Newest Derby hall of fame member is old school
Steve Amaral (left) poses with Derby shore bass winner Mike Alwardt.
The Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee inducted Steve Amaral of Oak Bluffs into the Derby Hall of Fame last week. It was a singular honor. Steve was the only person the committee selected this year.
The Derby Hall of Fame was created in 1999 to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a "significant and positive impact on the sport fishing community of Martha's Vineyard and on the operation and goals" of the Derby.
Steve joins a list of notable fishermen and individual contributors to the Derby.
Family members, fishing friends and Derby supporters attended the ceremony in the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown last week. Many were members of Steve's extended fishing family, people who had fished with him - and brothers, sisters, cousins and wives of people who had fished with him - over more than half a century of Derbies.
The Amaral name may not be well known among the People Magazine celebrity crowd, but it is an authentic Island name, one rich in fishing and hunting traditions.
Good fishing in Menemsha Creek in the 70s.
Fishing has always been about family and friends. The Amaral family, Steve's dad, mom, brothers Ed and Leo, and sister Eleanor, took plenty of opportunities to go fishing. And there were the uncles, Nelson, Doc, Joe and Bill.
"I am very pleased with it," Steve said when I called him at home Monday to ask him about the ceremony. "It is awesome. I'm very grateful to the entire Derby committee."
Reflecting on a life spent fishing Vineyard beaches, Steve spoke about the pleasure he got taking people fishing and introducing them to fishing his way. There were those that embraced it and learned, and there were those that did not get invited again.
The Derby has always been a part of Steve's life. In 1946 his father, Augustus Amaral, was the first fisherman through the door for the first derby.
Steve has walked his share of fish through the weigh station door. But one of the best testimonials is the many people he took fishing who made the walk as well.
One of the more notable is Mike Alwardt, one of Steve's fishing pals of more than 17 years. In 1995 Mike was fishing with Steve when he hooked a 57.82-pound striped bass that took the shore division.
Hauling in a fish from a boat is fine. Chasing finicky bonito and false albacore is a chore. A big bluefish is a sight. But make no mistake about it; the shore bass division is the heart and soul of the Derby.
It is a division made up of men, and in some cases women, who are not afraid of the dark. They work the beach at night weathering the elements and enduring long hours with the knowledge that there is a fifty-pounder out there, maybe even a sixty, sustained by a belief that one more cast can make the difference.
Steve said that has no time for bickering or resentment because someone caught a bigger fish. He has always enjoyed fishing with friends and family, even when someone else catches a bigger fish.
When he was younger he, his brother Ed, uncles, cousins, and other family members went fishing. "When spring came we ended up going to Chilmark Pond to fish for perch," he said, reciting a long list of favored fishing spots.
In those days he and his friends did not have access to fancy tackle. "We used to make our own fishing poles. We'd go down to Mr. Leonard's, that'd be Richard and Paul's grandparents. He'd have the bamboo planks and then we'd get the hooks and the bobbers and the line there and slowly but surely we graduated up so we get a half-way decent pole and the reel."
He laughs at the image as he describes it. "We looked like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer," he said.
In high school he rode his bicycle to Hart's jetty, little bridge, East Chop, and upper Lagoon Pond to go fishing. "And of course a lot of us can still remember when Barnes Road was dirt," he said.
This fall Steve will fish his 61st Derby. "61 out of 62," said Steve. He missed the Derby in 1956 while serving in the Army in Korea.
He acknowledges that he does not fish as hard as he used to but still looks forward to the Derby. It is not an add-on but as much a part of the natural cycle of his Island life as deer season or shellfish season.
"I thank the guy upstairs for giving me the health to do it," said Steve. A plumber by trade, he has scaled back work to a point that he can now do the things he likes to do. "Semiretirement" is how he describes it.
I asked Steve his age. It was as though I had asked him to tell me where he caught a big bass. I can report that if he catches a bass that weighs as much as his age he will set a new Derby record.
There is no secret to Derby success. But in six decades Steve has learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a Derby champ. "The first thing is you've got to have the desire," said Steve. "Then, you've got to spend time at one or two spots, and you got to fish the tide, both sides of the tide so you know which one is more prolific."
That advice runs counter to my Derby strategy of recent years, which has been to go to the easiest spot I can find and hope that I get really lucky and do not fall asleep in my chair.
Steve said running around from fishing spot to spot is not very productive. Learn a spot and stick with it, he said. He said productive fishing spots do not change much. It is just a matter of patience and perseverance.
"Once you get to know where they are then you've got to put the time in," he said. Not one day but on successive days. Move around up and down the beach but stick with it. "I've been in a couple of good holes that should have produced fish for a week and a half, and then a storm comes and stirs everything up and you go back out there and then bang, you'll catch fish for three nights. And after that you are back on the schedule of a waitin' game."
Steve's fishing stories are a chronicle of Islanders and fish played out along the Vineyard shore. He and his friends would come home from work pick up the fishing rods and go. "We'd go home, eat, and meet at a certain time and head on out," he said.
One thing that has not changed is the need to gain access to prime shore fishing spots. But in some ways it has gotten easier, said Steve.
He said that years back private landowners and caretakers controlled access that could be easily given and taken away. The Land Bank and The Trustees of Reservations now provide access to some previously private beaches, he said.
In years past Steve was able to drive right to the West Tisbury pond opening. That is no longer possible so now he walks out to the beach.
He considers himself very lucky to have been born and brought up on the Vineyard. Everything he loves to do is here, he said.
He relishes everything the outdoor life has to offer and has not tired of fishing or chasing deer during hunting season, and he intends to do plenty of both in the years to come. Thinking about it he figures, "It just gets into your system."
Fluke and bass season close
In order to comply with federal regulations this season the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) lowered the fluke catch limit from seven to five fish and kept in place the current 17.5-inch limit. The DMF also established a season that opened June 10 and closed August 15, yesterday.
The Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishing season also closed yesterday. Last summer, DMF closed the season on August 23, based on dealer reports that projected that the total 2006 quota of 1,140,807 pounds had been reached.
Because the state exceeded the 2006 quota by 175,912 pounds, the 2007 quota was reduced to 988,406 pounds.
Fish markets and restaurants will still carry striped bass. In order to maintain the market, the state allows fish markets to import striped bass from other states for sale in Massachusetts. The fish must carry a tag designating the state of origin.
Recreational fishermen may keep up to two striped bass over 28 inches in length per day.