Derby days are gone, but the fish are not


The Derby is over, and the crowds of anglers have largely left the beaches and jetties. The Derby headquarters is now vacant. Boats are being hauled for the season, but the fish are not gone. I have been speaking to many Island fisherman, who all agree this is the best time of the year to get out and fish. You do not have to fight for a parking spot, and the water temperatures are finally dropping into the ideal temperatures for fall shore fishing. There are still reports of large fish being caught north of us, which means those fish are still going to migrate past the Island before they head south, and I for one will continue to fish for quite a while.

The last week of the Derby I fished as much as humanly possible, and there were fish everywhere. I fished on two boats, and countless beaches and jetties. The feeling in the air the last week of the Derby was electric. Like most anglers in the Derby, I waited to weigh in an albie until I had something special. Two days before the end of the Derby, I finally landed a good fish and headed down to the weigh-in. My fish did not turn any heads, but was a great fish. As I was collecting my slip, my friend and fellow chef Alex Avakian tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Wait until you see what’s in the cooler.” He and a group of coworkers had been out on a charter that day with My Brother Charters. The first fish to come out of the cooler was a beautiful bonito, an obvious daily first. But the second fish to come out of the cooler drew the attention of everyone at Derby HQ. The largest bonito I have ever seen in person hit the table at weigh-in, and even people outside began to snap photos and take video through the windows. As the Derby staff leaned in, the fish was placed on the scale — 10.76 pounds. Not quite enough to unseat the leader, but for a moment everyone thought Meghan Ardleigh was about to take the top spot.

I had my first opportunity to head out with an experienced charter captain who happens to be a good friend of my friend Rob Petie. Captain Corrigan of Ocean Cowboys loaded us up in his Regulator and was kind enough to take us out to one of his favorite fishing spots. Ironically, the next day, I had an even more prolific day of fishing with my friend and amateur captain Phil Levesque. The two of us headed out on his boat, and had one of the best days of fishing I have had all season.

I spent an afternoon in Edgartown with my good friend Gary Stuber. We were on a mission for albies, as I had caught a few from the beach the day before. Anglers were lined up along Lighthouse Beach, as albies where breaking well within casting distance. One person hooked up, and as he landed the fish, a crowd began to form around him. It was not a Derby winner — in fact, it was not even a species that is in the Derby; it was a king mackerel. Gary has been fishing the Island for decades, and mentioned that he hadn’t heard of a king mackerel being pulled off that beach in years. “They used to be all over this beach; it’s a good sign,” he said.

At night I stomped the shore fishing eels for striped bass every night. The weather was less than perfect, but the fish don’t care. Throughout the Derby, there was only one constant in my experience. Nearly every night I fished one particular stretch of beach I came across the same person. He relentlessly fished the same spot the entire Derby. I would never know this person by the light of day, but we already have plans to meet up on the beach during the Derby next year.

The buzz of the Derby is palpable. I went off-Island twice during the Derby, and though both were for great reasons, I found myself longing to get back and fish. We will all have to wait until next September for the buzz of the Derby, but all of those fish have not left.

We are expecting some heavy winds this week, so things may very well get pushed around, but Stephen at Dick’s Bait and Tackle says there is still a “ton of bait” out there. Bluefish and striped bass have been caught right in Katama Harbor. Large schools of bass have also been spotted in the Lagoon, and up and down the north shore from West Chop up to the lighthouse in Aquinnah. Stephen mentioned that a friend of his had been out for a ride from Woods Hole to Naushon, and saw the most albies he had seen all season. If your boat is still in the water, or you feel like launching it for a day, there are still great fish being caught at Hedge Fence, around the Elizabeths, and around Muskeget. Bay scallop season is also open. If you have never had the chance to eat one of these delectable treats straight from the water, I highly recommend it!


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.