Sportsmen and women of all ages packed the awards tent for the 74th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby ceremony, but it was the future generation of anglers that held the spotlight.
Despite a slow season of fishing, members of the Derby committee who spoke at the awards ceremony remarked on the resounding success of this year in many ways, most having to do with pride and confidence in the future of the event.
Past chairman of the committee Mike Cassidy said that despite some less-than-ideal fishing, the 74th Derby exceeded all expectations.
“It was a tough Derby, and the fishing was off: Striped bass were down 22 percent, bluefish were down 26 percent, bonito were down, albies, they were off,” Cassidy said.
“Oh, wait a minute. It looks like weigh-ins by juniors were up 62 percent this year.”
He mentioned some last names of exemplary young anglers; “Kleeman, Thompson, Potter, Warburton, Rosbeck, Peters. Next year the Derby is starting a week early, and these families are all teaching a clinic on how to fish,” Cassidy joked.
President of the Derby John Custer said he is fortunate to have worked so closely with past president Ed Jerome in helping make the major Island event better every year.
“Ed taught us to always strive to improve. Ensuring the continued future success of the Derby is something this Island owes Ed,” Custer said. “Even as this Derby comes to an end, the committee has already begun discussions that will help guide us in making the 75th Derby even stronger.”
With the Derby benefiting so many parts of the Vineyard community, Custer said, it would be hard to measure just how much of an impact it has. “Certainly it has become one of the most important parts of life on this Island,” Custer said.
Although the fishing was challenging this year, Derby chairman Joe El-Deiry said the Derby was still a “huge success,” with 3,466 participants, the second most in the history of the tournament.
“John Custer wrote that Ed always said the Derby isn’t really about fish, it’s about people,” El-Diery said. “It’s about family, friendship, community, and the comradery we all share.”
Thanks to generous donors, El-Diery said, the Derby scholarship reached a record amount of scholarship money given out in one year. “We were able to award $42,500 in scholarships, and this year marked the 100th scholarship awarded so far,” El-Diery said.
For him, the moments of waking up to the rising sun with his family and gathering rods and bait are memories that he will never forget.
“These moments in life will help shape these kids into good sportsmen and women, and give them life lessons to share as they grow up,” El-Diery said. “The Derby brings the entire community together, and Ed was right, the Derby is about so much more than just fish.”
Custer went on to introduce two new Derby Hall of Fame inductees, bringing the number of inductees from 36 to 38. He started by describing the requirements for being considered for a nomination.
“Hall of Fame inductees have had a significant positive impact on the sports fishing community on the Island. They must also have exhibited honesty, sportsmanship, and integrity,” Custer said.
He welcomed Chris Scott as a new member. “One has the sense the Derby offers [Scott] the greatest degree of satisfaction and pride,” Custer said,
When Scott got on stage, he spoke of the amazing opportunities the Derby offers to young people on Martha’s Vineyard. He told the crowd the total of Derby scholarships has grown over the past 25 years to almost $1 million overall.
“That is going to benefit our kids for years to come. Many of us on the committee believe this is the most important of the many contributions this organization makes to this community,” Scott said. “You all are what make this Derby strong.”
Mike Cassidy was also an inductee to the Hall of Fame. Custer said Cassidy “exemplifies the spirit of the Derby in his humor, his generosity, and his dedication to making the Derby a success.”
Cassidy said the main reason he and the rest of the committee and volunteers work so hard to make the event happen each year is to bring people together through the love of fishing. “What’s it been, 30 years I’ve been on the committee? Well, I’m good for another 30,” Cassidy said.
When it came down to the final eight Derby leaders, three junior anglers stood on the stage to proudly represent their fishing prowess.
The key ceremony was intense as ever, as each leader picked a key randomly out of a jar. One key out of eight would unlock the lock representing a brand-new Subaru, and the other was used for a lock representing a new Cape Codder boat.
After two leaders tried their keys on the lock for the new Subaru, 10-year-old Aubrey Warburton was up next.
The resounding click heard through the speakers sent the crowd into delighted cheers as the lock popped open.
Aubrey thanked the Derby committee for making the 74th Derby an “awesome” one, the Clay family of Clay Subaru for her new ride, and her “Girls Kick Bass” teammate, Elizabeth.
She also praised her brother for being a supportive sibling and competitor during the Derby.
“Thanks to my most fierce competitor for being so supportive and helping me get better and teaching me everything he has learned,” Aubrey said. “Most of all, thanks to my dad. I wouldn’t be up on stage if it wasn’t for him spending the time and effort to make me a great fishergirl.”