As of Friday, Bill Potter was the new grand leader in the boat-caught false albacore category in this year’s Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby.
The albacore in question, weighing in at 19.21 pounds, was the biggest recorded albie of the season, and is just shy of beating a record going back decades. Legendary Island fisherman Donald MacGillvray reeled in a 19.39-pound false albacore in 1990, in that year’s Derby. According to the Massachusetts saltwater game fish records, MacGillvray still holds the record for the largest recorded false albacore caught in the state.
Bill Potter, who’s been fishing the Derby for some 50 years, told The Times he was there the day MacGillvray weighed in his record-breaking false albacore.
“That fish has been talked about,” said Potter. “That is the ultimate.”
“A bunch of us are out there all the time trying to beat that record, and this is as close as anyone has got,” said Potter. “It’s a fish of a lifetime for me, without a doubt.”
Video footage from the Derby weigh-in shows the crowd’s support, and that everyone knew the number to beat was 19.39. The crowd audibly groaned when the weight was read, the record remaining intact.
Potter knew when he reeled in his catch that it was going to be close. He said as soon as he got the fish on board his boat, Fatfish, the albie threw up a large meal of sand eels. He says he knows if it hadn’t, he would’ve beaten the record.
“I put it on the scale when I was out on the boat, but you can’t get a really accurate weight. I knew it was gonna be damn close,” he said.
Still, the support from the fishing community warms Potter’s heart. “It’s a special type of camaraderie during the Derby that you don’t generally have throughout the rest of the year,” he said. “We’re in competition with each other, but it doesn’t seem that way because we’re so supportive of each other.”
Recent stats posted on the Derby website show that as of Wednesday, a total of 274 false albacore have been caught since the start of the competition. Of them, 125 were caught from a boat, and of those 125, Potter’s albie is the biggest to date this year.
While he said he hopes to keep his leading spot, “If someone were to weigh in a bigger fish, I’d be so happy for them, because they’d be able to experience that incredible feeling that I hope other people have the chance to experience.”
Potter often fishes the Derby with his daughter, Chesca, who won the junior female award for bluefish in 2012. With his daughter away at college for the Derby this year, Potter wanted to share the news with his fishing buddy: “I immediately reached out to her, and she’s over the moon; even though she’s not here we’re still able to have that bond.”
Potter hopes to improve on his bluefish and bonito scores, and says in the team competition he and fishing partner Dave Kadison are leading the category by 10 pounds. Potter says he’s brought in plenty of prizes in Derbies past, but that if no one beats him, “It will be my first time up on the podium with a key.”
“I’ve been fishing the Derby hard core for my whole life, and this is certainly the most exciting moment of my Derby career,” said Potter.
False albacore, Euthynnus alletteratus, known by many names among anglers, such as albacore, albie, little tunny, and Fat Albert, typically weighs in around 10 to 12 pounds in this region, so this nearly 20-pound catch is definitely bigger than average. False albacore are common fish in the Atlantic Ocean, found from New England to Brazil, from Great Britain to South Africa, and also in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. While Northern albies tend to be smaller, more Southern fish are known to approach the 20-pound mark. False albacore have a short lifespan, typically reaching maturity at 1 year and living for around five years.
The largest recorded false albacore caught in the U.S. weighed 36 pounds, and measured 48 inches long. It was caught in 2006 off the coast of New Jersey, in the deep waters of Washington Canyon.
Registration remains open throughout the Derby — it’s not too late to get in the game. Daily weigh-in hours take place at Dock Street in Edgartown from 8 to 10 am, and from 7 to 9 pm.
The Derby concludes Saturday, Oct, 14, at 9 pm, followed by award ceremonies on Oct. 15.