One on the Line: The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby

There are more fishing stories than there are fish in the sea. We invite you to cast your lines out and enjoy the Vineyard’s Derby memories throughout the exhibit. We hope that they will stir up your own experiences and inspire the fishing stories to come.

The following video and oral history clips from the original exhibit have been made available for more people to learn about and listen to the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Full interviews of Vineyarders’ Derby experiences and more can be heard in the Museum Library.

For more information about this exhibit, please contact Nathaniel Janick at 508-627-4441 x115.

The fish mounts adorning the walls of our exhibit were provided by Janet Messineo. The exhibit also includes a short film that features Janet telling the “tricks of the trade” and explaining how she got involved with the craft of taxidermy to Martha’s Vineyard oral history curator Linsey Lee. The film is broken into four segments and can be viewed on our Youtube channel.

Back to School (4:45)

The Taxidermy Process (7:15)

Fin Magic (2:15)

Fiberglass Reproductions (4:30)

Janet Messineo, known not only for her fishing but also for her superb taxidermy skills, Janet has many fishing tales. Listen to her remember 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 in neck-and-neck 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 could remember 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 15 years. He is also well known for his lures. Listen to Arnold Spofford tell 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 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.

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 ins and outs 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 30-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. A number of those interviews are featured in the exhibit. 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 to reduce the chance of swallowed hooks or the stone weights promoted by the Wampanoag tribe of 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 the Striped Bass from the Competition was made.

At Derby Headquarters, they used to require fishermen to give the location where the fish they were weighing in was 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 as well as Paul’s thoughts on what makes a good fisherman.

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

Like most fishermen, Derby Association president and charter fisherman Ed Jerome has his favorite fishing spot. Listen to Ed speak of the beauty of night fishing and the never-ending opportunity for learning that fishing offers.