Notes On the 49th Derby

By Nelson Sigelman

The derby ended just in time to save my marriage. I knew that when I came home and found my wife had started a list that read: The Top Ten Reasons Why I Hate the Derby. The first read: "My husband becomes even more of a selfish, insensitive monster than usual ..." It was obvious my fishing habits had taken their toll on even my wife's apparently unlimited patience.

And how could I argue? I would return home from fishing exhausted and, like the victim of some rare tropical fever speaking in a delirium, I would babble about where the fish were, where they might be, and when they might be there before dropping into sleep. I was a victim of a uniquely Vineyard disease, called "derby madness." Its symptoms appear each year as September gives way to October and it casts its spell over even the most casual of fishermen.

Early symptoms include: the voluntary cleaning and arranging of all fishing rods, lures, reels and paraphanilia that has been one massive entangled mess all summer; an unsolicited invitation from one's spouse to go out for dinner (a sure sign of ulterior motives); and a return from the local tackle shop carrying unmarked brown bags.

As the derby proceeds and the symptoms become all too apparent it is important to recognize some of the advanced stages of derby madness in those you care about. Otherwise you may feel that someone you care about is exhibiting signs of a truly disturbed personality. And actually they are. But it tends to end at the last ring of the weigh station bell unless they've always been like that. Every year you tell yourself that this derby will be different and every year it's the same.

As I have for many years, I take the last week of the derby off from work so I can concentrate on fishing. It is a tradition grounded in the reality that in the final weeks of the derby I throw off any pretense of thinking about anything else but fish. This focus may be hard for some to understand, but there is something intoxicating in a single-minded pursuit even when it concerns fish and, as the last weigh-in draws closer, every angler believes they is only one cast away from a derby winner.