Optimism reigns down the Derby homestretch
The last weeks of the Derby are a stressful time for Islanders. There is so little time left and there are so many excuses to make.
With about a week and a half left in the five-week annual fishing contest the Derby is in full frenzy. Fishermen go to and fro in search of one or all of the species of fish needed to claim a prize: striped bass, false albacore, bonito and bluefish.
It is not easy to be two places at once. The albies are in Menemsha one day and Edgartown the other. The striped bass remain elusive on the shore. Bonito show up sporadically and bluefish seem to show up as solitary fish.
Members of the Edgartown Memorial Wharf Rats take a break from fishing long enough to pose for a photo. Photo by Ralph Stewart
At one time many off-Island participants assumed that the Derby edge belonged to Islanders. I am not so sure.
Many good off-Island fishermen come to the Vineyard and do nothing but fish. They fish in the morning and they fish at night. They do nothing but fish, increasing their odds of catching a winner.
At one time Island residency meant knowing the good fishing spots. But technology has changed all that.
Earlier this year Rene and Ton, also known as the Dutch guys (because they are actually from Holland and, being an American, I am culturally challenged and so call them the Dutch guys as opposed to the Netherlands guys), let me in on a little secret of their annual pre-Martha's Vineyard fishing trip planning.
They use Google Earth to help them gain access to good fishing spots on the Vineyard. I never would have thought of that.
Sherry Mele, also known affectionately as "Squid Mama," is the unofficial Memorial Wharf den mother. Photo by Ralph Stewart
For readers unfamiliar with Google (and electric lights), it is a comprehensive Internet search company that has put together a comprehensive aerial map of the US using available aerial imagery. A fisherman in Borneo with a bone through his nose and a gourd over his you-know-what who has an internet connection can zoom into Paul's Point for a bird's eye view that reveals all the driveways and paths.
My point is that there are no secret locations. Islanders still have the edge as far as access but it is a limited one. Although most of us have to work, many of us adopt the Vineyard version of Derby flextime.
About a week ago the weather was calm and I had the opportunity to use a friend's boat moored in Menemsha. I called my wife Norma to let her know what I was doing (very responsible, don't you think?).
"Oh, I see," she said in an understanding tone. "You're calling me at work to tell me it's a beautiful day and you're going fishing."
"That's right," I said, adding quickly, "I'm working."
Actually, the fishing column research part no longer works, but I use it because I have nothing else. "Ned's going with me because he knows boats and the up-Island waters and I don't know anything about either."
Norma laughed. "Well, that's right honey, but doesn't Ned have to work?"
I explained that by leaving a jobsite early to fish the Derby, Ned was carrying on in the finest tradition of the Vineyard and the Derby "That's the Vineyard way," I said.
For readers waiting for a project to be complete who hope that work will commence in earnest once the Derby ends, I should also mention that leaving work to go deer hunting is also in the finest Vineyard tradition.
Up until that point, my Derby catch consisted of several dogfish and a sea bass. My wife never fails to be amused by my efforts to catch a Derby winner, or miss a chance to keep me humble. "Well maybe you will catch something you can bring home to eat," she said with a laugh. "Remember, you haven't caught anything with Tom or Coop. Maybe you can catch something with Ned."
I did not.
The shore albie fishing I am told has been very good this Derby. Fishermen with the time and inclination to spend hours at the gut, Edgartown Light, Lobsterville Beach or on the jetties are hooking big fish.
It is worth the wait. Pound for pound the false albacore is the most exciting fish a person can catch from the Vineyard shore.
Albie and bonito fishermen are a dedicated bunch. On Saturday morning I drove to Lobsterville and parked at the end of the road by the jetty. Many of the fishermen standing on the jetty in the crashing waves, blowing sand and howling northwest wind had been there since before dawn.
Small groups of fishermen left the jetty. The conditions were just not suitable and more importantly the fish were not cooperating.
In past years, Memorial Wharf in Edgartown has produced many winning bonito and false albacore. The new cut in Norton Point Beach has dramatically affected Edgartown Harbor tides and currents and with it the fishing. This natural break has also affected the hardcore group of fishermen that made the wharf their Derby home. A small band perseveres.
Fishing from a boat for albies or bonito allows more flexibility. Unfortunately, some boat fishermen forget that shore fishermen do not have the option to follow the fish.
One fisherman who had spent hours at the end of Tashmoo jetty waiting for a shot at breaking fish finally got his chance. The fish came by. He could not believe it when a boat with two fishermen came right in and cut him off. "And they were fly fishermen," he said.
There are some effective techniques for hooking up with an albie or bonito that do not require acting like a bonito bonehead. Not long ago I asked Phil Cronin of West Tisbury, an experienced shore and boat albie and bonito fly fishermen and charter captain. He provided the following tips:
* In the seconds you have when a fish is breaking on the surface try to determine what direction it's heading and lead the fish slightly with your fly or lure. You want it to see your offering.
* Once your fly or lure hits the water, get it moving quickly and keep your retrieve fast as these speedsters will react more aggressively and be attracted to escaping baitfish.
* Keep your rod tip down when retrieving your fly or lure and up when fighting the fish. Doing this allows you to get your line tight faster when you hookup to the fish. Bonito are crafty fighters and will dart back and forth and run side to side. Keeping the line tight and a good bend in the rod at all times are your keys to success. Albies on the other hand will make long straight runs and keeping the line tight is not always as challenging as with bonito.
* Be considerate of other anglers whether on boat or on shore. Fishing for bones and albies is an aggressive and exciting experience. Don't lose your head in the heat of battle and cause another angler to lose their opportunity to catch a fish.
* Watch experienced anglers and learn from them. Martha's Vineyard has some of the best bonito and false albacore fishermen in the world. You can learn an awful lot by merely watching them in action.
Jim Feiner and Harry Beach with Jim's winning fish, after a foggy, eerie paddle. Photo courtesy of Jim Feiner
Kayak Derby made a good start
There are an increasing number of Kayak commandoes fishing in Vineyard waters. Last week they held an in-house kayak Derby. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.
Co-organizer Jim Feiner of Chilmark reported that the 17 registered participants fished hard in the three-day contest that was extended for another four days due to weather, The kayak contestants caught a few fish. Jim caught the winning fish, a 26.5-pound striped bass. He said, "We are soliciting ideas and participation from the Vineyard fishing community, primarily kayakers who would like to be involved in next year's derby. An e-mail address has been set up (MVKayakderby@gmail.com) for comments and questions.
Jim said he was happy to win, but he will donate the grand prize, a Wilton Holmes sea kayak from South Africa worth $2,800 donated by Mr. Holmes, the US distributor of the Tunny, to next year's derby as the grand prize. That was a classy thing to do.
The Louisa Gould Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven will hold a closing reception for the Derby art show from 6 to 8 pm Saturday. This is the last opportunity to see a wonderful collection of artwork focused on fishing and the Derby and meet many of the artists.
For more information, go to www.louisagould.com.
Click here for 62nd Derby Results >