By Lucas Thors
For 75 years, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby has been a shining example of how special the Island is, and that isn’t going to change.
But there will be some logistical alterations made to the Derby this year, some having to do with fishing regulations, and others having to do with health and safety guidelines relating to the pandemic.
Joe El-Deiry, chairman of the Derby committee, said he is excited to make the 75th anniversary of the competition a success, despite some planning hurdles. Currently, the Derby is scheduled to end on Oct. 17.
One major change to this year’s Derby is the removal of striped bass from the competition. El-Deiry said the eligible species for this year will be bluefish, bonito, and false albacore. “We removed striped bass as an eligible species once regulations came out, due to the decline in numbers,” El-Deiry said. “At that time, we thought that was going to be the biggest decision we were going to have to make. But my, how things have changed.”
According to El-Deiry, the Derby committee has worked tirelessly to try and figure out the best way to have a safe Derby, while establishing best practices for adhering to health guidance.
Although fishing is generally considered a socially distanced sport, except for when fishing on a jetty or pier, the fanfare and community events that normally go along with the Derby are being eliminated or drastically altered in order to create a safe environment for anglers. “We will be asking that people always wear masks when they are not able to social distance,” El-Deiry said.
Normally, the weigh station near the Edgartown Yacht Club is a place for Islanders to come together, have a cup of steaming coffee, and share early morning stories of adventures out on the water. But this year, El-Deiry said, one goal is to avoid people congregating, especially near the weigh station and in tackle shops.
“The setup at the Derby headquarters [the weigh station] will be very different this year,” El-Deiry said. “The weighmaster’s table and computer will be moved to the front entryway, and participants would come up a ramp with their fish, step a couple feet into the building, and we would have Plexiglas partitions between the weighmasters and staff, and anglers.”
According to El-Deiry, the only reason people should be at the headquarters is if they are weighing a fish, or picking up a daily or weekly prize.
He also said Derby organizers will rope off the area near the fillet barge, because one of their biggest concerns is minimizing the number of people gathering at the weigh station.
“There are lots of things we need to rethink. It is sad that we can’t do some of these things, but the alternative is not having the tournament at all,” El-Deiry said. “It’s not going to be a normal Derby, but it will still be something people love and are passionate about.”
Also, in order to support Island businesses during this difficult economic period, El-Deiry said the Derby will be giving out gift certificates to Island businesses in place of sponsored donations.
A big part of this year’s Derby, according to El-Deiry, is supporting the Island businesses that have sponsored the Derby in the past.
“We felt it would be important to let those sponsors know that, based on the current situation and how the economic toll is affecting the Island, we want to support you in every way we can,” El-Deiry said. “We are going to run your ads in the Derby booklet, we will have links to all of your sites on our website, and we will continue to plug you, but we are not going to be giving any sponsored donations out as prizes. What better way to have equitable value, and also help out the Island community?”
The Clay family of Clay Family Auto, who have sponsored the Derby for more than 20 years, are not going to be able to donate a vehicle this year, so the only grand prize vehicle will be the Cape Codder boat.
Instead of the six leaders drawing for the boat and the automobile, all six will have the opportunity to win the boat.
The Grand Slam competition, which is defined as an individual angler yielding the highest aggregate weight of all eligible species, will be changed to the Triple Crown, with similar rules.
The beloved award ceremony won’t happen in person this year, but El-Deiry said the committee is working out ways to safely distribute prizes and hold some sort of Key Ceremony, which is when the Cape Codder boat will be awarded to one grand leader.
The Kids Derby is canceled this year, which El-Deiry said will be missed by all in the community.
“It has always been one of our favorite parts of the five-week tournament, but there is no way we could do that this year,” he said.
There will be no mystery prize, top rod prize, or Super Saturday events during this year’s tournament.
El-Deiry stressed the importance of preregistering this year, and said he is hoping to mitigate the flow of people entering tackle shops to pick up their Derby pin and hat. The Derby headquarters will not be giving out pins or hats this year.
“We are really trying to streamline the process and make sure people aren’t spending time in tackle shops filling out the form and getting their pin and stuff, so we are strongly encouraging people to preregister,” El-Deiry said.
Although no merchandise will be sold at the headquarters, the online Derby shop has been filled with great gear that would normally be bought in person.
Derby officials are also encouraging people to read the state guidelines regarding social distancing, mask wearing, and out-of-state travel. Folks travel from far and wide to take part in the Derby, and El-Deiry said that needs to be considered.
“If you are coming from certain states, you need to quarantine,” he said. “In order to have this Derby reach the finish line, we are going to need to work together. But overall, we are really excited to try this out.”
Check out a comprehensive list of Derby rules by reading the Derby brochure at bit.ly/DerbyBrochure.