Avid fishermen rarely need an excuse to fish. What could be better than a beautiful fall day in the surf or on the water, casting, and perhaps catching? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby gives fishermen a reason to fish as many of the 35 days as possible. This year, I did manage to fish at least a few hours all 35 days. If you talked with Kevin Seger, who weighed in the first fish of the Derby and finished 10th overall in the shore triple crown, he probably wouldn’t be able to tell you how many hours he and his friends fished every day. Start with 10 hours, and you might get close. Kevin leaves his phone in his car because he might miss a fish if he’s on his phone. Hardcore!
When the Derby ends, most of the 3,000-plus anglers go back to work, back to the mainland, or back to whatever they were doing before the Derby started. Some will continue fishing, perhaps on-Island, on weekends, or in other locations. For Island fishermen, the end of the Derby means there’s a whole new game in town: Octoberfish.
Now in its 31st year, Octoberfish is hosted by Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown. The entry fee is only $35 for all the fun you can catch. Any fish caught after you register is eligible for prizes, and there are great prizes. And there’s a key ceremony for the top six, just like the Derby. You might say we like tension — preferably on our lines. The rules and divisions follow the Derby: mvderby.com/about/rules.php.
“We hope to inspire the best fishermen to keep fishing,” said Peter Sliwkowski, co-owner of Larry’s Tackle Shop.
Ruth Meyers, daughter of original owner Larry Meyers, started Octoberfish in 1992. For Peter and Melissa Sliwkowski, this year marks their ninth hosting Octoberfish. “I’m just continuing the tradition,” said Peter, who has added an After Derby division, and more prizes.
“Melissa is the most tenacious person to obtain donations,” said Peter, who noted that every person who entered Octoberfish and attends the awards ceremony on Nov. 4 will receive a raffle ticket. “Everyone wins at least one raffle prize. Depending on how many people show up for the ceremony, some people could win two raffle prizes,” he said.
The prize structure for this local competition is impressive. The top three anglers in both shore and boat divisions receive cash awards, and the first-place winners also take home a divisional award, which could be a reel, a rod, or a book of Chappy Ferry tickets.
For the top fish weighed in for each species — albie, blue, or bonito — after the Derby, stop into Larry’s to glance at the prize list. It’s a fisherman’s dream list. If you’re weighing in a fish while perusing the awards, even better.
One great aspect of Octoberfish is that everyone is conscious of the weight of the leading fish. “The board is live. People know the board, know what they have to beat,” said Peter, emphasizing to all anglers to check the board and release any fish that won’t make the top three in one of the divisions.
Another fun aspect of Octoberfish is the leaderboard at Larry’s. If you’re not a local, you might not recognize who’s leading. “OneEyedZack” is Zach Magid, currently leading the false albacore division. “StrepsGirl” is Elizabeth O’Brien, last year’s Derby grand prize winner. Personally, I might have gone with “KeyMaster,” but I’m older than Julian Pepper, creator of the board nicknames, and I probably saw “Ghostbusters” one too many times in college.
“Alex’s Brother” Luke Bettencourt is leading the shore false albacore division. “Washashore” Brian Curry has dropped to second place since I took the picture of him leading the boat bonito division. Shore bonito leader Tim Scott is as close to a real name as you’ll get, with “LilTimTim.”
If you haven’t entered Octoberfish, there’s still time. Head to Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown and get registered. If you’re thinking it’s too late or there’s only a few days left, let me tell you what just happened.
As I’m typing this article, I clicked on the scoreboard to double-check the leaderboard (even though I had checked it Tuesday morning). I blinked. Casey Elliston had knocked Beth Tessmer out of first place in the After Derby bluefish category. Beth had weighed in a chunky 14.15-pound on Oct. 17. Around one o’clock Tuesday, Casey weighed in a 14.50-pound boat blue.
I blinked again. I opened Facebook to see if a photo had been posted of Casey and his fish, and bam, there’s Mark Campos at 3:33 pm with a new leading bluefish, weighing 15.85-pounds. Mark normally fishes from shore, but he caught the new leader from a boat.
I blinked again, and before I hit send on this article, Daniel Strem had booted Mark out of first place with a hefty 17-pound boat bluefish. Daniel is now in first place for boat bluefish, and first place for the After Derby bluefish award. A truly great day!
I know if I blink now, the board will change again. Will you be on the leaderboard next? There are still plenty of fish swimming through our Island waters. Reason enough to get to the water. Reason enough to cast. Reason enough to hope for one more hard tug, one more peel of the line, one more big fish before winter sets in.
Octoberfish ends at 4 pm on Oct. 31. Let’s see who wins the treats — maybe you, maybe me.
I hope to see you on the beach.