Annual Vineyard fall fishing classic begins Sunday
The 61st annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins Sunday. For many fishermen the Derby is less about prizes than it is about the opportunity to win the respect and admiration of their fishing peers.
It is more of a challenge to impress family members, particularly teenage children who think that most adults know nothing and parents know even less.
So imagine my surprise last week when my 15-year-old daughter, sitting on the couch holding a slice of pizza in one hand and the phone in the other, interrupted her conversation with her friend and said, "I have newfound respect for you, Dad."
You wonder what would elicit such admiration in a teenage girl? What is his secret, you ask?
It was not a fish.
My daughter treats Derby fishing stories with the same roll of the eyes reserved for tales of my youth. The sort we all tell our kids embedded with a not so subtle moral designed to prod children to greatness, or at a minimum stress the wickedness of tobacco and teenage boys.
What had so impressed my child was the fact that I was cleaning up a huge pool of black Lab vomit deposited on our kitchen floor by our dog Tashmoo.
Tashmoo had slipped away in the evening. He returned sometime in the night to his doghouse and was welcomed back into the house by our very relieved family that morning.
Tashmoo is not as young as he used to be. So I worry more than I used to that he will not hear a car or will simply run into another animal that lacks his gentle, friendly disposition.
Labrador retrievers have many wonderful qualities. The breed's fondness for eating rank items it comes across is not one of them.
Generally, Tashmoo begins to sound like a sump pump and that provides me with some warning that it is time to open the door. But I was washing up getting ready for work and so did not react when the critical moment arrived.
I stepped out of the bathroom. "Yewhh, yewhh," said my daughter Marlan, "Tashmoo threw up. Yewhh."
It was a nasty job. The sort that certainly falls under the job description of dad - besides my wife Norma would not be home from her morning walk for at least 45 minutes and I could see no way to convincingly pretend that I had not seen a pile of Lab glop sitting in the middle of the kitchen.
I will certainly try to catch a winning fish in the 61st Derby that begins Sunday. But I know that when it comes to impressing my daughter it is better to be a dad than a fisherman.
A fishing armful
The wind was blowing hard out of the east on Saturday. It made for tough conditions for Edgartown fishermen but the Gay Head cliffs provided shelter in the lee for the Menemsha crowd.
Vinny Iacono, 15, was fishing out of his small Boston Whaler outside of Menemsha Harbor when Flip Harrington cruised by in his boat "Dovekie." Flip tendered a neighborly invitation to Vinny to join his fishing party, which included John Hauck and his son Garret and a friend known only as "Big John," headed for Gay Head.
Vinny headed in as quickly as he could to ask his dad, Wayne Iacono, if he could go. Wayne, a Menemsha commercial fisherman, is the sort of dad who knows a good fishing invitation when he hears it.
Vinny's striped bass was 48 inches long and the largest he has caught to date. Did Vinny think, if only it was already Derby time? "He was so happy anyway it (the start of the Derby) didn't make much difference," Wayne said.
Vinny has plenty of time to catch another big fish and a dad who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win the Derby. In 1972, Wayne won the bass division with a 56-pound, 9-ounce fish. That was the same year that Jean Hancock hooked a Derby record 23-pound, 4.5-ounce bluefish.
Derby volunteers needed
It is no easy job running a month-long fishing tournament. It is a chore handled by a committee made up of fewer than two dozen individuals, all of whom would also like to fish.
The Derby committee needs some help. They are looking for a person willing to sign on as fillet master, an individual willing to supervise the fillet station and cut fish every evening from 8 to 10 pm over the course of the tournament. The committee provides a stipend but the job provides rewards that are far more significant than money.
This is a good job for someone who can't catch fish or for someone who does catch fish. I will explain.
Acquiring the authentic patina of an Island Derby fisherman can take years of hard fishing and chumming around. Someone new to the Vineyard or fishing can acquire instant credibility as Derby fillet master.
The fillet station is also an excellent place to pick up fishing information and tips. People like to talk to the fillet master.
Vinny Iacono, 15, holds a 38-pound striped bass he caught Saturday off Gay Head. Photo by Marshall Carroll
There is also the opportunity for showmanship. Of course the showstopper is cutting open a big bass in front of a group of elegantly dressed tourists who have wandered over to the weigh station to see what all the activity is about.
The experienced Island fisherman can learn a lot about who is catching fish where, while working at the weigh station. And the hours do not interfere with bass fishing.
Call Derby chairman John Custer at 508-696-8904 for more information.
In addition to a fillet master the Derby committee needs volunteers to help out on the fillet station. Surgical fillet skills are not needed, just a willingness to help out.
In particular, people are needed for Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 am and Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Volunteers are asked to call Derby committee member Matt Malowski at 508-274-0320 to sign up.
On the subject of the Derby, ignorance of the rules is no excuse and certainly provides no reason to get angry with the folks who run the weigh station.
Fish donated to the fillet program must be in good condition. The fillet program is not a place to dispose of unwanted fish that have been allowed to deteriorate because they weren't iced down.
Fishermen are reminded that there is a three false albacore maximum. No Derby fisherman is allowed to weigh in more than three false albacore during the Derby. Fish that do not meet the minimum size requirement count.
On Saturday morning I watched approximately 18 boats, including several kayaks, chasing approximately18 bonito off Tashmoo. On a bonito bonehead scale of one-to-ten, I would put the show at about a nine.
Each time a pod of fish broke, several boats would hit the throttle and run up on the fish with little apparent concern for the fishermen who happened to be in casting range. The end result was that no one hooked up.
Ideally, fishermen would drift, idle or anchor up and wait for a pod to come up. If and when the fish break in front of a fisherman, that would be his chance. But that is not what happened.
Let's take the single guy I watched in a boat with a yellow hull. The fish broke about 200 yards away near a couple of guys in a boat. He powers up and charges over there along with several other boats.
The end result is that the fish go down, the guys who are already on the scene lose their shot at the fish and get irritated and the boats arriving under power may get one cast. If someone does hook up he or she is more concerned with the other boats jockeying around for advantage than playing the fish.
I might be able to understand the total lack of consideration for other fishermen if the run-and-gun method produced fish. I saw one person hook up and did not see a fish landed. So what was the point?
Hopefully, more fish will arrive and the fishermen will spread out. Or perhaps the Derby could create a special designation modeled after trout streams where a section is designated catch and release only.
The designation would be a "bonito bone-heads only" fishing zone. My idea is to congregate all the run-and-gun fishermen in one area where they can run up on the fish at full throttle, maneuver between the fish and other boats and generally combine fishing with roller derby.
On Monday, Stevie Morris at Dick's said the fishing had been slow over the weekend, with only scattered reports of bonito off Menemsha and Tashmoo and rumors of false albacore. "But I haven't talked to anyone who actually caught one," he said.
Coop at Coop's said he has heard about false albacore off East Beach. Coop said he expects the fishing to heat up this weekend.
Missing a Derby Stalwart
Former Derby chairman and beach goodwill ambassador Don Mohr of West Tisbury is recuperating at home after undergoing successful surgery to re-insert an artificial hip, according to Bob Lane writing in the Surfcaster's Associating newsletter.
Cards and visits are appreciated, according to Bob, especially during the Derby. Don's address is Mohr, RFD Box 1119A, Otis Bassett Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.