Fishing Derby announces False Albacore daily prizes

10

False albacore. Albies: Fishermen hear those words, and hearts start racing.

Albies equal speed. Albies spell fun. Albies say Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

Every year albies, or lil’ tunny, boil through our Island waters in late August or early September. They are always here for the Derby. Always. And we’re usually catching them into November. 

Albies hit your lure like a boxer hits his opponent, and then they take off running. And I do mean run. They’re mini-torpedoes. Every fisherman I know loves the feel — and the sound — of an albie on the line.

“The first time I ever caught an albie, my knees were shaking I was so excited,” said Ron Domurat, who’s been on the Derby stage at least two dozen times. 

False albacore were added to the Derby prize structure in 1981. Albies are one-third of the Derby Triple Crown, with bluefish and bonito rounding out the entry. When striped bass were still in the Derby, albies were a fourth of the Grand Slam. 

Unlike bass, blues, and bonitos, “it’s been more than 24 years since we awarded dailies [for false albacore],” said Derby Chairman Phil Horton.

So many of us have won bass, bluefish, and bonito pins when we’ve weighed in the heaviest first-, second-, third-, and fourth-place fish one of the 35 Derby days. Personally, I hadn’t entered the Derby before 1999, so I’ve never had a chance to win an albie pin.

But: Drumroll! 

The Derby Committee voted albies back into the Daily Awards last Thursday at its monthly meeting. 

“We’ve been hearing from Derby anglers for several years, asking us to bring back albie dailies. The participant survey we completed at the conclusion of the 2023 Derby further reinforced that message,” said Phil, adding, “One of our fillet distribution partners started preparing meals with albie fillets last Derby, and we’re hopeful to be able to expand that program this year.” 

This is fabulous news for Island seniors and Derby competitors. Many of us are doing a happy dance today in anticipation of the first weighable albie in 2024.

As soon as I heard the news, I reached out to Ron Domurat. He’s an amazing fisherman, and very generous with his knowledge. Ron has earned more than 100 Derby pins, which is an incredible feat! I had to know if he had an albie pin from years ago.

“I have four and a half,” said Ron.

“A half?” I asked.

“Don Mohr and I were fishing at Chappy Point one Derby. We were the only two people there. We hooked up simultaneously. I was going off-Island. He was going out to Chappy Beach. He asked me to weigh his fish in. I took them to weigh-in. They weighed exactly the same, to the hundredth of an ounce. He got a pin for third place, and I didn’t get one. There was no fourth place back then. As a joke, I called him and told him that he owed me half a pin,” Ron recalled with a good chuckle. “And sure enough, about a week later, half a pin and half a $5 bill showed up.”

You gotta love your fishing buddies!

When the Derby begins on Sept. 15, fishermen will be allowed to weigh in four albies total to get their heaviest weight, instead of the previous limit of three. I’m imagining the audible sigh of relief that probably every Derby contestant is exhaling. The increase gives us more wiggle room. 

In years past, we weighed in the first albie to check the box for the Grand Slam or Triple Crown. Then we could weigh in a second albie when we had one that was heavier than the current leader, or that would put our team or individual score into a competitive position. But we all hung onto that third tag until the last possible minute, sometimes releasing a fish that could have been a contestant, because we were worried about catching a bigger one before the end of the Derby, and not having a slot left to use. 

“I’ve only used my third tag once,” said Dave Balon, my awesome teammate. “I always save one toward the end. That one time, it was a nice fish, my biggest albie ever. I weighed it in and sweated out the rest of the Derby hoping I didn’t catch a bigger one.”

I can testify to Dave’s nerves throughout the rest of the Derby. I was standing beside him when he reeled in that 11-pound albie, and I listened to him every morning as he fished for bonitos and hoped he didn’t hook an albie. 

In addition to the news about false albacore dailies and four albie slots, the Derby Committee also voted to double the daily cash prize awards; they added a false albacore mystery prize, to the bluefish, bonito, junior, mini, and fly rod daily mystery prizes; and fly-fishermen can now earn dailies in the All Tackle awards if their catch weighs into the overall top four. 

“Anyone with a 4,000 series fly rod badge can now double up. They can earn a daily fly pin and a daily shore or boat pin if their fish qualifies for an all-tackle award,” said Phil.

I’ve been remiss practicing with my fly rod lately because I’ve been out on Chappy casting long distances for blues, but these rule changes are a reminder to put the time in on my fly rod so I’m at least proficient when the Derby starts. 

For anyone who hasn’t ever weighed in a fish in the Derby, there is a new First Fish pin that has been added to the prizes. While many of us are not eligible for this pin, it’s super-exciting to think of all the children and adults who will earn a pin for their Derby hat when they weigh in their first Derby fish. 

The Derby is one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and challenging events a fisherman can participate in. Wearing a Derby hat and badge is an honor. Earning pins to put on your Derby hat is a thrill. For many Derby fishermen, Derby hats and pins are collector’s items to be cherished. I know mine are. 

Wherever you’re fishing on or around the Island, there are fish to be caught. If you want advice on catching fluke from shore, visit Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop and talk with Dougie Asselin. He’s catching lots of them now, and he can help you buy the right gear and give you pointers.

Chappy is bustling with blues, bass, and sharks. Bass are pretty much everywhere, and I’ve heard there’s lots of tuna being caught from the boats. I’ve already asked Little Coop if I can go out tuna fishing with him. I’ll let you know how that adventure goes. 

Don’t forget to enter the Fluke for Luke Tournament this weekend. Stop by Coop’s Bait and Tackle, Dick’s Bait and Tackle, or Larry’s Tackle Shop, and get yourself entered. I’m taking my niece and her friends out. First fishing competition for these three young ladies, and my first Fluke for Luke. I’m so excited to share it with them. 

I hope to see you on the beach, or in a boat catching fluke and sea bass, in honor of our Island’s beloved Luke Gurney. 

10 COMMENTS

  1. The MV Times reports that the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby voted to include false albacore in the daily prize structure and increased the tournament bag limit from three fish to four, welcome news for some tournament participants keen to have a competitive edge. I’m not one of them. Some context is needed. In 1995, the derby committee, of which I was a member, was concerned by the number of these exciting gamefish being brought to the weigh station only to be dumped outside the harbor because no one wanted to eat them, and lobstermen could not use all the discarded albies for bait. So we voted only to award weekly prizes to reduce the incentive to kill an albie for a daily prize pin. Now, we are to believe that albies are palatable. I’ll believe that when I see the derby committee members eating juicy albie sandwiches at the weigh station.

  2. This is fantastic news. I’m especially excited about the addition of Albies and the new four slot rule. Another great decision by the Derby Committee!!!!!

  3. CORRECTION

    This is fantastic news. I’m especially excited about the addition of Albies to the Daily Awards and the new four slot rule. Another great decision by the Derby Committee!!!!!

  4. Think it’s a great idea!!! More enthusiasm and competition always makes a better community.

  5. The Derby committee has really lost its’ way on this one. So sad that they have given in to years of lobbying by a small minority desperate to weigh in more fish or sell more lures. The vast majority of Derby participants don’t even come close to weighing in 3 Albies. The increase from 3 to 4 may be more of a symbolic gesture to that group but the real disappointment is in the expansion of daily prizes for Albies. Dozens if not hundreds of Albies will now be weighed in just for the chance of a little lead fish pin. Again, something lobbied really hard by a small group over the years. And now, as they did for Stripers and Blues, anyone can drop a dead fish on the platform in the hopes that ”maybe it will get a mystery prize”! Is that the value the Derby committee has now placed on a fish that been a Derby asset for years? No less surprising is the increase in daily cash awards but from their perspective it must make perfect sense to get everyone interested in weighing in even more fish. All for a little lead pin.
    Can’t wait for that first weekend of weigh-ins and the carnage that will be visible for all to see. Let’s put that photo on the front page of our local papers; the true measure of a successful derby! All those dark blood rich Albie fillets now heading off to senior centers around the island? Just because the Derby Chair has proclaimed them to be good eating doesn’t mean they should justify their decisions by sending fillets to seniors. Anyone ever take a look inside an Albie that has been dead for a few hours? That will be what they ship off to seniors. “Here, eat this and look what we are doing for you!”
    The biggest and most profound impact here will be on the reputation of the Derby not as a premier fishing tournament but as a killing event. No longer “harvesting” fish for reuse, but simply killing them for the chance at a prize. Participants young and old, but especially the young, will now see the value of a fish not as living organism deserving of a better fate, but as a possible pin, an extra $20 or just maybe, if the luck of the draw favors you, a mystery prize! Maybe Derby participants will show a conservation mindset the Derby committee lacks and simply reject the urge to weigh in that fish, throw it on the pile and hope for a mystery prize!

  6. This is hard to understand…….

    With the demise of the once great striper fishery on the island, the False Albacore have become the premier species/season on the island. They are here for only a month and a half….maybe two if you push it. It is the most exciting inshore species to catch on the island because they are elusive, fast, available to shore fisherman, and highly addictive. This is the premier place in the northeast to catch them. Unlike Striped Bass, they are too oily and not good eating and, as a result, everyone, everywhere throws them back with very few exceptions. They may have some marginal value to lobster fisherman as bait but you will not find a commercial market for them anywhere. To say that this change is a benefit to island senior food programs is a deliberately misleading and false statement. This change simply results in more dead False Albacore which no one wants. Does the island really want to be known as one of the only places where this fish is killed? The Derby has tremendous benefits to the island economy and the island’s children in the form of scholarships, visitors, and local businesses. The derby committee needs to spend its time finding ways to use technology and preservation to sustain its economics without destroying this last great recreational fishery. Eventually the tournament needs to become a catch and release tournament and an example to the rest of the country on how to preserve fun, economics, and, most importantly, the resource so that it remains for the next generation to enjoy. Thank you for listening.

Comments are closed.