Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Sickness In The Beginning...

So as begin to plan my first derby this upcoming fall, i can't help but read about this book, which is on it's way to me very soon...

The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish

In the fall of 2007, I fished all 35 days of the famous striped bass and bluefish derby on Martha's Vineyard, and I tell the story in my new book, "The Big One: An Island, An Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish."

The contest runs 24 hours a day for five weeks every September and October, and about 3,000 people show up to chase striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. They fish from boat or shore, with spinning gear or flyrods, using squid or eels or plugs. Catch the biggest fish and you'll get a shot at a $30,000 truck or boat. But most people are after a bit of island immortality. For derby devotees, winning the derby feels like slipping into the green jacket at the Masters.

I tagged along with many of the tournament's best anglers, and at times I felt like I was a student getting a peek at the answer key: I've fished for two decades but these guys were masters. So what did I discover?

1. The best fishermen are addicts. They're junkies after that next hit. (A number of the anglers I met during the derby were actual recovering alcoholics. Two had turned the competition into a sober New Year's Eve celebration.) One angler put it this way: "The people who are really good fishermen have obsessive-compulsive behaviors right? It’s like we do something and we do it to death."

2. That said, the derby takes run-of-the-mill fishaholics and transforms them into fanatics. More than $250,000 in cash and prizes are at stake, and anybody can win. Anybody. A 12-year-old girl took first-place with a 49-pound striper one year. People have been known to forgo sleep for weeks on end, lie to their friends about where they were fishing, spy on the competition, go out in dangerous weather ... whatever it takes.

3. Some fishermen might take a step past sanity in pursuit of a winning fish. One of the better derby stories I heard involved a guy fishing from a wharf in Edgartown. He hooked into a false albacore, then watched in horror as it wrapped around the propeller of a docked ferry boat. Undeterred, the man jumped aboard and tried in vain to free it. Then he had his buddy grab his snorkeling gear from the car, and he jumped overboard and tried to untangle the line by hand. The fish got away, but the angler left with a tremendous tale.

4. All fishermen are liars. But some fishermen are cheaters. Every fishing tournament deals with guys who stuffed their fish with weights, or caught them ahead of time and saved them for the contest weigh-in, or engaged in some other form of chicanery. These are the scoundrels who give fishing tournaments a bad name. The overwhelming majority of competitors aren't out to cheat, and the derby organizers do their best to crack down on those who do: A decade ago, they tossed out one of the Vineyard's true fishing legends after he was accused of poaching.

5. Truth is stranger than fiction. I actually already knew this, but if I had tried to script a better story for the derby I covered, it wouldn't have topped the tale of Lev Wlodyka. Lev had won the derby five times, but he found himself stuck behind another angler who caught a 56-pound striper in the first week of the derby. So he went out and improbably caught a giant fish of his own. When he brought it down to the weigh station it came in at 57 pounds. That set off a small celebration -- until the derby's filet master cut open its stomach and discovered a pound-and-a-half of lead. Did the champ cheat? Lev had a pretty solid explanation, but you'll have to get the book to find out what happened.

6. At the derby, people are watching. After I broke my old fishing rod and bought a new one, people noticed. "You look like a proper fisherman now," one told me. It's no wonder anglers get secretive to the point of paranoia during the contest: burying their fish, hiding in the dunes, going out in their boats at night with their running lights out.

7. If you're looking for a scene during the derby, check out Menemsha jetty. The guys working the infamous rocks up-island may not always be the friendliest on the island, but they're bound to do something entertaining. Like climb the navigational aid and cast for fish.

8. In September and October on the Vineyard, don't rely on stereotypes when you're trying to figure out who's a fisherman and who's a spectator. That septuagenarian woman? That venture capitalist with the pastel jacket? That little girl in pink? Yep, they're all trying to win the derby.

9. If I ever move to the Vineyard, I'd quickly become a manic fisherman every September. Even for the people who don't have the burning need to win (like me), even for guys who just want to hang out and drink beer and have a good time with their buddies for a couple of weeks, the derby is a grand excuse to fish every free hour of every day. Who knew that finding some camaraderie could be so exhausting?

10. There are plenty of great fishing spots around the Vineyard . But if I share them in any detail, the island fishing crowd will track me down and make me pay.

**Buy "The Big One: An Island, An Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish" at today!

To learn more about David, you can visit his website at:

1 comment:

mikeschmidt said...

going to have to check this one out, sounds like a good one. I can definitely see myself hitting the island to give them a shot at some point as well...