Suddenly on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the height of the Derby, we lost an avid fisherman, a beloved Islander, and a Derby legacy with the passing of Ed Jerome. Ed was integral in cementing the Derby as a sustainable Island institution. He was active in transitioning the Derby into the committee-run event that it is today, and in establishing the scholarship program, as well as the Derby fillet program that assists the elderly. He was the chairman of the Derby for many years, and I am grateful for his work and commitment to a cause he so deeply cared for, and one that I am able to enjoy today.
While I did not know Ed personally, I have only ever heard wonderful things about him, and I know many are mourning his loss with heavy hearts. Regardless of our connection to Ed, we will all continue to fish with him in mind, and I can safely assume he would have wanted nothing more than for us all to keep fishing in his honor. If the rainbow that encompassed the sky above Derby headquarters on the evening of his passing is symbolic of anything, it’s that.
The Derby is in full swing, and the buzz on the Island is palpable. Anglers from all over the world are here to try their luck and get in on the action. Personally, I have been fishing hard!
The Saturday night that the Derby began, my friends Rob Petie, Phil Levesque, and I hatched a plan to spend the night on Phil’s boat so we could get started right as the clock struck midnight and the Derby kicked off. The night was wet and windy, but the unfavorable conditions didn’t slow us down. We headed out of Edgartown Harbor in hopes to anchor up in the perfect spot to catch a fish for the first weigh-in. I could already imagine myself down at Derby headquarters that first morning, with a fish in hand and a grin from ear to ear — after all, it’s that hope that drives all of us.
The weather that night was not going to cooperate, but we persisted, anchoring up in a spot where the conditions were relentless for a few hours before seeking shelter in a less windy area. We found the water a little more calm, and were catching fish left and right, but unfortunately they were all black sea bass, which count for nothing during the Derby. It was painfully obvious by midmorning that we were not going to have anything to take into the first weigh-in, but our intrepid spirits pressed on through the day’s eight-foot swells, in hopes that we could land at least one sizable fish. Our wishful thinking ran out 18 hours after we left the harbor, when we returned having caught about 30 black bass, and little else. It was a rough start. I had made it my mission to weigh in a fish this year. Having been skunked last year, I was not going to let it happen again. And so I persisted.
Last weekend my old college roommate Kris Trout came from New York to fish with me. His first night on-Island, I took him out with the hopes of landing a striper. We loaded up our gear, and I took him to a spot where I had previously caught some nice striped bass in similar conditions. After a couple of hours of barely getting a tap, I began that age-old mantra of “one more cast.” Then it happened: Out of the quiet darkness I felt the unmistakable tug of a big fish. I set the hook, and as I began to fight the fish, a large bass breached, revealing a huge silhouette against the starlit water. The fish ran three or four times before I could finally reel it in close to the shore. When I finally landed the fish, I knew immediately that it was large enough to weigh in. I quickly got it off the hook and put Kris’ line in the water. I was elated to find that it was much larger than the minimum 32 inches to weigh in. I had arranged for a second boat trip with Phil and Rob the following day (so Kris would have a real shot at weighing in his own fish), so we decided to call it quits and head back down the beach. On our way we ran into a man named Mike, whom I had seen on the beach the night before. I proudly showed him the fish, and he suggested it might even be large enough to get a daily prize. Until he alluded to it, I had not even considered a prize, only the fact that I was FINALLY going to weigh in a fish for the Derby.
When we returned to the car we made an unfortunate discovery; all of the ice in my cooler had melted. Just then Mike and his dog Larry came off the beach. He kindly gave me the ice in his cooler, saying he was “just happy to ice down a fish,” and offered to let me use his scale. The fish registered at 18 pounds on his handheld scale, and I went to bed thinking that the 18-pound fish could just be enough to get a pin. We woke up a few short hours later and headed to the morning weigh-in at Derby headquarters. When we arrived, there were no other anglers in sight. I excitedly handed over my fish, and the man behind the counter placed it on the scale. I mentioned that we had weighed it the previous night, and thought it might be around 18 pounds. He placed it on the scale and gave it an official weight of 19.23 lbs. “You must have used the only scale on-Island that doesn’t inflate your fish by five pounds,” he jokingly added. I proudly left the weigh-in, and Kris and I headed back out on Phil’s boat for the day. Knowing that it was unlikely that anyone would catch a larger shore bass in the middle of the day, I was hopeful that my fish would remain in the No. 1 spot for the day, and by the close of weigh-in that night, it was official. My first Derby striped bass was a daily first-prize winner. A tremendous feeling that more than anything, got me itching to get back out and catch more fish! After all, there’s no resting on your laurels in this game.
Information is always guarded about where and when the fish are biting, and everyone is especially tight-lipped during the Derby, but the crew at Dick’s Bait & Tackle reported that albies are all over State Beach in the morning, but catching them requires a good deal of luck and skill. It’s known that they will become a bit easier to catch as they continue to feed in preparation for their fall migration. Bluefish have been caught around Vineyard Haven Harbor, and on Chappaquiddick. If you are looking for a pleasure cruise, black sea bass are everywhere, and can easily be caught by jigging off the bottom. The season for these fish is closed, however, so please do not take them home, and continue to respect the rules and regulations of the state and the Derby.
Gavin Smith began fishing when he moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2014. He is a self-admitted novice, but a truly avid one, eager to learn and share as much as he can. Gavin is a private chef and passionate foodie who appreciates the bounty that Vineyard waters provide, and likes nothing more than sharing his passion with his clients. He is a regular contributor to the Fishing Report.