Notes On the 50th Derby

By Nelson Sigelman

Fifty years of fishing stories. The year 1995 marked a half century of Derby tradition and history as more than 2,000 fishermen joined the annual fishing classic. Not everyone caught a fish, let alone a Derby winner. But the Derby has never been solely about fishing. After a poor summer, albies and bonito appeared in Menemsha, along East beach, and between the moorings of Edgartown harbor where fish began busting from the water in time for the first weigh in.

The bonito never really hit the Derby in any great numbers and bluefish were sporadic. But fishermen willing to put in their time like Mike Alwardt and Steve Amaral found the big stripers that winners are made from. And an Edgartown "wharf rat" named Eric Brown proved once again you don't have to get fancy to win the grand prize, just lucky. Of course, not every derby fisherman won a prize. Some never even weighed in a fish. Yet derby fishermen are eternal optimists who always believe in divine intervention as practiced by the angel of "one more cast." Despite the lack of fish in any great numbers, every fisherman cast away knowing that they could be a winner. Winning is measured in different ways by different fishermen. Some make a tally of all their derby prizes. Others count the cash awards. Many fishermen are perfectly content to put another daily pin into their derby hat.

But the real winners are those fishermen who have learned to appreciate a night spent casting under a canopy of stars in an endless black sky or the fun of sharing a laugh with friends on an Island beach. The best prizes are often the ones we can only award to ourselves.