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Gather 'round the weighing station: MV Derby celebrates 78 years

During the Derby, evening fish weigh-ins are an event in downtown Edgartown.
Courtesy Derby Committee
During the Derby, evening fish weigh-ins are an event in downtown Edgartown.

This past weekend, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby kicked off. It’s a five-week fishing tournament with a long history. CAI’s Steve Junker spoke with Derby Chairman Phil Horton about a tradition that this year will bring out more than 3000 anglers to compete on the island.

Steve Junker Can you tell us how long the Derby has been going?

Phil Horton The Derby started in 1946 here on the island, and it started as a collaboration between a marketing person from a private steamship authority – not the one we know and love today, but a private firm that wanted to extend the season here on the Vineyard – and they organized it with the rod-and-gun club.

Steve Junker So that's a long time. How long have you been fishing the Derby?

Phil Horton Oh, about 35 years.

Steve Junker Is that typical — that people fish the Derby for decades?

Phil Horton Yeah, we actually have some participants who have fished since the beginning, since 1946.

Steve Junker That's a long time to be fishing and a long time to be fishing the Derby. But it's also got a lot of first-time fishers, too, right?

Phil Horton Absolutely. I would say, on average, a third of our participants on an annual basis are new participants coming into the Derby for the first time. We've got different age divisions within the Derby, and those include both mini-Junior and Junior. And we've got a Senior division as well.

Steve Junker Explain to us how it works. I know that for the past couple of years, there have been three fish categories. How does it work for people who are out fishing and they're catching fish and then they're bringing them into the Derby weighing stations?

Phil Horton The five-week contest runs through October the 14th. There are three eligible species, as you mentioned, and those include bluefish, bonito and false albacore. And we have two categories, boat and shore. So on a daily basis, we've got a weighing station that operates in downtown Edgartown. That weighing station is open from 8 to 10 a.m. and again from 7 to 9 p.m.. And participants bring their fish into that facility and get them weighed and get them registered.

Steve Junker Give us a sense of what the feeling is at the weighing station each day. So it's open twice a day, and people must gather to see what kind of fish are being brought in.

Phil Horton That's absolutely true, and it's particularly true in the evening. We get quite a crowd down there. I mean, it becomes kind of like the center of focus for Edgartown.

Steve Junker Can you tell me a little about the prizes?

Phil Horton Yes, we have daily, weekly and special prizes for special events throughout the entire derby. Our Grand Prize, which is awarded at the end of the Derby this year, is a 22-foot Sisu from Eastern boats. They are our Grand Prize sponsor.

Steve Junker A 22-foot boat. That's a grand prize. Somebody is going to be very happy to have that.

Phil Horton Absolutely. So at the end of the contest, we've got three species and two categories. So we've got six grand leaders, the heaviest fish in each category for each species. And they're all eligible. They get into a lottery for the Grand Prize. So if you get a grand leader fish, you've got a one-in-six chance of winning the Grand Prize boat.

Steve Junker In the past, I think, you've had a truck as as a Grand Prize and people got a key and they had to find out if their key fit. Is that right?

Phil Horton Exactly. It's called the key ceremony. It's pretty famous. We continue that now for the Grand Prize boat. That's part of our award ceremony and generates quite a bit of excitement. That's the closing climax for our annual awards ceremony.

Steve Junker And for people who have not yet bought their Derby entry, it's not too late to enter. Is that right?

Phil Horton Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And for folks who want to learn more about the Derby and get a better idea of the organization, I would encourage people to take a look at our website or follow us on Facebook and get daily updates. Our Facebook feed is very active during the Derby.

Steve Junker That is the Martha's Vineyard striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Chairman Phil Horton. Phil, thanks so much for speaking to us.

Phil Horton It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Steve is Managing Editor of News. He came to WCAI in 2007. He also hosts the weekly News Roundup on Friday mornings and produces The Fishing News.