Students hooked on Derby


Molly Baldino

Senior Luke El-deiry fishes on the last day of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby at the Owen Park pier.

Emily Gazzaniga, Mackenzie Shaw, and Sofia Alexander

The annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is an exciting time for students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), their families, and the Island community at large. This year marks the 74th annual Island tradition, where people of all ages compete from Sept. 15 to Oct. 19 to catch the largest bass, bonito, bluefish, and false albacore from the shore and by boat. This season, over 3,000 participants registered, a handful of them being ambitious MVRHS students.

Balancing schoolwork and fishing is an immense time commitment for students who fish in the Derby. Senior Gregory Clark is among the dedicated participants. During Derby season, he gets out on the water every day. His favorite part of the fishing experience is the gratification of hooking a big fish. “[I feel] a mixture of disbelief and happiness at the payoff of all the time and effort that goes into catching that one fish,” he said.

Senior Luke El-Deiry has only missed one day of fishing so far this Derby. He goes out on his family boat both before and after school. “Fishing is very peaceful. I can spend hours just sitting out on the water,” he said.

Sophomore Jake Scott, who has been competing in the Derby since age 10, also spoke to the way fishing in the Derby relieves stress. 

Derby participants compete in designated categories of either Mini Juniors, Juniors, Adults, or Senior, depending on age, and in each category, there’s a chance to be named a Grand Leader by catching the largest fish overall in one of the four fish species categories. Four winners are awarded on the final night of the Derby in both the shore and boat divisions. These finalists are each given a key, and each has the chance to win either a boat or a truck, depending on whether they have the winning key and where they fished from. The Derby also holds team competitions, and has daily and weekly winners for those catching the biggest fish. 

While many students are in it for the competition, freshman Noah Smith participates primarily for the joy of the sport. “I compete in the Derby, but mostly I fish for fun,” he said. “I can take my friends out on the water, and we can all spend time together, catch fish, and have a good time.”

Senior Chesca Potter has been competing in the Derby for as long as she can remember. Her dad introduced her to the sport. Chesca said, “I like [fishing in the Derby] because it’s one of the few activities I have with my dad. I get to spend quality time with him, and also people in the community who I wouldn’t ordinarily hang out with. During the Derby, everyone is really close.”

The Derby was founded as a nonprofit organization 33 years ago, and continues to prioritize giving back to the Island community through scholarships, donations, and fostering family and community time together. 

Current Derby president John Custer took over when former president Ed Jerome passed away unexpectedly last year. “We have seen an increase in Junior anglers and families pursuing the sport over the years,” he said, “which is nice because the Derby likes to promote families fishing together.” 

To Mr. Custer, the scholarship program is one of the most important aspects of the Derby. Scholarships are given out each year to seniors at both the regional high school and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. Last year, the Derby was able to donate $42,500 in total to seven scholarship recipients.

While a number of MVRHS students have certainly benefited from participation in the Derby in previous years, this year they have been less successful in placing in the Derby. 

Some days, only two or three fish are weighed in. “Every year, there are more people fishing and less fish to be caught,” said Luke.

Senior Katherine O’Brien has also noticed a difference. “Throughout the years, there have been less and less fish,” she said. “This year especially, there [seem to be] no fish to be caught.”

Overfishing and climate change have negatively impacted the fish populations on Martha’s Vineyard and around the Cape and Islands, and efforts are being made to combat this issue. Local fishermen and climate groups are meeting, for example, to discuss how to move forward in our sensitive coastal community. 

Despite this impact, the Derby continues to provide an outlet of enjoyment and a sense of community for its teenagers. 

“It’s nice to know that there are kids here who love fishing just as I did when I was growing up [on Martha’s Vineyard],” said Mr. Custer. “The more time kids spend out fishing, [the more] they’ll grow to appreciate what this Island is. They’ll disconnect from technology and engage with the physical beauty of the Island.”