The tides they are a-changin’


We are in the final week of the 35-day Martha’s Vineyard Bass and Bluefish Derby. Don’t blink, though, because the leaderboard is changing, and the new shore leader in any division could be displaced in a few minutes, or during the next weigh-in. 

The current leaders in the boat bluefish division are the perfect example. Last Wednesday, Zach Magid arrived at weigh-in at 7:28 pm. He took over the grand leader position with a 15.40-pound blue. At 7:45 pm, Sarah Levesque put a 15.51-pound blue on the weighmaster’s table. 

Sarah was in the boat with her husband, Philip, and daughters, Shannon and Rose. “The pole went down, and I said, ‘OK, that’s me,’” said Sarah. “It was a 20-minute ordeal to get that fish on the boat.” 

As often as Sarah’s fished, she hasn’t been in the grand leader position before. “To be a woman and be on that board with five men is awesome. It sets a good example for my daughters,” said Sarah.

Sarah’s daughter Rose, 15, was fishing alongside her, and also caught a really nice fish. Rose weighed in a 14.91-pound blue for a third place daily. Rose’s team, Shoal Girls, currently sits in seventh place overall. Rose is casting for a bonito to complete her triple crown, and move her team higher in the rankings: “Rose gets out of school and says, ‘Let’s go fishing.’”

“Fishing has been a really good family adventure. It’s our family time. We all love it,” said Sarah, who shared that one of her first dates with her husband was fishing from shore up at Squibnocket. 

With only a few days left, Sarah will be doing more than watching the leaderboard. “I took time off from work this week. We’ll watch the winds and get back out there,” she said. 

Diane Lucey also had a great fourth week of the Derby, weighing in a boat bonito, a boat albie, and a shore albie. Diane won the Women’s Weekly for boat false albacore with her 11.34-pound albie, and took a first place daily for her shore bonito (5.41 pounds). “I’ve been fishing pretty hard for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t weighed anything in. In 24 hours, I weighed in three fish,” said Diane, who laughed and added, “After lots of fishing.”

I meet a lot of nice people on the beach fishing. This September, I met Rick Zappala, who is teammates with my friend Oliver Valdes. Rick is recently retired, and now lives in Oceanview, Del. This is his first Derby ever. 

There are probably quite a few people who have entered the Derby for the first time this year. I bet Rick is the only one with a leading 10.02-pound bonito! I was standing beside Rick early on in the Derby when he landed his first bonito — as in the first bonito caught in his life.

On Monday of this week, Rick landed his fourth bonito, and became the current grand leader.

“I slide it up on the beach and said, ‘That’s a bonito.’ I looked at my brother and said, ‘That’s huge.’” 

Rick’s brother Tommy helped him measure the fish — an incredible 28 inches. “I had no idea how much it weighed. I texted Oliver a picture. He called me and said I could be in first place.” 

“It’s kind of exciting,” said Rick, who was scheduled to leave the Island on Monday afternoon. “Even my wife, who was jonesing to get back to Delaware, said, ‘We’re staying.’”

Rick changed his ferry reservation to Sunday night. “If the fish holds, we’re going to stay. I’ll take my key and I’ll turn it,” said Rick, of the intense Key Ceremony all the grand leaders participate in to win the Eastern boat. 

Rick is a very unassuming guy. He loves to fish, pure and simple. The prizes weren’t his focus. “My goal coming up here was to enter a fish. When I got that albie, I was like, ‘OK, I got a fish. Let’s see what else I can do,’” said Rick, adding, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in this position. I came up to fish the Derby with my brother and have fun.”

I’m pretty sure Rick is having fun. Now he’s on the hunt for a weighable bluefish to earn his triple crown. I imagine he’ll also be watching the leaderboard. 

Bonito Saturday was last weekend. Fishermen of all ages were casting and casting and casting, hoping to catch the elusive bonito and win a $500 prize. There weren’t a ton of bonitos weighed in, but surely the happiest three people were Tighe McHale, his grandfather Whit Holden, and Tighe’s friend Dylan Connors.

Whit took the boys to one of his favorite morning fishing spots. No one caught a bonito, but Whit had a backup plan: He’d arranged a three-hour fishing charter with My Brother Charters. Sure enough, Tighe landed a 5.03-pound bonito and won the Junior All Tackle Boat Bonito Special Saturday award, and the weekly award in his division. 

“This is the only time I get to go fishing,” Tighe said of his visits with his grandfather. “Albies are my favorite fish to catch. I like the fight,” said Tighe, 12, who is in seventh grade in Stanford, Conn., and plays lacrosse and basketball. “Tighe has the fishing bug,” said Whit, with a rather large smile. 

The next day, Tighe’s friend Dylan landed an impressive 9.03-pound shore bluefish to win a daily first place in his junior division, and jump into the early lead for a weekly pin.

“My daughter Hayden brought the boys out specifically for them to fish, and hopefully for Tighe to get a pin,” said Whit. “My Derby was made with those two kids. They were so excited.”

I had the pleasure of meeting an adorable young man named Malcolm and his dad, Arthur. Malcom, 9, decked out in waders, strode out on the beach at the Edgartown Lighthouse early last Friday morning. I was casting, but heard this cute kid saying, “Dad, that looks like the best spot over there.” I turned around and couldn’t help but chuckle as this little boy strode into the water waist-deep and announced, “This is a great spot.”

I chatted with Arthur, exchanged phone numbers, and kept in touch with them all weekend during their too-short Derby visit. I watched the leaderboard hoping to see either of their names, but didn’t. While they didn’t win a prize, I won’t forget Malcolm’s enthusiasm for fishing and the Derby. He was surely the most enthusiastic voice on the beach that day, even without landing a fish. 

As for me, it was a week of unforgettable fun. I took my friend Kathy Eckert out on a boat to help her get her first weighable Derby fish. Kathy had entered the Derby three previous years, and not landed a weighable fish. I was determined to bring her places fish were biting so she could officially go to weigh-in. She caught fish from shore, but all too short. Last Thursday, we left Edgartown with Capt. Eddie on the foggiest morning yet. Kathy outfished me. She masterfully landed a beautiful 13.90-pound bluefish, which was not only more than weighable but also earned Kathy a third-place pin in the daily.

“Now I know I can do it. I landed a big fish,” said Kathy, who landed more than one big fish that day, and all of them were bigger than the ones I got in the boat. A truly great day!

I’m happy to say I finally caught a nice-size shore bluefish (10.37 pounds) and earned my triple crown. Only a few days left until the final Derby bell rings. I don’t know how to stretch out the time, but I would if I could.

I hope to see you on the beach.