Derby heads into the home stretch with lots of energy, fewer fish

Mathew Strem caught a scup at the kid's day Derby. — Photo courtesy of Lynn Strem

The 65th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is in the home stretch. With nine days left until the weigh station bell rings the Derby to a close, a big – by Island standards – striped bass continues to elude shore and boat fishermen.

Tom Robinson and I bait fished several nights last week. I thought Tom had a definite Derby winner until I checked and saw that spider crabs are not a category. The crustacean had a claw spread worthy of the Deadliest Catch television show.

I have had little luck this season. But the truth is I am not willing to spend the long hours it takes to make fishing luck. The familiar names that appear on the Derby leader board reflect many hours of effort and skill.

This week I have included several photos that reflect parts of the Derby experience. Matthew Strem, 6, of Edgartown was among the hundreds of young fishermen who crowded onto the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier for the one-day kids derby on Sept. 19.

Told by a reporter there at the crack of dawn that it was too early, Matthew replied, “It’s not way too early, it’s the Derby.”

Lynn Strem, his proud mother, told me Matthew has fished the Derby for the last three years and studies everything he can find about fish and fishing gear. “Oh, he’s so educated,” she said. “He knows every lure, every fish.”

Tonight at 7:15 pm, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed public fishing pier sited a long cast from where Matthew fished last month.

Depending on what the commission members decided, Matthew might be able to fish in those waters more than one day a year.

The Derby attracts enthusiastic big kids too. A few weeks ago, I decided to take a ride down to the Tashmoo opening to see if there were any albies or bonito popping up. It was pretty quiet, but what attracted my attention was a black, shiny Hummer decked out like the vehicle version of a Bertram sportfisherman.

The proud owner, Tom Hannon, a union welder from Marlboro, Connecticut, was on the Island with his girlfriend for 16 days to fish the Derby. “I’ve been fishin’ it for about eleven years,” he said. “It’s been slow, slow, slow.”

But he was not deterred. “It’s a lot of fun to just come here and fish,” he said.

Tom’s Hummer had a winch and rod racks mounted on the front. On the rear there was a large metal cargo carrier that could be folded up or dropped down at a 90 or 45-degree angle. It also served as a table and place to hold a grill. Tom had fabricated all the metal work. “I figured if I was going to do it, I might as well do it right,” he said.

I complimented him on the vehicle’s clean, shiny showroom appearance. He said it was not that clean. I suppose when you drive a vehicle that has not seen a coat of wax in years and is littered with pizza paper plates, it is easy to be impressed.

About one week later, I was standing on the Tashmoo jetty when a small gull landed nearby. What made the whole experience very curious was how at ease the gull was next to the fishermen. It stood right next to Dave Kadison and never flinched.

Ages ago, man domesticated the dog. Seeing that gull cozy up to Dave made me think, why not domesticate the gull? People use falcons to hunt. What about using a trained gull to find albies and bonito?

The next best way to find fish is to find fishermen. My wife spotted a group of fishermen on the West Chop pier Friday afternoon and told me. I went to investigate. I found Chris Chandler, his son Cody,19, and son Austin,12, of Edgartown on the albie/bonito hunt.

The fact that so many fishermen were willing to navigate a pier with many boards removed for the winter indicated something might be happening, and it had should have been here yesterday, an hour ago … fill in the blank.

Speaking of finding the hard to find, often when a cold front moves in and the wind switches hard out of the north, albies and bonito will hit Lobsterville Beach and Menemsha. Although the strong, cold wind creates unpleasant fishing conditions, the fishing can be very good.

Saturday morning, I woke up early and rather than drive up-Island, I decided to go to Mink Meadows beach, which lies between Tashmoo and West Chop, because the fish had been there earlier in the week. The wind was blowing hard, very hard out of the north.

Several boats were plowing through the rough water in pursuit of albies. Any telltale splashes went unseen from the shore because the wind was whipping the tops of the waves into a froth of spray.

Several times fish flashed by the beach. But the fish had no interest in my metal lure. That experience is common when fishing for albies or bonito.

Later, I heard there was a blitz in Menemsha on Friday. Still, I prefer my space, and the beach provides plenty of space. I returned to Mink Meadows on Sunday morning and saw no sign of fish.

Apparently, the albies have also begun to show up off Cape Poge. The wind has made it difficult for boat fishermen. Sunday, I watched several boats bang through the waves in the face of a ripping northeast wind.

The weather forecast sounds good.

Last year, I wrote about the locked gate to the parking lot at Mink Meadows (October 8, 2009, “Send not to know for whom the gate is locked, it is locked for thee“).

I explained that the Mink Meadows Association maintains a small parking lot that allows easy access to a stretch of beach on the Island’s North Shore just west of West Chop. Years ago the lot was open year-round, but to cut down on late night drinking, the association began locking steel gates set at the entrances of the two access roads during the summer season.

Last fall, the gates stayed locked. I learned that the Mink Meadows directors, including representatives of the association, the Mink Meadows Golf Club and the nonprofit landowners group – decided at a meeting earlier in the year to keep it locked.

When I spoke to leaders of the group, I heard all the usual complaints and anecdotes. I still thought it was the wrong decision and continue to think it is the wrong decision.

So, imagine my surprise when I spotted a plywood sign that welcomes fishermen to use the adjoining golf course parking lot and walk to the beach. How ludicrous is that? What does the gate protect?

I think the Mink Meadows Association should just forget the sign and let the fishermen eat cake.

Sportmanship will be honored

Last year, the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association created a Sportsmanship Award to honor individuals, families or groups that display the true meaning of sportsmenship during the Derby.

Fairness, ethics, respect and a sense of fellowship with other fishermen are among the qualities that make a sportsman. The Surfcasters are seeking nominations.

The award is a beautiful Simon Pierceengraved bowl with the surfcaster logo and enscribed “MV Derby sportsmanship.” Nominations forms are available at the Derby weigh station. Call asssociation president Janet Messineo at 508-693-3360 with any questions.

Lost tackle bag

Brendan Sullivan left a green surf bag at Tashmoo jetty Monday. He would like to get it back. He can be reached at 617-312-7251.