One on the Line: The MV Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby

 

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is a five week fishing tournament that begins on the second Sunday of September every year. The event celebrates the beauty of the Island, cements lifelong friendships, and creates memorable stories while also attracting visitors in the shoulder season. There are more fishing stories than there are fish in the sea. Cast your lines out, and enjoy 75 years of the Martha’s Vineyard Derby.

Derby Photos from the past 75 Years:

Wayne Coutinho
Wayne Coutinho holding up a bass.
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Janet Messineo – Taxidermy

Janet Messineo is not only known for her fishing, but she’s also known for her taxidermy skills. She shares the “tricks of the trade” and explains how she got involved with the craft of taxidermy in this interview with Oral History Curator Linsey Lee. The film is broken into four segments.


Ed Jerome – My Favorite Fishing Place

Ed Jerome (1947-2018) was a former principal of the Edgartown School and charter fisherman. He was instrumental in making the Derby the success that it is today. In a clip from a 2013 interview, Ed shares the joy of being out at night at his favorite fishing spot and talks about the opportunity for lifelong learning and listening that fishing and the Derby affords.


Oral History Audio Excerpts from Interviews with Oral History Curator Linsey Lee:


Janet Messineo remembers one of the moments she shared with friend Jack Coutinho.


In the early days of the Derby, fewer women participated. Derby ladies prize story. Listen to veteran fisherman Janet Messineo talk about the inspiration and challenges of her early days of fishing and of ‘putting in her time’ to be accepted as a Derby fisherman.


Derby Hall of Fame member Clayton Hoyle, a founding member of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, helped to organize the Derby in 1946. Another Rod and and Gun Club member and early Derby promoter was John Hughes. Better known for his work at the lobster hatchery, he would travel off-island with other organizers to sporting expos to help promote the event. Listen to his memories of those early days.


Marion Morton was the wife of Ben Morton, a founding member of the Derby and its leader in the early days. Listen to Marion’s memories of the Derby Queens and the early days of the tournament.


Hall of fame member Serge de Somov achieved recognition by winning the Derby for three consecutive years from 1964-66 and again in 1969. Kib Bramhall, known for his own fishing prowess, remembers Serge, who was often called “the Mad Russian.” Listen to Kib talking with Bob Post about Serge’s remarkable talent.


In its early days, some of the Derby’s prizes were designed to attract people from off-Island, at times to the detriment of local residents. Listen to Ralph Grant tell of one such occasion, when he and an off-Island friend were neck-and-neck in competition.


Frances Young and her sister, Vineyard poet Marion Lineaweaver, were avid anglers. They often went fishing with Island fishermen, including Ralph Grant and his brothers. Listen to their fishing stories.


Bob Boren did not participate in the first Derby, but he remembers hearing about it. The Derby lured him back to the Island where he fished for many years and eventually served on the Derby Committee. Listen to Bob recount the early days of the tournament.


Arnold Spofford was an active and important member of the Derby Committee for fifteen years. He is also well known for his lures. Listen to Arnold Spofford talk about how he developed one of his more famous models, the Ballistic Missile.


For those like Gus Ben David, fishing isn’t a sport, it’s a family function. Listen to Gus talk about the Ben David fishing dynasty.


Fishing creates memories that can never be forgotten. Sometimes these memories take the shape of a mount on the wall, and other times, they become stories that are told time and again. Listen to Ed Belisle talk about his early fishing years and his favorite fishing stories.


Who caught the fish? The one who hooked it or the one who reeled it in? It is an age-old question that has decided bets and ruined friendships. For Howard Andrews, the question was easily answered. Listen to this story of true sportsmanship.


Fishermen often speak of solitary enjoyment that fishing brings, but it also can bring pleasure to whole families. Listen to Jack Weldon talk about how his family celebrated his son’s Derby victory.


Derby prizes have ranged from the extravagant to the absurd (300 chopsticks anyone?), but regardless of the size of the prize, everyone who has ever won returns home with pride. Listen to Ed Tyra remember a friend’s joy from an unlikely source.


Cooper and Lela Gilkes have played a key role in the Kids’ Derby. Listen to them explain the in’s and out’s of this special day.


The fish that got away would grow in size. The fish that were caught met Helen Scarborough. For years, she worked at the weigh station, keeping records by chalkboard and paper. Listen to Helen’s memories of her work as the official record keeper of the Derby.


Everyone who registers for the Derby gets a button with the year and their number on it. Anglers who enter year after year end up with a lot of buttons. Like many Derby competitors, Alfred Wilde saved his. He created a decorative painting and display of his thirty year collection. Listen to him talk about some of those thirty years he has “gone fishing.”


Bob Post loved to fish so much he wrote a book about it. In 1986 and 1987, he interviewed some of the Vineyard’s most heralded fishermen. Those interviews would be transformed into the much loved Reading the Water. When he passed away, his wife donated the interviews to the Museum. In 1986, Bob was in contention to win the Derby. Each morning, he diligently recorded the WMVY Sports Report to check to see if he was still in the lead. Coincidentally, he also recorded the announcement of Lee Welch’s record weakfish, a record that still stands today. Listen to this radio recording, and drift back in time.


Through the years, fishing practices have evolved in the hope of reducing the negative impact on the environment, such as the change from “J” hooks to circle hooks or the introduction of the stone weights promoted by the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to reduce the amount of lead leaked into the ocean. The most critical change that the Derby saw was the Striped Bass Moratorium. Listen to Cooper Gilkes remember how the difficult decision to temporarily remove striped bass from the competition was made.


Workers at Derby headquarters used to require fishermen to give the location where the fish they were weighing in were caught. Realizing the futility of that, this rule was soon waved. Listen to Cooper Gilkes talk about the lengths to which fishermen go to conceal the exact location where fish were “hitting bit,” and the no win situation he faced when he was honest about a good location.


Winning the Derby is simple. All you have to do is catch a fish, right? Beneath the surface, strategy can be a whole new can of worms. Listen to Paul Schultz talk about some of the dilemmas that the Derby can cause. “Reading the water” is a skill at which good fishermen are adept. Listen to fisherman Paul Schultz talk of the subtle nuances of the ocean, the wind, and fish behavior that every expert fisherman learns to notice.


Fishing is a full-time job, but many have to find the time to do other work as well. Listed to Ed Jerome, Derby Hall of Famer and President of the Derby Association, talk about how he found a balance between his Derby duties and his role as Edgartown School principal.