Fisherman's first albie takes over Derby shore lead
In the Derby it is good to be a good fisherman, but it is best to also be a lucky fisherman. And Derby luck is measured in ounces and pounds.
False albacore and bonito run in pods of fish that constitute larger schools. As with many schooling species, the fish tend to congregate according to size.
The difference between the smallest and the largest fish in any particular school may only be about a pound. But that pound, or those ounces, or even one hundredth of an ounce is the stuff that Derby glory is made of.
Shore fishing for albies is a mix of boredom, sunburn, hunger, fatigue, frustration, and excitement. You stand and wait, sometimes perched precariously on a rock you do not leave for even a moment for fear of losing a prime spot, and cast and cast and cast again.
Clark Goff Jr. holds the biggest false albacore he ever caught, his first and the current Derby shore leader. Photo courtesy Clark Goff Jr.
Sometimes you cast to unseen fish you hope are beneath the surface and sometimes you cast into a maelstrom of breaking fish and escaping bait. More often than not you do not hook a fish and wonder how it is possible not to hook a fish when there are so many fish breaking.
The shore albie fisherman must possess an outlook made up of fatalism and optimism. There are a limited number of productive fishing spots and depending on the tide, wind and a variety of unknown influences from day to day or season to season, the albies may or may not show up.
Cape Poge gut, Tashmoo, Edgartown Harbor and the jetties on either side of Menemsha channel are among the most consistent shore spots. Each location attracts a collection of Derby fishermen.
On Friday, Clark Goff Jr. decided to fish from the Lobsterville jetty. It was a good decision.
Clark grew up in Chilmark and lives in North Carolina. He and his wife built a house near his parents Clark and Pam Goff's sheep farm and he returns to the Vineyard frequently to fish.
Last week Clark traveled to the Vineyard with some friends for a long Derby fishing weekend. Clark told me that he usually fishes for striped bass but decided to fish for albies.
He had fished for albies off and on for the past three years without any success, he said. Like any astute fisherman, he watched what the other more experienced albie fishermen around him were doing.
Clark figured that if he used the same lure and casting techniques he stood a good chance of catching a fish. What was he using? He wouldn't say (the code of the jetty).
"I got the prime spot on the jetty," Clark told me Monday in a telephone call. "I was casting towards some rising fish and this one, I saw it actually take it, which was pretty cool, and then it just took off."
Anyone who has never experienced hooking an albie would not understand what it really means to have an albie "take off." Albies are members of the tuna family and run like a cat escaping from a dog pound.
"I had never fought one before, but I was careful with my drag because I saw some guy lose one beforehand," he said, "and I just got it in. I had to rush to meet a boat so I asked some guy on the jetty if he thought it was a keeper and if I should weigh it in. He said, 'probably.'"
Good thing the guy Clark asked was not the shore albie leader or he might have advised throwing it back. It was the first albie he had ever caught in his life but he had no idea it might be a big fish until he got to the weigh station later that evening.
Clark left the jetty to pick up some friends who were also planning to fish. His friends accompanied him to the weigh station and got a taste of Derby culture firsthand. "One guy said it was a key fish and I really didn't know what that meant," he said.
The key the man was referring to is one of four keys each of the four Derby shore grand leaders receives while standing on stage at the awards ceremony. One of the four keys opens a lock to win a new Boston Whaler boat, motor, and trailer.
Clark fishes hard and has grown up with the Derby. "I can't believe it, I was just hoping to catch a fish," he said. "My lifelong dream was just to go to the weigh station and just weigh one in. To go to the weigh station and be in the lead is obviously very special. I feel very lucky."
Clark now gets to experience the Derby's version of a stress test. Each morning he will go online to check the standings and see if his fish still holds the lead.
If the fish holds up he will be among the eight shore and boat grand leaders walking up on stage on Sunday, Oct. 14. Although he has a case of leader nerves, he said that however it turns out would be fine. "The best thing is just catching a fish, and weighing it in and just the experience," he said. "Anything else would be gravy."
Nichole Napolitano of Lancaster holds a new Stearns inflatable fishing vest. Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Nichole Napolitano stopped by the Times office Monday morning to pick up a new fishing vest. Her entry was picked at random as part of a fishing column contest in which I asked readers to identify a photo of a catfish with a basketball in its mouth.
Nichole lives in Lancaster, a small rural town southeast of Worcester, and works in Westboro. She looks forward to her regular fishing trips to the Vineyard, in particular the Derby.
As with many Derby fishermen, it is the spirit and camaraderie of the competition and the annual opportunity to see familiar faces that she enjoys. "I go to the canal sometimes, but this is really my favorite place to fish" she told me.
The assumption (often made by my wife) that someone is just "another dumb Derby fisherman" may be a correct assessment of some of the behavior people witness on the water or beach. That is because the Derby makes people act strange.
But Derby fishermen are an interesting lot. They come in all shapes and sizes and with varied resumes. I was reminded of that when in the span of 15 minutes I watched a world class architect, a prison guard, and a stock trader walk through a tackle shop door.
Fishing and the Derby is the common denominator.
Wearing her Derby hat and a windbreaker, Nichole would blend in on any beach. She certainly did not look like a molecular biologist.
When she is not fishing Nichole works in the field of genetics for Genzyme Corporation, one of the world's top biotechnology companies. Her work is designed to help people with the types of serious diseases, such as cancer and cystic fibrosis, that should make all of us treat each day of fishing as a true gift.
Genetics is an exciting field with limitless possibilities. For example, imagine if geneticists could identify and eliminate the Britney Spears gene?
I suggested to Nichole that in her spare time she do a little lab work with bluefish. She said she would think about it. I wonder how the Derby committee will react if I weigh in a 60-pound bluefish next fall?
Lost fishing rod
A fishing rod was left in the West Chop area Tuesday. An honest man brought the rod to Coop's. Call 508-627-3909 to retrieve it.
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