Gone Fishin' : 63rd Bass and Bluefish Derby kicks off Sunday
When I called him a few weeks ago Tom Robinson was in his basement preparing his tackle. He was getting ready for the Derby.
For those of you unfamiliar with Island fishing shorthand, the Derby is the 63rd Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that begins at 12:01 am Sunday. The all-consuming fishing contest ends at 10 pm Saturday night, October 18.
"This Derby I'm going to weigh in a fish," Tom told me. And I do not doubt Tom will. He is a determined kind of guy when he sets his mind on something.
The one hurdle Tom must overcome is fishing with me. It is hard to achieve Derby glory when your fishing pal suffers from a lack of ambition.
Year after year we sit on a beach watching our rod tips. Year after year nothing happens. I blame myself. I am a Derby underachiever.
Why walk 100 yards up a beach when you can walk 50 yards? Why re-bait if it means leaving a comfortable chair? Why wake up at 4 am when 7 am is much more civilized?
On Sunday I stopped by Tom's house to get some fresh tomatoes. Tom was in the garden collecting his bountiful crop to make sauce.
I do not think any gardener thinks about sauce when he or she grows tomatoes. But other than a food fight or political rally, what does one do with so many bloody tomatoes? Sauce is the tomato default.
Tom handed me one of the remnants of his squash crop. The problem with growing zucchini is that there are too many zucchini. Influenced by National Geographic shows, I suggested a use for his vegetables. As part of his Derby strategy I said he should dress like a New Guinea tribesman and wear a gourd over his privates. In fact, I said, maybe it could become part of a new Derby subculture.
Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Tribal tattoos appear to be in vogue these days. Why not tribal dress? Tom was not buying any of it.
I suspect that in basements across the Island other determined Derby fishermen are making plans to catch a fish heavy enough to bring to the weigh station. For some fishermen, even purchasing a button is a deliberative process that requires the advice of a numerologist.
The Derby prize structure has become more complicated than in the past when a fisherman only needed to catch the biggest bluefish or bass. Now there are four species and eight categories.
There are also multiple contests within the contest. On four successive Saturdays beginning with bluefish, then false albacore, bass, and bonito, the person who catches the biggest fish from shore or boat will each win $500.
There is a contest for fishing teams. There is also a raffle. In total, the Derby committee estimates it will give away more than $250,000 in prizes. I think that most of the fishermen are content to win a Derby fish pin.
The pin is probably worth less than $5. But to the fisherman who wears a pin on his fishing cap the value equals every good fishing moment he or she has spent on the water.
One big change this year is the boat grand prize from Boston Whaler to Eastern Boats. The name Boston Whaler has been associated with the Derby for as long as I can remember, more than 20 years.
Years ago the company donated the boat. Then when times got tight in the boat industry the Derby got it at cost.
What prompted the change? Derby president Ed Jerome, another name that has been associated with the Derby for as long as I can remember, said there was a company shakeup that coincided with Whaler focusing its attention on the southeast.
According to a Derby press release, a special committee was formed last May to secure a new boat grand prize sponsor, after Boston Whaler let the Derby committee know that it was stepping aside.
At the time, Ed said that while several manufacturers were contacted, Eastern Boats was a perfect fit for the Derby. "They are a New England company building boats right here, which are specifically designed to perform in our waters," said Ed in prepared remarks. "We hope this is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship."
Eastern Boats makes its home in Milton, N.H. According to the company website (www.easternboats.com) Eastern builds custom fiberglass Downeast-style boats from 18 to 35 feet that are rugged, fuel-efficient, and built to suit specific needs. The boats have classic good looks.
The boat the Derby committee will be giving away to one of the four shore grand prize winners (Tom or me), is a 20-foot center console with a 90 HP Honda four-stroke engine and trailer.
"We are pleased to be involved with the Derby and all they do to promote responsible angling for all ages in New England," said Eastern Boats owner Bob Bourdeau in the same press release. "The Derby's 63 years of tradition speaks for itself and we are happy to be a grand prize sponsor and new part of the Derby family."
Bob and Fran Clay of Clay Family Dealerships, the dynamic fishing duo from Chappaquiddick, will continue their generous Derby tradition of providing a new Chevy Silverado pickup truck for the boat division grand prize.
The cost to register for the Derby is $45 for fishermen between the ages of 15 and 64. Under or over that age it is $20.
The rules brochure includes a reminder to parents that the committee "strongly discourages parents" from letting kids skip school to go fishing. The point being that it is unfair and unsportsmanlike for some kids to be fishing for pins and prizes while other kids are in school.
I do not know why they give the old Derby coots a break. Hell, they get to fish all the time. I guess I am just jealous.
The Derby rocks
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has teamed up with the Derby in an innovative program designed to offer an alternative to the use of lead fishing sinkers.
The Tribe is providing Derby registration outlets with brochures and samples of innovative substitutes to lead sinkers. Bret Stearns, Tribe natural resources director, and Jim Miller, environmental program coordinator, are spearheading the program.
The brochure is titled, "Get the lead out of Vineyard Fishing." It describes the environmental and health hazards associated with lead, and provides information on lead weight substitutes.
Bret and Jim have been busy dropping off packages that contain a product known as "Stonze," manufactured by a British company named Pallatrax. Inside is a note card they hope fishermen will fill out and return to the Tribe.
The Stonze sinkers look like stones with holes drilled in them. I think they would work well as egg sinker substitutes.
The rounded design should prove very useful for bottom fishing rocky areas along the north shore. I am not sure how the Stonze sinkers will hold off a sandy beach where the sharp corners and design of lead pyramid sinkers work well in the tidal currents.
The Stonze system is designed for fishing in Europe, where commercial fishing and pollution has left anglers with nothing much to target besides mud-groping suckers. The fact that the stone blends in with the stones and muck is seen as an attribute.
My guess is that the company will have no trouble designing a weight for beach fishermen.
The Tribe has been pushing lead-free fishing for years funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Healthy Communities Program. Bret said this year's expanded initiative began with a $15,000 grant from The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell.
The Tribe also plans to distribute steel weights manufactured by Eagle Claw. The company provided the Tribe with a good discount on its product.
"For the most part this is an awareness campaign," said Bret. "What we hope to do over the winter is work with Island tackle shops and see if they can start providing an alternative."
The Tribe has also provided the weights to local charter captains. Bret said well-known Gay Head captain William "Buddy" Vanderhoop is enthusiastic about the weights.
The weights are fairly costly, about $2 apiece. Much of that has to do with shipping costs but the company hopes to soon have a Boston distributor.
"We definitely appreciate the tackle shops working with us," said Bret. The Tribe is looking for feedback. Fishermen can email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Derby has not even started yet and fishermen are leaving gear behind. Gene, a fisherman visiting from Virginia, forgot a Calcutta bag that contained a variety of lures at Big Bridge Sunday. He can be reached at 540-537-4840.