Islanders love their fishing. Whether it’s pulling endless snapper blues from the Big Bridge midsummer, or tying on an eel and trying your luck at a monster striper off the Menemsha docks, fishing is an integral part of Vineyard culture.
This year, fishermen celebrate the 74th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. It is a time for families and friends to come together and refocus on the natural beauty of the Island after the frenetic tourist season.
The bustling crowds and honking taxis may sometimes obscure our sight of what’s important. But dropping a hunk of squid from my buddy’s boat at first light, or watching my lure arc through a purple September sunset will always reaffirm my love for the place I live and the people that surround me.
Derby season is also a time for reflection.
Some may take their first cast at 12:01 am on Sunday, Sept. 15, and think back to a hazy memory of unwrapping a brand-new Plano tackle box on their 12th birthday; others think of family and old friends who made the Derby such a special occasion.
One such friend is Ed Jerome.
A beloved member of the community, Jerome was the Derby president for decades, and principal of the Edgartown School for 26 years.
Soon after Jerome rang the Derby bell last year, he died unexpectedly at age 71, while shellfishing in Sengekontacket Pond.
Legacies like Jerome’s are what add an essence of spirituality and reflection to the Derby; let us remember all the incredible community members who have participated in the past.
For me, putting fresh line on my St. Croix surf rod and stocking up on lures and fresh bait is like a football player performing his pregame rituals — sacred.
But each pre-Derby ritual is different, and getting your Derby pin is pretty much the only sure step in that process.
Island fishing legend Janet Messineo said she never fishes before the Derby because she is afraid she might catch something that she would rather have caught during the competition. She also said that if she finds a beautiful piece of wampum while walking to her favorite fishing spot, she knows she is going to catch a big one.
“I usually don’t wear my Derby hat, but there is a certain sweater that I wear pretty much every year,” Messineo said.
Let’s go over some new Derby rules and etiquette, and some as old as the competition itself. The new minimum for striped bass is 34 inches (those trying to win a boat or truck probably don’t need to worry about this regulation).
Most Islanders keep the well-being of the striped bass fishery in mind at all times, but it’s important to stay cognizant in order to preserve the population for future generations.
One age-old rule that maintains the sport and integrity of the Derby is, “You hook the fish, you land the fish.”
Not only is landing your own fish without help from others incredibly satisfying, but it encourages friendly competition (a pat on the back from a friend is sufficient support, without handing over the rod).
Whatever amount of time or effort you put into the Derby this year, give yourself credit where it’s due, and don’t take a single cast for granted.
Lucas Thors was born and raised on the Vineyard, and is always looking for new experiences on Island waters.