Fishing folks of all ages and experience levels gathered at Derby headquarters in Edgartown Sunday morning to celebrate the start of another Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
Families and friends shook hands and embraced over steaming cups of coffee before the ceremonial bell ringing at 8 am.
Some spoke of past Derbys, telling whimsical fishing stories of success and failure, all in the name of togetherness and good fun.
As Derby committee president and Tisbury School Principal John Custer swung open the wooden door of the Derby headquarters shack, tears came to his eyes as he made his speech.
He first thanked the men and women on the Derby committee for organizing this year’s event and making it all possible. “This amazing Island event celebrates fishing, family, and friendship,” Custer said.
Custer then spoke on the man who was one of his great friends and partners on the Derby committee, Ed Jerome.
Jerome was president of the Derby committee for decades, but died unexpectedly last year while quahogging in Sengekontacket Pond.
He helped organize the 2018 Derby before his passing, speaking at last year’s opening ceremonies about the closeness that fishing alongside friends, family, and neighbors imparts.
Custer said this bell ringing was in remembrance of Jerome, and all he did for the Island community. “Ed is here today in spirit, and that is very reassuring,” Custer said. “In Ed’s honor, I ring the bell.”
Inside, Custer was busy marking and weighing some of the first fish of the Derby. The first fish to come in was caught by Max Davies, a 7.73-pound false albacore.
Soon after, Levi Flynn brought in the first striper of the competition, a beautifully patterned fish weighing in at 12.41 pounds. Both fish were caught from shore.
After Custer weighed the fish, he mentioned how singular moments like these are exactly what Jerome wanted people to “soak in” and remember forever. “Ed really liked those individual moments where something really special happens,” Custer said. “Whether it’s catching a fish or losing a fish, he cherished those times.”
For Jerome, Custer said, the Derby always represented the camaraderie of the Island, and how tight-knit our little community really is. “It’s really all about people when it comes down to it. It’s about the faces and the voices of Martha’s Vineyard,” Custer said.
But the beauty of the natural world is also something Custer said he always appreciates this time of year. “I think fall on the Vineyard is incredibly beautiful. This is just a unique time of year where there is something very special about it,” Custer said.
Jerome’s sister-in-law, Jackie Driscoll, pointed to a bench made in dedication to Jerome, placed just outside the Derby headquarters.
“We want to keep Ed’s memory alive and remember him for not just his love of fishing, but for the amazing Island individual he was,” Driscoll said.