Down to the Wire in the 52nd Derby (Part 2)

By Nelson Sigelman

Like all of the best fishermen, Stan, a burly commercial fisherman and landscaper, had begun his derby preparations months earlier, catching small, fresh mackerel wherever he found them. Sometimes he would only find a few, but they all went into the freezer until he had 150 ready for the derby. By Thursday he was down to his last mack. "I gave it a kiss, saluted him, and cast it out," said Stan. The mack obviously returned Stan's affections.

Stan explained his success by saying he was in the right spot at the right time. Good fishermen have a way of doing that with some frequency. Despite the obvious rivalry, and close quarters when 18 competitive fishermen are all standing on one jetty rock, Stan - referring to his frequent companions on the end of the jetty, like Mark and Andre, and the general tone of the derby - said, "I love those guys. They're great to fish with and it's all around fun." But Stan came close to losing the fish that would put him at the end of the grand leader line for the awards ceremony. On the way to the weigh station, the cooler, with the winning fish inside, fell off his truck and bounced along the road. Stan's reaction as he glanced into his rearview mirror can only be imagined.

The day of the awards ceremony, the Atlantic Connection on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs was crowded with fishermen and family members. One by one fishermen went up on stage to receive their awards, and the often substantial prizes that went with them. Parents beamed as boys and girls, some still wearing their derby hats, took their awards. But the drama of the derby, the days of fishing, all culminated in that moment when, after all had picked numbers at random for their place in line and chosen a key, one by one they stepped forward and put the key in the lock. Ed Jerome held it up to a microphone, and tried to turn the key. There were encouraging cheers as Joe Canha, first in line, stepped forward, then it was quiet. Ed tried the lock. A loud "ohhh" spread through the room as the tumblers failed to budge. Next was Andre, then Dick, and after him Phil as the excitement grew, and one by one the remaining grand leaders, registering excitement to shock, tried the lock.

Then there were two.

Only Kenny Abbot and Stan Popowitz were left holding untried keys. When Kenny's key wouldn't turn, the winner was clear, and Stan Popowitz thrust his fists into the air. "Thank you all very much," said Stan into the microphone. "I've been fishing the derby 20 years, and this is the best derby I ever had." The 52nd annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby was over, leaving fishing stories and memories in its wake, stories and memories that will only add to the legacy of one of the Island's most enduring traditions.