In a few hours, two fishing tournaments begin on islands off the coast of Massachusetts. The 72nd Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby will run from September 10th to October 14th. Across the Sound, the 12th Nantucket Inshore Classic will occur during the same time. Both tournaments pit anglers on land and sea against four species of fish; striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. Each tournament provides entrants several opportunities to win awards and prizes in different categories outside the traditional leader board but the real winners in each are the islanders. Both tournaments are set up to generate funds to provide scholarships to students on the respective islands.
I became involved with the Derby as a sponsor several years ago because of the scholarship program and the spirit of the people I met who are involved in running the Derby and those who fish it. This year I’ve become involved with the Classic for the same reasons.
To be truthful, I’ve become weary of the tournament scene. Some tournaments seem to have devolved into something between a NASCAR race and WWE event. I mean no offense to fans of either; I’ve been known to listen to NASCAR on the radio and at one time I was a faithful follower of The Undertaker. I just don’t want to fish in the middle of all that.
What draws me to the Derby, the Classic and in the spring, the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament, are not the prizes or visions of greatness in catching a winning fish but the act of the pursuit of the fish. The physicality of it. The hours spent and the effort put in. Enduring the weather, adjusting to wind and tide, pushing through the exhaustion in the hopes of feeling the line go tight. It’s the grind and the story that goes with it.
It’s the individual stories, fish or no fish, that in the end interest me the most. I have heard stories from people who have fished for days or weeks with nothing to show for it and then when all hope seems lost, have hooked up to enter one fish. I have heard the stories from a couple of friends who have completed “The Slam” and entered a fish in each species category. The story from an acquaintance on the boat back home who fished right up to our ferry departure time and caught a striper as he was reeling in his last cast. He just let it go and quietly boarded the ferry content in his own mind with his accomplishment. The stories define the spirit of the individual and merge to collectively define the spirit of these events.
I’ve used the term “spirit” a few times already. I’m at a loss for a different noun. Over the years I’ve come to know Derby President Ed Jerome and Chairman John Custer. I have had several conversations with both at Derby events and the recurring theme in these conversations is what I’ve described above. The word has also come up in talks with Chris Lydon of the Inshore Classic.
That of past anglers and those departed, some of who were given tribute in the 2016 Derby Guide Book and part of many conversations at the final weigh-in and awards weekend like Luke Gurney, Estey Teller, Robert “Hawkeye” Jacobs and Olga Hirshhorn.
That of Committee members like Amy Coffey who put in endless hours to make the Derby run smoothly. Amy is a fixture at Headquarters for daily weigh-ins. She knows everyone and is known by everyone. If something has to be done or someone needs something, Amy is usually the one doing it.
That of current anglers like Terry Horrocks and his son Zac. I’ve known them for several years via social media and email and finally got a chance to meet both at last year’s Derby. Terry was nice enough to take The Beast and I out in his boat prospecting for albies one afternoon. The fish didn’t cooperate but I got to hear some of his stories and learn about the relationship between the father/son team. More on that in the future.
That of the most solid guy I know and island guide, Capt. Jamie Boyle, his wife Heather and their son Tyler. When it comes to fishing knowledge and the art of smoking bonito, no one compares. I can’t wait to see Jamie watching Tyler weighing in a fish.
That of everyone who has fished in past Derby’s and those who will fish in the future.
And this year, I look forward to hearing the stories from the Nantucket Inshore Classic. There is no less spirit there than on “that other island.”
It’s the people who make the events what they are. The anglers, the organizers and the islanders. And (hopefully) the fish!
My next couple of months will be filled with college visits and applications. I may or may not make it to the islands. But I will be following the daily reports and the daily grind of both the Derby and the Classic.
To all involved in each event, Slainte!
South River, MA
9 September 2017