The Derby is the perfect antidote to summer stress

Ray Ellis

Irritable? Short tempered? Difficulty sleeping? Are you a year-round Island resident? You could be suffering from PSSD — post summer stress disorder.

Do not worry. I have a natural cure that does not rely on drugs or chemicals. Join the Derby. Sure, It means you have to substitute one disorder for another, but Derby fishing is the perfect antidote to PSSD.

This weekend I caught a very funny commercial on ESPN. The punch line was the devotion that fans have to Monday night football but it could just as easily been a reflection of the Derby Island mentality.

The commercial opens with a beefy plumber ramming a plunger into a toilet bowl for all he’s worth as he stands in ankle-deep turbid overflow. He suddenly stops plunging, looks at his watch, and turns to the horrified homeowner, a pasty-faced guy in a dinner jacket perching on a chair with his feet up, covering his mouth with his hand as though he is trying not to puke.

“Well, I think that will do it for now,” the plumber says as he stands up and picks up his toolbox.

“What!” the incredulous guy says.

“Most of this liquid will just evaporate,” the plumber says in the tone Island contractors adopt when they tell you they will be back on the job first thing in the morning. “And the floorboards are just going to absorb everything else. Yup, have a good one.”

The commercial’s tag line is, “On Monday night your only job is watching football.”

It might just as well be, “During the Derby, your only job is fishing.”

The 66th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins at 12:01 am Sunday, September 11 and ends at 10 pm, Saturday, October 15. I highly recommend that anyone who plans to fish at any point over the course of the Derby join the Derby.

The entry fee is $45 for adults and $20 for juniors and seniors. Even if you have never caught a big fish in your life, join the Derby. Think of it as a donation, or an insurance policy — whatever makes it easy to part with the money but do not assume that because you are new to the game you do not have a chance to catch a winning fish.

One lucky cast is all it takes. It has happened in the past, and it will happen again.

Monday afternoon I spoke to Derby president Ed Jerome as he and his wife Maryanne made the rounds of outlets picking up registrations. Ed said there are no significant rule changes.

He did provide a reminder that fishermen must possess a Massachusetts recreational saltwater fishing permit. There are some exceptions.

Fishermen under 16 years of age, disabled fishermen, fishermen aboard charter vessels and those who hold a license from a state with which Mass has a reciprocity agreement, for example New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut do not need a Mass license. More information is available on the Division of Marine Fisheries website and at local tackle shops.

Derby kids day is Sunday, September 18. On that day kids are welcome to fish the Oak Bluffs steamship pier. The Derby and the Nixon family will once again host wounded veterans.

President Obama left Martha’s Vineyard before we could discuss the Derby. I do not think Mr. Obama will reference it when he gives his much-touted economic speech Thursday night.

Ed said it is still too early to predict how the economy will affect the Derby. There is no question that it can be expensive and problematic for fishermen to fish the Vineyard — ferry reservations, food, and lodging all add up.

Of course, the biggest factor is the fishing. To paraphrase James Earl Jones, “If you are catching them (fish), they (the fishermen) will come.”

In this age of instant communication, fishermen can easily learn about fishing conditions on Martha’s Vineyard and along the East Coast. If the fishing is slow here they will look for a spot where the fishing is better.

This is the 24th year the Derby has enlisted Edgartown artist Ray Ellis to create a limited edition watercolor print to underpin the Derby fundraising effort. The image this year shows a fisherman off West Chop.

Ed has been at the Derby helm since 1986. I told him he had a record surpassed only by some Mideast potentates. “Let’s put it this way,” he said laughing. “Nobody else wants the job.”

Ed said the job has become much easier over the years, in large part because of the support of his fellow committee members. That the very well-organized and personable Chuck Hodgkinson of West Tisbury is this year’s Derby chairman certainly helps.

“We are a well-oiled machine,” Ed said. “The subcommittees have responsibilities and they do them.”

The weigh station bell will sound at 8 am, Sunday morning. For more information go to

Get crabby

Saturday, I went crabbing with my friends Tom and Coop. For the uninitiated, netting blue claw crabs is great fun and great eating.

We walked slowly in a line in shallow water on a flat in Edgartown Great Pond. Tom was on the outside slightly in front. He provided cleanup. When a crab spotted Coop or me and sprinted for deep water we called out to Tom.

The tools needed to go crabbing are relatively simple. You will need a crab net and some type of bucket that floats to contain the crabs.

Crabs must be 5-inches across from spine to spine. Females must be released and are easily identified by either red tip claws or the triangular shape of their bottom plate versus the T-shaped male bottom plate.

Crabs grow to full size in about 12- to 18-months and have a maximum size of 9 inches. The Vineyard is about the top of their range and they can be found in most of our south-facing great ponds.

Blue claws support a recreational and commercial fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Sea Grant program is an excellent source of information on blue claws.

Of course, other than lots of fun to catch, blue claws are delicious to eat. Sunday my wife Norma and I placed newspaper on the table and filled a bowl with fresh crab meat. Dinner that night was sweet corn and crab meat sandwiches.

The challenge for many people is how to pick the meat. It is time-consuming but the reward and a football game on TV to glance at make the time go fast.

There are a number of resources. Old Bay Seasoning, the famed seafood seasoning company, provides a great website that includes recipes and a video of how to pick a blue claw. However, I also stumbled across a video a young kid from Maryland posted to YouTube that encapsulates the Internet experience.

It appears that the kid sat down in front of his camera while his siblings ran around in the background. It might have been a science fair project. In the old days, say five years ago, maybe his teacher and family would have viewed it, not more than 220,000 people.

It is titled, “How to eat/pick Maryland blue crabs the right way.” And it is pretty good.