The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is in full swing, and just a few days in, I for one have been giving it all I’ve got. Each year I look forward to the Derby with hopeful anticipation. Fishing the weeks before the Derby was good enough to draw crowds to the Island, and it hasn’t slowed. Now the crowds are larger, and the false albacore are running strong as we look forward to a great Derby season.
What strikes me is the courteousness that I have personally witnessed these first few days of the Derby this year. Fishing from shore presents a relatively limited number of options for most anglers. This causes many of the most productive areas to become quite congested during certain tide changes, or times of day. With prizes on the line, not the least of which is a new boat, there is of course a healthy sense of competition. But this monthlong tournament somehow has a way of bringing out the best in many people.
Just three days in, I have fished for nearly 40 hours, and in that time interacted with a lot of tournament hopefuls. This early in the competition, anything is possible, and hopes are high. Though some more experienced anglers can get frustrated when someone new to the sport, or new to the Island, doesn’t understand the unwritten etiquette of a given fishing spot, most anglers are just out there having fun.
Monday morning, I experienced a perfect example of kindness being extended by strangers. I was standing on a jetty in Menemsha Harbor, when I hooked up with a decent albie. After fighting outside the channel for a few minutes, it ran into the channel and across to the opposite jetty. Just then a cutter from the Coast Guard station started its approach. I frantically tried to coax the fish back to my side of the channel as the large boat with enormous props grew closer and closer to snapping my line. By this time people on both sides of the jetty are watching to see what will happen, some of them hollering in my ear words of encouragement like, “You’re going to get cut off,” and “That cutter is not going to stop for your fish.” Just as I gain some ground on the fish, it runs straight across the water, stripping heavy drag with ease, and my line ends up straight across the channel. I was convinced I was going to get broken off by the boat, when I realized they had come to a complete stop inside the channel, and were going to wait for me to land the fish. Though it was not a Derby leader, it was a nice fish, and a gesture that I will not soon forget.
It’s Derby time, and information is being guarded closely. But I can tell you from my personal experience that all four species are showing in good numbers all over the Island. Bonito are not showing in the same large schools we experienced in the past few weeks, but they are mixed in with albies and the occasional Spanish mackerel. The tackle shops are all quite busy these days, but are all great resources if you are looking for the right lure, or a productive spot to try your hand at catching a weighable fish. With the competition in full swing, it is common for anglers to try new methods, new spots, and new equipment. It is important to remember your own limits, to stay focused on safety, and to be conscious of other anglers’ space. If you are not comfortable with lures being thrown over your head, stay away from the jetties. If you are new to the sport, don’t let that stop you from getting out there; just give yourself some room and have at it. If you haven’t entered the Derby yet, there is still plenty of time to get involved. I for one am ready to get back out on the water.
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.