Gone fishin’: VFW Fluke Derby provided table fare and fun

From left, Kevin Hatt, Mike Jackson, and Andre Levesque, holding his derby-winning black sea bass. – Nelson Sigelman

On Saturday, the wind and rain blew hard out of the northeast. This was disconcerting for two reasons. It meant I could not get out in my small boat to fish the first day of the 17th annual VFW Fluke Derby, and that the weather prediction I had provided tournament organizer Peter Hermann two days prior was dead wrong.

Peter had called me on Wednesday as the northeast wind blew to seek another opinion on whether or not to postpone the contest by one week. I went to the National Marine Weather Service webpage and looked up the weekend prediction. It called for southwest winds with a chance of thunderstorms.

“Looks fine to me,” I told Peter. “I’d go for it.”

Here is a disclaimer: I write a fishing column. I am not a meteorologist. The fact that I write a fishing column does not even mean I catch fish, just as every financial advice columnist does not make money in the stock market — if they did, they would not be writing for a living.

The predicted weather did not arrive. Instead, the winds continued to blow northeast, casting a cold, damp chill over most Island activities. The forecast called for the weather to improve Sunday, so I made plans to trailer my 18-foot Tashmoo from my home in Vineyard Haven to the West Basin launch ramp in Aquinnah.

The advantage was that it would be a shorter ride to the deep fluke holes off Seven Gates and the brickyard, and if the wind continued to blow I would not have to navigate the rough water off Makonikey and Cedar Tree Neck. The disadvantage was that when I returned that afternoon, I would have to maneuver around bicyclists, mopeds, walkers, and confused drivers — sometimes I think these people are sucking ether.

My favorite rig for fluke is 50-pound braid line tied to a hook shielded inside a big Yo-Zuri octopus skirt in blue and white, tipped with a long strip of squid. Irrespective of lure, the key is to be bouncing on the bottom.

I began my day in wind and rain, not really enjoying the miserable conditions, but determined to do my best to capture fluke derby glory. I ended my day in nicer conditions — the wind lessened and shifted out of the north — determined just to bring home five legal-size fluke and provide a fresh fish dinner for all my effort.

When I arrived at the VFW for the start of the awards, ceremony fishermen were greeting one another and awaiting the 6 pm cutoff. Coop was inside a knot of guys retelling one of his favorite stories, about how I lost a huge fluke while he and his team watched from a nearby boat because I did not have a big net. He omitted the part about me catching an equally big fish not 10 minutes later to take the victory — but who am I to ruin a Coop story? — and I did buy a bigger net.

A rules change meant that instead of the team total being the total weight of four fish caught on each of the two days, the one-day catch would determine it. I had suggested the change as a way to encourage more team participation from people who could not fish for two days. There was some grumbling about that. Here is a disclaimer: I write a fishing column. I do not serve on the tournament committee. If I did, I would have been looking as frazzled as longtime contest impresario Peter Herrmann.

Peter’s real skill is the auction portion of the awards ceremony. “Sure to be a collector’s item,” Peter said as he held up a beer mug engraved with the fluke derby logo. The winning bidder forked over $50. A set of four wine glasses with the fluke logo climbed to $40 — this was a beer crowd.

Peter held up another glass, noting, “I’m not a wine connoisseur, but we have two of these.” The brandy snifter sold for $40.

A package of frozen Island-raised organic meat donated by John Packer — “We’ve got ribs, we’ve got steak, we’ve got burgers,” said Peter — went to Kenny Silvia of Vineyard Haven for $100.

It was a generous crowd, mostly Island plumbers, electricians, landscapers, and builders, and the spirited bidding continued for a variety of items. The fluke derby is that kind of affair, and lots of fun.

“It’s my favorite,” Janet Packer, who with her husband John Packer, fished with a boatload of kids.


Largest fluke: 1. Bill Bishop (7.73-pound fluke); 2. Joe Fontaine (6.48); 3. Steve Barron (6.19).

Biggest sea bass: Andre Levesque, 4.27.

Team winners: 1. Slab Men (Steve Barron, Todd Stempien, Jim Choinere), 19.44; 2. Sole Men (Ben Brisson, Cooper Gilkes, Rick Harvey), 16.47; 3. Payback (Bill Bishop, Jim Cornwell, Michaela Benefit, Donny Benefit), 15.23; 4. Joe Fish (Joseph Medeiros Sr., Joseph Medeiros Jr., Beverly Bergeron, Gene Bergeron), 12.38.

Kids: 1. Joe Medeiros, Jr. (4.66); 2. Nathaniel Packer (4.66); 3. Dylan Cafferty (3.78);  4. Dylan Kral (2.84); 5. Brendan Morris (2.65); 6. Darrien Kral (2.33); 7. Michaela Benefit (2.22); 8. Katharine O’Brien (1.75).

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Dylan Cafferty as Dylan Lafferty. So not only can I not predict the weather, I can’t spell.