For some, it was a record-setting Derby — for others, it was a struggle to stay on the leaderboards, or even get a weighable fish. But, with 3,144 registered anglers having participated, and a new record of $76,000 in scholarship funds raised, the 76th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby closed out with a bang.
Even though striped bass wasn’t an eligible fish species again this year, anglers made up for the lack of stripers by bringing in some impressive numbers — a total of 13,265 pounds of fish was brought to the weigh station and fileted for the Derby filet program, which contributes all tallied fish to benevolent food donation organizations on-Island.
At the award ceremony Sunday, folks were again able to mingle and share fishing stories at Farm Neck Golf Course, after COVID necessitated a scaled-down ceremony last year at the Edgartown School. Junior anglers were highlighted with a separate ceremony in the morning, and the adult ceremony was held later in the day.
Derby president John Custer kicked off the main ceremony by thanking all contributors, sponsors, and volunteers who make the favorite Island event possible each year.
He expressed his appreciation for being able to see his friends’ and fellow anglers’ smiling faces, and said he looks forward to an even more conventional Derby season next year.
“This past year and a half has brought many COVID-related challenges, and certainly has impacted the Derby. We all look forward to returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic, but we also appreciate that we are in a far better place than we were a year ago, and we should be thankful for that,” Custer said. “Hopefully 2022 brings us even closer to the full Derby experience that we all want.”
At the outset of each Derby ceremony, anglers who have made significant contributions and have left an indelible mark on the fishing community are inducted into the Derby Hall of Fame.
This year, Karen Kukolich was chosen as the newest inductee.
Custer said Kukolich fished Vineyard waters for nearly 40 years — her angling prowess (particularly with the fly rod) was well-known and revered, among even the most experienced anglers.
Throughout her life and her long fishing career, she set five International Game Fish Association world records, was one of the first women to operate her own sport fishing charter on-Island, and coordinated the Derby filet program for nearly 20 years, according to Custer.
“Karen passed away two years ago in the fall, during the Derby. She is missed by a legion of friends, but never forgotten by the fishing community,” Custer said.
For Derby committee chair Joe El-Deiry, this year of fishing was a bit different. He wasn’t down at the weigh station greeting excited anglers holding their catch with anticipation, and it occurred to him when he was preparing for the ceremony just how much being a part of the major Island event means to everyone involved.
“How this fishing tournament has been the heartbeat of the fall on Martha’s Vineyard — it gave me goosebumps to think that I am a small piece of a much larger message of what the Derby really represents for so many,” El-Deiry said.
Thinking back on his Derby experience, he recalled the many moments he shared with his friend Chris Reimann out on the water, and the day his fishing buddy, John Graham, caught a 30-pound Triple Crown in a single day (when an individual angler yields the highest aggregate weight of all three eligible species).
He thought of his friend, Pat Jenkinson, landing his 10-pound bonitos. But most of all, El-Deiry thought back to what was missing.
“My son, Luke, who is off at college. For the first time in 15 years, I fished the Derby without my fishing partner. To be honest, it was tough to get motivated without him, but it quickly reminded me of how lucky I am,” El-Deiry said. “I recently saw a quote from Ed Jerome, saying, ‘The Derby is not really about fish, it’s about the people.’ It was true when he said it then, and it holds true today, especially in a year like this one, when the fishing was slow for so many.”
Before announcing the many prizewinners and standouts of the five-week tournament, El-Deiry thanked the committee that dedicates its time each year to planning and making the event successful, and gave a shout-out to contributors to the scholarship program, which is the driving force behind the Derby.
“With their help, along with the registered participants, we were able to award a record of $76,000 in scholarships. That’s an increase of $26,000 from just last year,” El-Deiry said.
Toward the end of the ceremony, anticipation was building as a small bucket filled with numbered keys was passed around to the six overall Grand Leaders: Richard Wood, with his 20.11-pound bluefish from a boat; Zachard Magid with his 16.65-pound bluefish from the shore; Joe Thompson, with his 13.10-pound bonito from a boat (a new Derby record); Gavin Smith, with his 8.43-pound bonito from the shore; David Kadison, with his 14.76-pound false albacore from a boat (represented by his fishing partner, Bill Potter); and Kathi Pogoda, with her 12.31-pound false albacore from the shore.
Magid was the fifth Grand Leader to try his key in the lock that determined the winner of the grand prize — a new 22-foot Sisu fishing boat provided by Greg Hopkins of Eastern Boats.
The lock clicked open, and Magid took the podium to thank the sponsors and the Derby committee for a great event.
“I really am at a loss for words,” Magid said.
Check out the other winners of this year’s Derby:
Junior Grand Leaders
Boat, Christian Fisher, 15.85 pounds
Shore, Dylan Waldman, 13.03 pounds
Boat, Elizabeth Thompson, 11.68 pounds
Shore, Mason Warburton, 4.49 pounds
Boat, Teddy Rosbeck, 12.38 pounds
Shore, Ezra McGinley-Smith, 8.71 pounds
Top three teams in each division
- Dynamic Duo
- Girls Kick Bass
- Something Else Again
- Reel Choppy
- Hard Core
- Fish Whistle
Top three Triple Crowns (highest aggregate fish weight)
- Joe Thompson, 40.03 pounds
- David Kadison, 38.72 pounds
- Zachary Horrocks, 35.35 pounds