, Bernie, who had been on that stage before, swallowed hard and smiled.
Fly rod winners Chip Bergeron of West Tisbury and Bob Clay of Edgartown share the spotlight and a laugh.
Next came the boat category. Molly, looking poised but understandably nervous, was first in line. If crowd willpower and yells were all it took, the lock would have sprung open when Ed tried to turn the key, but it did not. The groan could be heard all the way to Menemsha.
The lock also did not budge for John Smith or Jared Mackenzie, leaving no doubt that Keith Ogren, the last man in line, was the winner of the truck.
Outside the awards ceremony the grand prize winners marveled at their good fortune and talked about how much they each enjoyed the Island and fishing the Derby.
"I just have so much fun," said Keith as he stood by his new truck with derby supporters Bob and Fran Clay of the Clay family car dealerships.
Showing a fisherman's respect for the role of fate and luck, Leo, who had only fished the Island for the first time last year, told me that he caught his winning bass on his son's sixth birthday and won the boat on his wedding anniversary.
Last year he spent three days fishing and caught nothing. "So I wanted to come back and try even harder," he said. "I think I did pretty good."
Oak Bluffs residents Steve Morris and his son Christopher, who set a new junior top rod record of 14 daily pins, received the Beaulieu/Loud memorial Award for family spirit.
Leo said he was fishing on a certain beach that looked good. When I told him the name of the beach and what he was using when he caught the fish, a Sluggo, he looked dumbfounded. "Small Island," I told him.
Despite not winning a truck she could use as leverage with her dad and mom, Molly and her family were still basking in the Derby's glow. On Monday the school bus driver had a surprise for Molly, a seventh grader at the West Tisbury School. He had painted the side of the bus with fish and the word congratulations.
Like many of the almost 3,000 fishermen who entered the Derby, I began the annual fishing contest in early September with a sense of optimism, a plan, and a strong faith in the winning power of pure, unadulterated luck.
Molly Fischer, striped bass boat division winner, with her parents Albert and Linda.
I was optimistic that if my fishing partner Tom Robinson of Tisbury and I fished the Island's big fish spots with fresh squid and had a break or two, one of us could come up with a Derby winner, or at the very least come close. My plan was to let Tom gather the squid, a fishery I have not mastered.
This strategy was all grounded in the theory that bottom fishing is relatively low-stress and less physically demanding than casting plugs or whipping around a fly rod.
Walking back along a rocky beach from Cedar Tree Neck the last night of the Derby I felt joined in spirit with a Napoleonic soldier retreating from Moscow. Halfway to where our truck was parked I considered leaving my rods and backpack on the beach to lighten my load.
I had not expected to do so much trudging through the sand and over rocks encumbered with sand spikes, a chair, bait, rods, tackle and a portable defibrillator.
Instead of a plan, I should have begun the Derby with a big fish, like Leo Lecuyer of Blackstone did. On the first night Leo, who was sharing a weekly rental cottage with Keith Ogren of Windham, New Hampshire, a pal he knows from a local web site fishing club, caught a 45.18-pound striped bass. His fish would remain at the top of the shore bass division the entire length of the Derby.
A few weeks later, his pal Keith returned to the Vineyard. He was on his way from one fishing spot to another when as luck would have it, he spotted a school of fish and hooked a 14.19 pound false albacore to take over first spot in the boat division in a derby year when big albies seemed abundant.
Mia Benedetto of West Tisbury, junior all-tackle shore bluefish winner, caught her fish on the first day.
The first night of the Derby, I caught a skate and a small striped bass. Tom caught a dogfish. But we did not get depressed.
We kept at it and kept catching nothing. We fished the north shore, the south shore, the west end and the east end.
We theorized, often with a historical perspective. For several nights, we fished West Chop.
"A lot of big blues have come out of here," Tom or I said as we set up our poles. I don't remember who said it, and it really is not important. Fishermen speak in clichés.
Tom caught the only fish, a small bluefish with some sort of deformity on its head. We concluded the fish had committed suicide.
A week later I experienced a brief moment of Derby glory and rekindled my optimism when I hooked a 9-pound bluefish that put me on the board for one day. We kept at it during the Derby's unseasonable weather.
One warm foggy night, Tom and I walked to a beach on the north shore. It was quite dark. I shined my light on the beach near next to my folding chair and saw small black objects moving across the beach. Spiders.
There were small black spiders crawling everywhere. Tom and I agreed that we had never seen anything like it.
Gus Hoy of West Tisbury, mini-junior bluefish second place winner, looked more shocked than delighted with all the attention.
My theory (fishermen are great theorists) was that a box of bananas fell off a freighter and floated to shore. The spiders were stowaways.
I told Tom I was glad he was there. I speculated that were I to fall asleep in my chair only my bones would be left by sunrise. I was also hoping that if the spiders did bite they would bite Tom first.
We escaped unscathed and without any fish.
We were not the only fishermen making odd natural discoveries during the Derby. On October 9, Mike Mayrand of Tisbury e-mailed me to say that he was fishing the beach along the Gay Head cliffs at dusk when he saw what looked like tire tracks or a boat drag mark.
He wrote, "I followed the tracks up to the bottom of the clay cliffs and it seemed like a rock was moving."
The rock was a leatherback turtle. Mike said it was about four feet long and with a huge head, just lumbering along the beach making tracks with its flippers.
Thinking like a Derby fisherman, Mike said he contemplated bringing the turtle, which he said looked quite old and weighed more than 300 pounds, to the Derby weigh station. He figured he'd surely "win some kind of prize for the largest and oldest animal."
Cameron Maciel of Vineyard Haven, mini-junior boat striped bass division winner, had his hands full of prizes.
Mike sat and watched the turtle return to the water. Although Mike could not identify turtle tracks from Dunlop tire tracks or figure out whether the turtle was a boy or a girl, I asked him if he could shed any light on the beach spiders.
Mike asked, "Were they ‘itsy bitsy spiders'? They could be Carly Simons."
Tom and I did not run into any more spiders. We also did not run into any fish until the last week of the Derby when Tom hooked the largest bass he would catch during the Derby while not trying to catch a fish.
For people uninitiated to the practice of squidding, the general object is to drop a squid jig into the water where squid are present, usually in the vicinity of a well-lit dock like Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, and wait for a squid to embrace the jig. A quick tug is needed to hook the squid tentacles on the jig's upturned wire tines.
Tom and I were attempting to do that off a dock in Vineyard Haven. Tom is good at it and snagged a squid. A striped bass shot up from the depths and grabbed the squid and his jig which was attached to light line and a small five-foot freshwater rod.
Leo Lecuyer of Windham, N.H. celebrates after winning a 19-foot Boston Whaler Outrage with motor and
trailer in the 60th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby awards ceremony Sunday. John Smith,
winner of the boat bluefish division, and Derby president Ed Jerome look on.
To our surprise the fish remained hooked on the jig and did not immediately break the line. After a 15-minute battle that involved lots of dancing around pilings, Tom was able to bring the bass, about 15 pounds, to a spot where I could reach down and grab it.
The jig was stuck in the fish's throat like a grappling hook. After a brief jig-oscopy to remove the jig the fish swam away in a sea of Derby irony.
In an e-mail to a wide circle of friends sent after the Derby concluded on Sunday, Albert Fischer speaking for his wife Linda and entire family said, "Molly didn't win the truck but she sure won the hearts of everyone on the Vineyard. We are so proud of her and many thanks for everybody's kind words of support. This has been so much fun sharing this story with all of you, "our friends and family."
I want to echo those sentiments as I conclude the last column of this year. It has been fun sharing another season of fishing stories.