When Trish Lyman of Edgartown bought a guided trip with Danny Gilkes at an auction to support an Edgartown School field trip this spring, the odds were minuscule that her largesse would lead to a Derby winning 12.2-pound false albacore, and put her in the driver’s seat of a brand-new 2017 Subaru Crosstrek, compliments of Clay Subaru.
But it did.
When seasonal resident John Stasiuk caught a 29.6-pound striper on the first day of the 72nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the odds were almost as slim that it would stay atop the leaderboard for the next 34 days and make him the new owner of a Cape Codder 19-foot center console boat with Tohatsu outboard and trailer, from Cape Codder Boats.
But it did.
Every Derby fisherman has visions of that one cast that leads to the fish of a lifetime — and to Derby glory. But precious few know the suspense that comes with being onstage with seven other finalists at the closing ceremony. Even fewer know the jubilation of having the key that leads to the click of a padlock in the hands of Derby committee president Ed Jerome, and the roar of the crowd that can be heard in Woods Hole.
Now Lyman and Stasiuk are members of that most exclusive club.
“This is Danny’s win as well,” Lyman said about guide Danny Gilkes after the awards ceremony at Farm Neck Golf Club. Lyman is a Derby devotee. On her phone, she has a picture of her Derby pins from the past 14 years, and the two daily pins, two weekly pins, and grand slam pin she’s won.
She’s also volunteered at the Derby for the past 10 years. A week ago Saturday, she took fellow volunteers Kristy Rose, Becca LaMarche, and Midge Jacobs on the guided trip she bought last spring to help fund the Edgartown School eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. “Midge said it looked like a good rip, and she was right,” Lyman said, amid a rush of well-wishers, most of whom she knew by first name.
A stunned Stasiuk struggled to find the words to describe his emotions. “This is unreal,” the Northfield, Connecticut, resident said as he sat down with his son.
Stasiuk said he had fished all night with plugs at Philbin Beach, in Aquinnah, with dismal results. “I was going to give up, but I gave it a shot with a hunk of bunker,” he said. “I caught it at 5 am. It was the only hit I had all night.”
Stasiuk said he’d fished about 15 days of the Derby, day and night. Asked to write down his contact information by The Times, Stasiuk handed the pad and pen to his son. “I’m shaking too much,” he said. “This is unbelievable.”
A record 3,382 anglers participated in this year’s Derby. When it began 72 years ago, 1,600 fishermen participated. “We had the most people in the history of the Derby, which in itself is a tremendous accomplishment,” Jerome told The Times in the calm of Monday morning. “It’s even more incredible when you consider we had 10 days of bad weather.”
There were 1,731 fish weighed in at this year’s Derby, slightly up from last year’s 1,641 total, and about half the all-time high of 3,146 caught in 2004.
Stasiuk’s shore bass was the first winner in Derby history not to crack the 30-pound mark.
Overall, bluefish were down from last year — from 638 to 524. Bonito were almost the same, 224 last year and 219 weighed in this year. But there was a dramatic jump in shore bonito, with 83 weighed in this year compared to only one last year.
False albacore were the hit of the Derby, almost doubling last year’s total, 398 to 192. Shore albies outnumbered boat albies, 208 to 190. Bass numbers were up slightly, 277 to 256. Poundage was way up, 4,900 pounds this year, as compared to 4,500 last year.
Legends of the Hall
The biggest ovations of the day were given to Derby Hall of Fame inductees John Custer and Ed Amaral, and to Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association Sportsmanship Award winner Peter Johnson.
Custer, principal at the Tisbury School, has served on the Derby Committee for 19 years, 11 of those years as chairman.
“While John was at the helm of the Derby, the number of participants has doubled and there has also been a corresponding increase in the number of scholarships and the amount given to those students,” Jerome said. “His many years as an educator and administrator have been invaluable to these efforts.”
“Ed said I have to return this,” Custer joked as he accepted the heavy glass bowl. “When I consider the individuals in the Hall of Fame, I’m really humbled to be among them. I fished kids day and the Trout Derby when I was a kid in the 1980s. Cooper Gilkes was there. He still is. Steve Morris quietly led by example in teaching me how to be an involved member of the Derby committee, and Ed Jerome has served as a mentor, both personally and professionally for many years…I’d be lying if I said I was not excited to see my good friend Joe El-Deiry take over.”
Custer said a bonus of his Derby work has been watching students he had at Tisbury School grow into Derby fishermen. “It sometimes makes me feel old, but it’s a really good feeling,” he said.
Ed Amaral, son of Oak Bluffs, at 82 years of age, has prowled the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard his entire life. He won the grand prize last year after winning the boat bluefish division. He fished the first Derby in 1946.
“He caught a 14-pound bass in the Junior Division that year,” Jerome said.
“He personifies the role of a true sportsman, always helping others and sharing his love of the sport with many people. He’s often called the ambassador of goodwill. His passion for fishing has been contagious.”
It took a long time for the applause for Amaral to ebb.
“What a culmination for my life, and I’m not over with it yet,” Amaral said. “This is totally unbelievable. When Ed let me know, I totally flipped out. I have so much love for this event, for the people and kids, and to see something come back at me, boy, that’s too much for me.”
Lure entrepreneur Peter Johnson, the man with the “Wasque” license plate, also brought the crowd to its feet when he accepted his M.V. Surfcasters Sportsmanship Award.
“He is a fishing ambassador on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard,” Custer said. “He’s always upbeat and positive. He loves being on the beach, meeting up with old friends, and making new ones. He’s always working and improving his Robert’s Lures…Peter loves to fish, and more importantly, he loves to see people catch fish. He’s quick to gift to fellow fishermen one or two of his lures from the back of his truck. If you’ve ever fished the beach near Peter, you know the generosity and camaraderie that we’re talking about.”
Johnson, a physicist by trade, has a marrow-deep love for fishing. In his “retirement,” he’s bought several iconic lure companies, most notably Roberts Lures, and tweaked the “Ranger” design with his scientific know-how. He also brought the manufacturing base to the Island. He’s the only Islander who exports to locations across North America, Mexico, Central America, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Cyprus, Israel, Peru, Chile, South Africa, the Azores, and Christmas Island, a spec in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
As always, there were many storylines cast at this year’s Derby, far more than could fit in this issue of The Times. But here’s some of our top picks:
Lana Schaefer of Oak Bluffs took second in the boat bluefish division by wrestling in a 17.4 bruiser — she also happens to be eight months pregnant.
“We’re having the baby next week,” her husband, Roger Schaefer, said. Roger won the Derby in 2010 with a shore bluefish, and this year, as reported in The Times on Sept. 13, he volunteered his expertise and his boat to take out landlocked Mini Juniors and their parents. Schaefer said the name “Albie” wasn’t in the running for the newest Schaefer but there were choices “in that realm.”
Siblings Mason and Aubrey Warburton wore a path to the stage at the awards ceremony. Between the two of them, Mason, in the Junior Division, and Aubrey, in the Mini Junior Division, placed in the top three of five Boat Division categories.
Ryan Harding placed in the top three in three Junior Divisions, in the arguably more difficult Shore Divisions — with an 8.8-pound albie, an 8.7-pound bluefish, and a 26.8-pound striped bass, a half pound shy of division winner Jake Scott’s 27.3-pound striper. Scott made Derby history by being the first division winner to collect his winnings sporting a mohawk.
The Times applauds you, Jake.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes also attended the ceremony. He didn’t fish the Derby, but said he gets out on his 13-foot Whaler to throw plugs in the churning waters of Woods Hole when he can. “I’d love to fish the Derby someday,” he said. “I try to get out as much as I can, but time is pretty tight these days.”
Incoming Derby committee chairman Joe El-Deiry pulled off one of the most amazing feats of the Derby, guiding Saltwater Hero Master Sgt. Raphael Lopez to a 40.5-pound boat Grand Slam, and catching all four fish in the same day.
Although the 72nd Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby has come to a close, there are still several excellent weeks of fishing left on the Vineyard.
“There’s still OctoberFish,” one empty-handed, bleary-eyed fisherman said as he trudged to the parking lot after the awards. OctoberFish is sponsored by Larry’s Tackle Shop and runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31.