It’s the third week of the Derby. When the paper comes out on Thursday, we’ll have passed the half-way mark. How do thirty-five days spent fishing go by so quickly when thirty-five minutes waiting at a doctor’s office can feel like thirty-five hours?
The wind has surpassed blustery on more than a few days. Rain has been abundant, surprisingly no fish have been caught in the flooded roads. Whatever the weather, the five Derby weeks are the stuff that dreams are made of.
Ben Ciciora is certainly living a dream right now. Last Friday, Ben arrived at his favorite fishing spot before his buddies got there. He started casting. And casting. And casting. Then, magic – the hit, the tug, the peel. Fish on!
“I thought it was an albie,” Ben said. “When it got to the wash line, I could see it was a bone.”
Bone — short for bonito.
Bonito — the most coveted, notoriously hardest-to-catch Derby fish.
Weighable Bonito — akin to a winning lottery ticket.
Ben caught more than a weighable bonito. He landed a 7.45-pound new shore leader bonito.
“I’ve waited a long time for this fish. Many years,” said Ben. “I’ve weighed in a bonito a few other times, but the biggest one was around four pounds.”
Ben’s new Derby goal is to win the Triple Crown — the award for highest total weight of all three species. On September 14, Ben earned a daily first place for his 11.89-pound bluefish. “I need an albie. A big albie,” said Ben.
Current shore triple crown leader John Carney has 26.31 pounds on the board. If Ben weighs in an albie over seven pounds, he’ll take the lead.
Every Derby fisherman was in awe last week when Bill Potter weighed in a 19.21 albie from a boat. Now we’re all hoping to catch the next giant albie. (If you haven’t read about Bill’s incredible catch, check out this article: https://www.mvtimes.com/2023/09/22/fish-of-a-lifetime/)
Lisa Leonard is the highest rank woman in the Shore Triple Crown. Lisa lived the best eight Derby days of her life last week. On Sunday, Sept. 17, Lisa landed a 9.93-pound bluefish. She won a first-place daily and went on to win the women’s weekly with that blue. On Wednesday, Lisa landed a 7.74-pound albie. Four days later, she hit the trifecta, catching a 3.96-pound bonito.
“This is my best Derby yet,” said Lisa, who retired to the Island with her husband Mark in 2010.
Lisa started fishing and competing in the Derby when they moved to the Island full time. She’s passionate about fishing. “I love getting up early. I love the chase. I love the friends we fish with. I love everything about it,” said Lisa, who’s hoping to catch bigger fish and climb the ranks of the Triple Crown.
I was fortunate to watch a few friends reel in their albies or bonitos to finish out their triple crowns last week. Tyler Poole landed a few bonito about thirty feet from me. The biggest one (3.88 pounds) clinched his Triple Crown and put him in good position to climb the leader board.
Last year, Tyler and his wife moved off Island and relocated to Maryland for a job offer. Only having two weeks of Derby fishing this year, Tyler has been at the beach as much as possible.
That night, we were texting about how we cooked our bonitos for dinner. “I did sashimi with ponzu and rice,” said Tyler, adding, “and there’s still a lot left. A freezer full of bonito loins.”
Life is good in Tyler’s world. I’m so happy for him. Tyler’s a true fisherman — he loves the sea, he loves the fish, he loves the Island, and he loves hanging out with his friends. I’m hoping Tyler’s one of the people on stage on October 15.
I see Whit Holden on the beach pretty much every day. On Friday we were on Chappy. He hooked up to my left. I reeled in to get my line out of his way and then snapped a few pictures. When he pulled a small fat albie on the shore, we measured it. It was weighable, just shy of 25 ½ inches. Whit shook his head and said he was throwing it back.
As Whit pointed the albie’s head to the water to give him a nice release, I asked, “Do you have your ablie yet?”
“No,” Whit replied as the fish sailed into the surf.
“Could’ve gotten your triple,” I said, smiling.
Whit shrugged and grinned. “I should’ve kept him,” he said before walking back to his truck.
As I drew back to cast, Whit’s fish rolled in the wash line, struggling. I yelled for Whit. He ran down to the wash line and grabbed his fish, loaded his truck, and headed to weigh-in. About forty-five minutes later, Whit pulled up beside my truck, took his Derby hat off, and showed me his Triple Crown pin. We both laughed and cheered. Another great morning on the beach.
My dear friend Betty Robie is visiting the Island for a month and, of course, entered the Derby. We’ve had some fun fishing, but her boyfriend Michael took fun to a whole new level when he landed his first-ever bonito last week. Betty cheered the loudest and then served Michael a bonito dinner fit for a king.
As for me, I also weighed in a bonito last week and was blessed to win the women’s weekly with that beautiful fish. This morning, before sitting down to write the fish report, I watched my teammate reel in a nice 9.06-pound bluefish and a 9-pound albie. After he landed the blue, Dave handed me a duplicate of the lure he was using. “Your turn,” he said.
Dave hefted his fish, and I carried his rods to his truck so he’d make weigh in. I went back to the beach to keep fishing. First cast, a fish followed me all the way to shore. Second cast, a ton of weed. Third cast, fish on! I landed a 27-inch albie and texted Dave, “WAIT FOR ME!”
Dave is back on the beach casting for a bonito to complete his Triple Crown. I gave him a duplicate of the lure I used to catch my bonitos this year. Now, I’ve got to stop writing and get back to the shore and pull my weight (preferably in the form of a HUGE bluefish).
I hope to see you on the beach.