Gone fishin’: 68th Bass and Bluefish Derby enters home stretch

Sergeant Monte Bernardo and his friend Amanda Simmons of Petaluma, CA enjoyed a Derby fishing outing as part of the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge held last week. — Photo by Maggie Nixon

For fishermen and their families, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is a marathon. It takes perseverance to go out day after day over the five-week contest and sound positive when you answer the question, what did you catch?

My wife, Norma, is supportive. She adopts the knowing tone of someone whose husband learned he did not hear from the Nobel Prize committee that day. “Oh, that’s too bad, honey,” she says when I say I did not catch anything that night.

With fewer than ten days to the finish line we are about to enter the sprint phase of the Derby. This is when the optimism begins to wane and self doubt creeps in. Fishermen who have been betting on one spot question whether it is time to move.

Tom Robinson and I are like a pair of gamblers at the slots. We have not caught a fish in almost two weeks. But we are due, we tell each other, and return to the same spot. Is it insanity expecting a different result? C’mon lucky seven.

I ran into Ken Berkov who lamented his lack of fishing luck from his boat. “I haven’t caught a decent fish,” Ken said. “My fish cost $7,000 a pound.”

But not everyone is struggling to find a big fish. In fact, some people have the touch. A glance at the leader board on Wednesday morning revealed some familiar names. Stephen Pietruska, a commercial fisherman and retired Fall River firefighter, lead the boat division with a 38.71-pound bass, a big fish by recent Derby standards. In 2009, Steve caught a 44.68-pound striped bass on the first day of the Derby that was still the leading fish on the last day.

In 2010, Roger Schaefer, a contractor, caught a 13.27-pound shore bluefish and won a new Eastern boat. He currently leads the boat false albacore division.

Cooper “Coop” Gilkes, leads the shore bonito division with a 6.58-pound fish. In 1987, a 10.19-pound bonito won him a new Boston Whaler he continues to put to good use today.

Luck and perseverance will determine who stands atop the eight leader board categories when the Derby ends at 10 pm, October 19. So we will keep at it.

Of course, to paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, a bad day of fishing on Martha’s Vineyard beats a good day in Afghanistan.

Last week, ten soldiers enjoyed fishing the Derby. I had the opportunity to speak at length with Sergeant Kirk Birchfield (see my related story, “Martha’s Vineyard provides a soldier’s respite”). He represents America’s finest. The Derby committee and the Nixon family did well to roll out the red carpet.

Goodbye Ray

Last year, at the 67th awards ceremony, the Derby honored Ray Ellis, noted Edgartown artist and the creator of the Derby print series that has raised more than half a million dollars and helped fund scholarships for more than 50 Island graduates.

The 91-year-old artist told the committee members and assembled fishermen the last 25 years had “been a labor of love.”

Ray died on Friday but his spirit will live on in the wonderful scenes he captured of the Derby.

Lost tackle bag

Peter Hermann, an Island bus driver, said a gray bag with plastic trays containing a variety of plugs turned up in the lost and found bin. Peter can be reached at 508-627-8476.