With the fishing competition furious heading into the homestretch in the 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, character, class, fishing skill, pluck, luck, albies and faith combined on a small stretch of beach in Aquinnah last Friday.
Mary Ann Angelone of West Tisbury is a woman of indomitable spirit who learned to fish at the elbow of her husband, Albert “Angie” Angelone, a familiar if inscrutable, retired member of the Island fishing community, when he died July 29, 2006, of heart failure on a beach at the age of 67, doing what he loved to do — fish on Martha’s Vineyard.
At the time, very few people knew that Angie had a legendary 21-year Secret Service career, much of it working undercover, that earned him a reputation for bravery, quick thinking, and humor. He and Mary Ann also raised two sons, one a Marine officer who recently left the military and at the age of 36 enrolled in medical school, and the other a Secret Service agent.
When Mary Ann first started fishing, Angie was the ultimate guide and loving husband. “He would take my hooks out, and he would tie my knots, and in the beginning he wouldn’t let me fish near anyone else because I couldn’t cast straight,” she said with a gravelly laugh. “It was something we did together and it was nice. He taught me to enjoy the beauty of nature.”
Mary Ann loves the spirit of camaraderie that permeates Derby competition. “You go on the beach and it is almost sort of a family, you get to see the same people and know them,” she said.
Last Friday, she decided to fish the bowl at Lobsterville Beach. The albies had been running and the beach was crowded with fishermen. David Balon was there. His emailed account, slightly edited, follows.
“Mary Ann was fishing in that spot because she had decided to walk down to congratulate Phil Horton [of Oak Bluffs] for having the lead shore albie at that time. He had a 12.55-pound albie from shore and was really proud of that catch and also nervous, for obvious reasons. Mary Ann walked about two-thirds of the way to the bowl area just to congratulate Phil. This is a very long trek as you know. She came up to Phil and gave him congratulations and Phil humbly took the praise. They chatted for a while and then Phil graciously offered to make room for Mary Ann to fish right next to him because of the large picket line of fishermen. Coincidentally, Ralph Peckham, currently in third at that time with an 11.64 shore albie, also made room for Mary Ann to fish.
“Shortly after, Mary Ann hooked into an albie and to be honest it did not appear to be anything out of the normal craziness of hooking one. As time went by and Mary Ann struggled to get the fish to shore, about 10 minutes plus, the fish paralleled the beach inside a wave. Everyone’s eyes popped out at the size of the fish and everyone stepped back with eyes as large as marbles. Wow! This was now way more serious than originally thought.”
Mary Ann told me that all the fishermen also stopped casting so as not to risk casting over her line. Phil, who knew he was likely to be bumped out of first place was by her side offering encouragement and tips. When she finally landed the fish, her first albie of the Derby, she was completely spent.
“Phil measured the fish at 30 plus inches, unhooked it for her and gave her a heartfelt congrats. Phil then offered to carry all of Mary Ann’s gear so she would only have her albie to carry all the way back to the parking lot, at least one quarter mile or more. Mary Ann declined and carried her fish back, leaving her tackle on the beach because she wanted to return to fish with Phil later in the morning.
Dave said watching Phil, who had just got knocked off the grand leader board and Ralph, who had just got knocked off the divisional board, help and congratulate Mary Ann exemplified the true meaning of the Derby and sportsmanship.
“Mary Ann began the long trek back to her truck to ice the fish down. When she eventually got back an hour or so later her spot was still available as we had all saved it for her. We all joked with her about going through her tackle bag and touching her rod for good luck. Of course, all that is sacred and it was left alone like it was guarded by her late husband Angie of the Secret Service.”
Describing that morning, Mary Ann told me in a telephone call Tuesday, “Whether it holds up or not is not what’s important. It was a good day and you know what I’ve decided: You have to enjoy the good moments in life and that was one of them.”
Mary Ann said she thought of Angie. “When I catch a good fish I always thank him,” she said. “He would have been really happy for me.”
Mary Ann immediately called her good friend and fishing companion, Paula Sullivan of West Tisbury, town postmistress and Derby committee member.
“She called me all through the day and she said she wanted to peek at the fish,” Paula said. “And I kept saying, ‘keep the lid shut.’
“She said, ‘maybe I should turn the fish over,’ and I said, ‘no keep the lid shut.’”
Paula met Mary Ann outside the weigh station Friday night. There was a line of people waiting to weigh in fish when the door opened at 8 pm.
“She was in the parking lot and said, ‘do you want to look at it?’ and I said, ‘no, keep the lid shut.’”
Word had gotten around the Island pretty quickly. A crowd of admirers and friends that included Phil and Ralph were gathered at the weigh station for the official moment.
Speaking of Phil and the Derby, Dave Balon said, “I know very few people that would have made a spot for someone to fish during the Derby, get beaten out of the lead, put aside a night of fishing to go to weigh-in and then toast to the victor, all with a smile. There is always one day in every Derby year that you never forget, and this was it for me.”
Inside the small, rustic wood shingled building where Derby hopes soar to the heavens and fall back to earth on every change of the scale, there is a rope line. Spectators stand on one side of the path it creates to the table where the weighmaster stands ready. When a potential grand leader in one of the four shore or boat fish categories comes in all eyes are on the scale’s electronic scoreboard.
The cooler lid did not open until Mary Ann picked up her false albacore and walked into the weigh station and took her place as the new shore albie grand leader with a 14.65 pound fish. I have no doubt Angie was walking right beside her up to that scale.
Still lost and one found
Last week, I told the story of Jim Cornwell of Edgartown. The hard-fishing 77-year-old gentleman had his 10.5 foot St. Croix rod and Shimano wide-spool reel stolen off the top of his Tahoe parked in the driveway of his house on Windsor Drive in Edgartown, a dead end. I repeat what I said last week. This is just plain wrong. Someone on this Island knows something. Ask around. We need to get Jim his outfit back.
On a more positive note, Bob Green emailed me and said that his Albright fly rod and Orvis reel that he left on the side of the road at West Chop was found and returned.
Derby awards ceremony
The Derby ends at 10 pm, Saturday when the weigh station door slides shut for another year. But the good times do not end there. The awards ceremony is always a fun-filled event with a dramatic finish when one lucky fisherman wins a boat, and another fisherman wins a truck. The ceremony begins at 1 pm at the big tent on the grounds of the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs.
69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Oct. 15)
Boat bluefish: Preston A. Butler, 15.00
Shore bluefish: Michael J. Mulcahy, 15.20
Boat bass: Vinny Iacono, 39.77
Shore bass: Creanga L. Cosmin, 38.63
Boat bonito: Norman E. Bouchard Jr., 10.47
Shore bonito: Michael V. Berninger, 7.49
Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17
Shore albacore: Mary Ann Angelone, 14.65
(Daily, weekly, and division results are available atmvderby.com.)