Thursday, October 24, 2013

Derby 2013

A few weeks ago I posted about the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. I had the privilege of being on the island this past weekend for the final day of fishing and this year’s awards ceremony. For the last three years Derby Committee member Wilson Kerr has graciously invited my friends Pete Crommett from Cheeky Fly Fishing, Mark Seymour from High Hook Wines and I to stay at his house for the end of the Derby. He refers to us as “those fly rod dirt-bags,” a moniker we wholeheartedly embrace.

While sitting at the ferry dock in Woods Hole Friday night waiting for Pete to arrive I watched other Derby anglers milling about and eavesdropped on their conversations. I thought about what draws all of us to a piece of rock in the ocean. Words I had written in the previous post kept replaying in mind…

“As I said, it’s not the fishing that draws me to the Derby, it’s the people of The Rock, the sense of community and the true Americana that still exists on Martha’s Vineyard on the back roads, the harbors and in the hearts and homes of the islanders.”

Mark met us at the dock in Vineyard Haven. The three of us stood in the street beside Mark’s truck and talked about the day’s fishing report, the Red Sox and life for twenty minutes as if we happened to run into each other on the way home from work. I mention this because as we stood there under the street lights amidst the chaos of ferry arrivals and departures it reminded me of Friday nights long ago in a small town in Maine that I grew up in and an even smaller one in Vermont where I went to college. They were times and places in life where it seemed that possibilities were limited only by your own efforts. Those times are long gone and the places have changed, but every year I’m reminded of them when I visit The Rock.

As the sun rose on Saturday morning Pete and Wilson headed out to chase albies in Wilson’s boat while Mark (hereinafter referred to as “Beast”) and I decided to pound the shoreline. We chose the basin at Lobsterville as a starting point. We got there early and chatted up some people already fishing, hoping for some indication that albies were in close, or at the least, had been seen. It had been a quiet morning and nobody had any fish to report. So we each found a spot up the beach from the jetty and started throwing hope on a hook into the waves. We were there for hours. Periodically I would stop and watch the others along the jetty. Spin guys, fly guys, a father, mother and daughter team who had parked next to us...everyone patiently yet urgently casting into empty water. Somber faces scoured the water but would light up as another angler passed by and words were exchanged.

Beast and I finally decided to make a move but were not sure where to go. We drove for a bit and then ended up going back to Lobsterville and walking up to Dogfish Bar. This is one spot I have almost always run into fish. I felt renewed optimism as we saw birds working with fish under them as we walked up the beach. Beast was able to hook into a few rat bass which kept us going into the middle of the afternoon but there were no fish to weigh in. Finally we decided to move on and walked back to the truck. The sun had come out, the air was still and a cold beer was in order so we sat on the tailgate and cracked one.

A few minutes into Happy Hour,  Mark Wilde and Thomas Dalsgaard parked near us and asked how things were going. After introductions were exchanged and Beast set them up with beers, I realized these guys were from the same part of Vermont I had spent half of my adult life in. Conversation revealed that they had come down to the Vineyard with a group  from Vermont Trout Waters and that Mark owns Uncle Jammer’s  Guide Service and guides a lot of the same water I used to fish on a spinning rod. We talked for quite a while about all the places we have fished, people we know, life stories and Derby history. Turns out we all knew a lot of the same people, have fished a lot of the same faraway places and have followed similar roads. One of the things I love about fishing, the fly fishing world in particular, are the really cool people that you meet and the friendships that are created just by asking “…any luck?” I’ll be fishing with these guys in the 802 very soon.

Mark and Tom - photo by Matt Cain of VT Trout Waters
Saturday night was one of the nights I look forward to ever year. The Committee hosts a reception for sponsors at the Derby Headquarters before the final weigh-in. It’s just a really fun time filled with great food and drink and really awesome people. Later in the evening we wandered up the street to The Port Hunter to meet up with some island friends. Good times were had by all and The Port Hunter has become one of my favorite places on the planet.

The Port Hunter
The awards ceremony took place on Sunday. It’s become somewhat of a tradition to hang at the back of the tent with a bunch of other fly fishing people. Every year as we stand and watch the ceremony, I look around at the people surrounding me and I am always a bit awestruck. When I first started fly fishing fourteen years ago I knew some of these people only as faces in magazines and names in articles and books, now they’re my friends. And looking out at the crowd are faces of some of the best in fishing today, some well known, some only known here within the ranks of Derby anglers. The gathering of all this talent, young and old, in one place is astounding. One of the highlights for me this year was meeting Craig Keefe and his son Quinn. Quinn is 12 and has already racked up Derby awards including placing in two Junior All Tackle divisions this year. Quinn and his dad talked to Eric Reed from Beulah Fly Rods and I about fly fishing being the next evolution in Quinn’s fishing career. Quinn was full of questions and excitement. It was nice to see. Craig told me later that Quinn has been fishing since he could walk and could care less about video games or other things kids his age are into. He just wants to fish.  Ironically Quinn won a Beulah rod in the raffle. The kid is on his way.

Quinn Keefe - photo from Amy Coffey
The Grand Prize winners this year were both island residents, Sam Bell winning the Boat Division and Jena-Lynn Beauregard winning the Shore Division. The fact that they are both islanders made it very special and the reactions and gratitude of both choked up even the saltiest of those present. Watching them reminded me of what I said earlier about possibilities only being limited by your own efforts. An example not only for fishing but one for living as well.

The day ended with a get together of Committee members, sponsors and friends. A final opportunity to hang out with really cool people drawn together by this event and a passion for fishing and the life that it brings before catching the last boat back to the World.

I get asked why I sometimes get emotional talking about the Derby. I have no answer because if you have to ask, then you won’t get it. You need to live the Derby to understand. But I will offer an excerpt from Derby President Ed Jerome's message to anglers this year:

“It’s a tournament with no $5000 entry fee for your boat team, no professional sponsored fishing teams, no ridiculous amount of money for first place prizes, just good, old fashion fishing fun among friends, family and new and old acquaintances. After you participate in a Derby, it becomes clear, why something so fundamental has successfully lasted for the past 68 years. The Derby is still run by the year round efforts of a couple of dozen Island volunteers and through the sponsorship of lots of businesses and individuals. Our goals are simple. Give back to the community, preserve and protect our natural resources and help young people in their efforts to further their education. We are very proud of this simplistic approach and it is the foundation by which we measure all things Derby. We thank you for your commitment to our tournament, so please come to the Weigh Station, “hangout” a bit, swap stories, make friends and be a part of the 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.”

Enough said.

Fare-thee-well Derby and Martha’s Vineyard until next we meet. I love you both.

Vineyard Haven Harbor
20 October 2013

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