Derby ramps up after a slow start

Kids Day returns; awards ceremony moves back to Farm Neck. 

Bob Williston proudly walks his 10.74-pound false albacore to the weigh station, the first fish to be weighed in the Derby. — Courtesy Leah Fraumeni.

It’s already been an exciting time for anglers participating in the 76th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and this year’s age-old tradition brings back some classic Island events.

The bell-ringing ceremony that was canceled last year due to COVID saw anglers return to the weigh station at Derby headquarters near the Edgartown Yacht Club Sunday. At the outset of the Derby, a windy morning made fishing from a boat difficult, but folks were still able to bring in some bluefish, bonito, and false albacore, including the first fish to be weighed in, caught by Bob Williston (a 10.74-pound albie).

That Sunday, David Kadison weighed in a 16.5-pound boat bluefish, and Ben Ciciora weighed in an almost 8.8-pound blue he caught from the shore. Aaron Kinne started out the shore bonito tally with a 6.4-pound fish. 

After a windy weekend, Monday morning was a bit calmer, and the sun was shining. Joe El-Deiry, chair of the Derby committee, said although the tournament got off to a slow start, people are as excited as ever to be fishing together again.

“Bob got the first fish — he is a fantastic fisherman, and it was really nice to see his name on the board,” El-Deiry said. “Usually he is fishing with his daughters, so you don’t see his name on the leaderboards that much.”

On Tuesday, Brice Contessa scaled a 9-pound blue caught with a fly rod from a boat, and three junior anglers weighed in bluefish from a boat — led by Paige Smith and her 7.34-pounder.

“The wind may have deterred some people who were fishing from a boat at first, but it seems like it’s been picking up a little,” El-Deiry said. “It seems like every day there are still people showing up to the weigh station.”

When The Times heard from El-Deiry, there were around 2,000 participants registered for this year’s Derby, he said.

Another exciting development is the return of the Kids Day fishing tournament at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier, from 6 to 8 am on Sunday, Sept. 19. Bait will be provided, and no Derby entry pin is required to participate. Anglers should bring their own tackle, and must wear masks during the tournament.

Last year, the Kids Day tournament was canceled, but this year it was deemed safe to hold the beloved event, with folks wearing masks due to the lack of space on the pier. 

“Even though it’s outdoors, we require that people wear a mask because it’s pretty impossible to social distance when you are out there on the pier, especially because several hundred people usually show up,” El-Deiry said. 

El-Deiry mentioned that the Edgartown Memorial Wharf will be closed to fishing starting Sept. 20 as the town begins its renovation project. 

Much to the delight of anglers who have enjoyed the Derby for decades, the awards ceremony will again be held at Farm Neck Golf Club on Sunday, Oct. 17. Last year, the ceremony was scaled down, and was held at the athletic field outside the Edgartown School.

El-Deiry noted that Derby officials have been in contact with the Oak Bluffs board of health, and have agreed to stay in touch as the ceremony date draws nearer. 

This is the second year in a row that striped bass have not been an eligible fish species for the Derby, as the fish stocks are dangerously low, and conservation groups are still concerned about the continuity of the species.

From what he has seen, El-Deiry said there aren’t many stripers swimming around, although he hasn’t been targeting them due to his own concerns about the well-being of the fish population.

“I know a handful of people who have done all right, but the couple of commercial fishermen I know have not been seeing many,” El-Deiry said, although he has come across large schools of bunker (menhaden), which are one of the preferred snacks for stripers. 

“Anytime there have been fish feeding on [bunker], it has been bluefish. It is definitely telling that it’s not striped bass — five year ago it would have been all stripers,” he said.

As for El-Deiry, he said he has been enjoying fishing the Derby, although this year is a little different for him. “The only thing I am missing is it’s the first Derby since my son was old enough to stand that he is not fishing with me, because he is in college. Still, it’s been a lot of fun — this is my favorite time of year, and it’s because of the Derby.”