How I spent my Derby fishing vacation
I took a one-week vacation to fish the Derby. I had no high hopes. My goals were modest: catch a few fish including a Derby winner, use the boat that had sat idle all summer, and remain away from the Times office.
As often happens, my vacation did turn out as planned.
I spent the first several days engaged in the time-honored ritual of looking for fish. I launched my 18-foot Tashmoo skiff powered by an aging 30-horsepower Evinrude motor at the Lagoon Pond launch ramp. Several small pods of false albacore off Tashmoo pursued by several boats did not hold my interest so I went looking for the bonito reported to be on Lucas Shoal. The fish were not there. I putted along and entered Menemsha Harbor where I did find a delicious stuffed quahog at Larsen's Fish Market and that was just fine.
My Derby fishing style is low-key. I am not a committed Derby fisherman. That is, someone who, when viewed outside the Derby prism, would under normal circumstances be committed.
I was reminded of the endearing mania that is the Derby mindset early Saturday morning. I was on the Lobsterville side of Menemsha Creek because I had heard that the albies had run the beach and blitzed the channel the day before.
The wind was screaming out of the north, gusting to 30 knots. And the parking lot was full. A small group of fishermen, including fly fishermen, tried gamely to cast and avoid being swept off the jetty.
Fishermen who had given up congregated in the parking area and on the beach swapping fishing stories. Several current Derby leaders were among the mix demonstrating that there are lucky fishermen but hard fishermen make their own luck.
I am not a hard fisherman but I did want to be a lucky fisherman. My plan was to bottom fish and catch a big striper. But sometimes life gets in the way of fishing plans.
Monday morning my14-year-old Lab named Tashmoo did not look or act well. He would not eat and was not engaging in his usual practice of following me from room to room and lying down wherever I stopped so I would need to step over him.
By Tuesday morning he was so lethargic he barely raised his head when I walked in the house. He feebly tried to wag his tail. In my heart I anticipated the worst moment a dog owner must face, saying goodbye to a loyal and loving companion.
At My Pet's Vet veterinarian Kirsten Sauter and her staff Jackie and Cindy were caring and considerate. There was no conclusive diagnosis, only possibilities.
I rejected extreme measures. He had lived as a hunting dog and I did not want him to linger as an invalid. It was decided to treat him with a strong dose of antibiotics.
By Thursday Tashmoo was back on his feet and under mine. My mental relief was considerable.
The larger Derby fishing community was also under some stress. On Sunday Lev Wlodyka weighed in a 56.56-pound striped bass containing lead weights ingested as a result of a fishing technique known as yo-yoing.
Although the committee did not suspect Lev of any wrongdoing on Monday they met and decided to disqualify his fish. Then the committee learned that earlier in the Derby the committee people on duty at the weigh station allowed Glenn Pachico to weigh in a fish containing a yo-yo rig and weight.
Again, there was no suspicion of any wrongdoing. But that information led the committee to revisit their earlier decision. On Wednesday they decided to reinstate Lev's fish minus the 1.68 pounds of lead weight.
I served on the Derby committee for many years. I know how difficult these decisions can be. I also know how seriously the committee took its responsibility to the Derby when I served and I have no reason to think that has changed.
I think that ultimately the committee made the right decision. After gathering information about yo-yoing they came to the conclusion that it would be wrong to penalize a fisherman for no other reason than he or she was unlucky enough to catch a fish with a yo-yo rig.
Some fishermen are of the opinion that anything a fish ingests is part of the fish and should be counted as part of the fish's weight. I do not agree. The new Derby rules allow the committee plenty of latitude to eliminate weight and if cheating is suspected, disqualify a fisherman.
Lead, rocks, and old boots are not to be counted. And a nine-pound bonito with a one-pound pogie in its belly should raise eyebrows.
My own view is that the Derby spirit would survive quite nicely without the emphasis on gear, cash and grand prizes of a boat and truck.
On Thursday that spirit was alive and well on the beach at Wasque. Cooper Gilkes had decided to take the day off and invited me to take a ride to Chappy. The report was that the albies were running the beach.
It had been years since I had caught an albie from the shore. It was one of my vacation goals. About 20 fishermen lined the beach when we arrived about noon. One was hooked up.
I had a light rod and was casting a small Maria, a highly reflective metal jig, when an albie hit. I was daydreaming but woke up when line started disappearing from my reel at an alarming rate.
Sherry Mele, also known as Squid Mama, shouted encouragement. The Pats could not have had a more enthusiastic cheerleader. "You rock. Go boy. You've got him."
The fish paused and continued running straight out from the beach. My lack of line was getting serious. Coop offered a timely suggestion. "Lean the rod over at an angle," he said.
The fish started traveling along the beach and that allowed me to recover some line. I kept pressure on the fish and remembered why hooking an albie is so addicting.
When I finally beached the fish Sherry was more excited than I was. Later she e-mailed with a sensible recommendation: "If I were you I'd get more line on that spool."
On Friday I returned to Chappy in my boat. I wanted to catch an albie on the fly rod.
When I arrived off Cape Poge Light I saw schools of albies erupting everywhere and only half a dozen boats. I tied on a fly Chip Leonardi gave me weeks ago, reasoning that a guy with the instincts of an osprey ties a fly that an albie will eat.
And it did. My fly line and backing disappeared from the reel. I worked the fish in and it took off again.
"My fish is right off your bow," I shouted to two guys in a twin-engine boat named Thunder. That apparently was the signal for the guy standing in the bow to cast over my line.
To his credit the captain, who identified himself as Woody, was mortified that his friend Brad, whom I assume knew little about how far and fast albies travel, did what he did.
Woody asked me if I wanted him to cut the line. No, I said I would see what happened.
I knew if it could happen it would happen. When it comes to albie fishing I am resigned to fate.
I began a running commentary. "There's a whole ocean out there," I said. "There are albies everywhere and you manage to cast over my line? I've never caught an albie on my fly rod in my life. Before I left the house this morning I told my wife I hope I catch an albie on the fly rod...."
Woody kept offering to cut his line. Brad was sorry. And I was having as much fun with them as I was with the albie.
I landed the fish. Brad got his lure back. And we parted company in good spirits. Not a bad end to a Derby vacation.
Awards ceremony is Sunday
The 62nd Derby ends Saturday night at 10 pm. The awards ceremony is 1 pm Sunday at Outerland located off the access road to the Martha's Vineyard Airport.
Fly rod recovered, pliers not
Justin Pribanic's Orvis fly rod and Tibor reel fell off the top of the vehicle he was in some place between the Norton Point cut and Wasque Tuesday evening. Luckily for him, an honest guy happened along and spotted the rod in the sand. Jim Fraser of Oak Bluffs was that guy.
Ron Sullivan lost his Browning fishing pliers with holster and lanyard either on East Beach or along the way to the Edgartown Light. He hopes an honest fisherman found them. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Holly Mercier holds her new inflatable fishing vest. Photo by Susan Safford
Derby fisherman receives her new vest
This summer I had a little fun with several photos of a catfish that tried to swallow a kid's basketball. I asked readers to describe what was going on, in order to win a new Hodgman inflatable Fly Fishing Vest.
I received more than 60 contest entries, including one from Holly Mercier of Edgartown, who explained that she has multiple sclerosis. She wrote, "I am an avid fisherman with really bad balance. And I have a tendency to fall. I wear neoprene waders but they are heavy and too buoyant for me and I have a hard time in them. I just bought a pair of breathable waders, but I don't have any of the buoyancy, so I think this vest would be a good idea, and if I can win it, well, that's even better."
I picked a winner at random - Nichole Napolitano. But Times editor Doug Cabral offered to underwrite the cost of a vest for Holly. She came to The Times office yesterday to pick it up.
Holly, a landscaper by trade, looked tired. "Is this Derby almost over?" she said with a laugh.
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