I can’t believe it. The 78th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is over.
Every year I wake up on the Monday after the Derby and feel a pain of sadness — Where did those 35 days go, and how can they be over? races through my mind as I get ready for work instead of grabbing my rods to go fishing.
The 78th Derby Awards Ceremony was a party worthy of the hard work the Derby Committee, volunteers, donors, and fishermen put into making this year a success in so many ways for all who participated. You can read about the awards and winners at bit.ly/MVT_DerbyWrap, or on page A1.
As with many award ceremonies, the prize and few moments on stage give about a three-minute glimpse into what might have been a truly fabulous story. Such is the case with Joe Cefalo, the 2023 Shore false albacore grand leader.
Joe lives in Charlestown, and has been fishing the Derby since 1992. “I’ve probably done 20 Derbys since ’92,” said Joe. “P.J. [Carr] and I come to the Vineyard for three weeks of fishing in the spring, and all five weeks of the Derby.”
Guess what? In 20 Derby competitions, this year was the first time Joe weighed in a fish! “First, I weighed in a bluefish. Then I weighed in a 9.08 albie, and then I caught the Big One,” said Joe. “I was at Leland’s. Normally I don’t fish there on an incoming tide. The water was murky. I was casting — BANG — the fish hit.”
I asked Joe when he knew he had a big fish. “I thought it was a blue. It kept giving me head pulls. It didn’t run, just went down. I didn’t get a glimpse of it until it was in the wash. Then I said, ‘Holy $*@!’” laughed Joe, with a smile almost as big as his fabulous 14.67-pound albie.
Joe’s 12.51-pound bluefish held the Madison Alwardt senior blue title until the second-to-last day of the Derby, when Brenda Gerosa-Beal landed and weighed in her first fish of the 2023 Derby, a 12.85-pound bluefish.
“It felt like that fish was pulling me into the water,” said Brenda, who won the Madison Alwardt Senior Bluefish award previously, in 2019. “It was just splashing and pulling and pulling and pulling. I’ve never caught a fish that big. I won before with a 9-pounder.”
Brenda is one of the happiest and nicest people I know, and also someone who is normally weighing in lots of Derby fish. By the last week of the Derby, she’d caught four little bluefish, one short albie, and a bunch of black sea bass, all of whom were promptly released to swim another day.
“I got to the end of the Derby, and decided to focus on my friends and enjoy our time on the beach whether the fish showed up or not. Then, don’t you know, I caught that blue,” said Brenda. “And the best part was that some friends of mine were out in a boat and saw me land the fish. They texted and said, ‘We just saw a big fish caught. Was that you?’ And it was!”
Brenda left the Island on Monday after the Derby to participate in an event equally near and dear to her heart: the Leave No One Behind Gala on Nov. 9 in Boston. Brenda has been volunteering for the New England Center and Home for Veterans (www.nechv.org) for 30 years. As I type, she’s out collecting auction items for the fundraiser. You rock, Brenda!
I caught up with multiple-award-winners Luke Brewer and Tim Scott at the Derby Awards celebration. Luke and Tim both had amazing Derby catches. Together, as the Squid Squad, they were an unbeatable team, clinching the first-place shore team with an impressive 62.39-pound total.
“This is our first year as a team,” said Luke, who was teammates with Sam Bell before he moved off-Island. “I’ve been friends with Tim my whole life.”
“I’ve done the team competition twice,” said Tim, who’s been fishing for 31 of his 35 years. “The first time I was on a team with Julian [Pepper], and we won. Then I took an eight-year hiatus, and this year with Luke we won again.”
Tim spent most of the Derby at his job working for John Keene. “I work a lot. I can only fish on weekends,” said Tim.
Though he had caught fish in the first four weeks, Tim caught all his prizewinning fish within 24 hours on the Monday and Tuesday of the last week of the Derby. He landed an 11.27-pound albacore and a second-place daily 12.19-pound bluefish on Monday. He took Tuesday off from work, woke up early, and headed to Edgartown Harbor to live-line squid. Around 7:30 am, Tim’s line peeled, and he soon reeled in an 8.36-pound bonito.
That bonito moved Tim into first place (31.82 pounds) in the shore triple crown competition and second place on the shore bonito leaderboard. “Being with friends is what the Derby is all about,” said Tim. “The best day of my Derby was when I caught my bonito. I was with Luke.”
“I put it in the net,” said Luke, who finished in third place (30.57) in the shore triple crown, behind Tim, and Ben Ciciora (30.76) in second place.
Luke works at his family’s Brewer Landscapes. He’s got a lot of fall cleanups ahead of him in the next few weeks. His new focus is saving money for his wedding, next Sept 1. Of course, the honeymoon will be after the Derby.
With Derby headquarters emptied and boarded up until next year, I asked a few Derby notables what they would be doing now. Mike Cassidy, Derby weighmaster and Hall of Famer, was leaving on the 6 am ferry on Monday to “go to Boston to work at the Head of the Charles Regatta. It’s my seventh year,” said Mike.
Oliver Valdes, a full-time Trustees of Reservations employee on Chappaquiddick, was also looking forward to “getting back to my bonsai plants,” said Oliver. “And I’ll keep fishing in October Fish.”
Derby volunteer extraordinaire Robyn Joubert is one of my favorite people to visit with at Derby headquarters. Robyn’s been volunteering for the Derby for almost 30 years. Sometimes you’ll see her grandson Nathan there with her. “Now that the Derby’s over, I’m going to hang out with my grandson. He is everything,” said Robyn.
I hugged my friend Paula Sullivan goodbye at a Derby afterparty Sunday night. Paula, who now lives in Harwich, has been on the Derby Committee for 19 years. She is the first female weighmaster in the history of the Derby. She’s the real “reel” deal on the beach!
Paula is heading home “to mow my lawn for the first time in five weeks, clean out my veggie garden, and rake leaves. I’m also looking forward to getting back to the food pantry,” said Paula, who volunteers three days a week at the Family Pantry of Cape Cod.
You can read more about Paula in the current Vineyard Visitor. She’s on the front cover, if you pick up a printed version, or you can read her story here: bit.ly/VV_TheyreHooked.
I’m grateful for every Derby moment with friends and fish. I’m also grateful there are still plenty of fish in our Island waters, and that Larry’s Tackle Shop is hosting October Fish. Next week we’ll talk about October Fish, and I hope to be able to share with you that my name is on the leaderboard. Until then, you can follow October Fish here: larrystackle.com/octoberfish-2023.
I hope to see you on the beach.