Steve Morris Found Himself Back in the Derby Winner's Circle

By Nelson Sigelman

In 1983, Steve Morris, then 20 years old, caught the heaviest striped bass in the 38th annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. His fish weighed 49.98 pounds and he caught it from a boat on an eel. Seventeen years later, Steve, the owner of Dick's Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs, was the striped bass leader in the shore division of the 55th Derby, with a 41.78-pound fish taken on an eel. For many years, the fisherman who caught the largest striped bass won the Derby - period. That changed in 1985 when bass were removed in a show of support for conservation efforts. Steve, Derby chairman from 1996 to 1999, held the title of past Derby chairman in 2000. It was no honorary position. A member of the executive committee, he assisted Walter Morrison, 55th Derby chairman, and was one of the active volunteers responsible for ensuring a smooth tournament. With almost 3,000 registrants, last year's tournament was quite different from what it was when Steve last walked into the winner's circle. In 1983, approximately 1,000 fishermen fished the Derby. As a kid, Steve helped his grandfather, Dick, run his small tackle shop next to the house. In an interview only five days before the end of the 55th tournament, still unsure if his fish would hold, Steve talked about fishing and the Derby.

Did you ever think you would take over your grandfather's tackle shop?
Well, being a kid, that's what I always wanted to do, but I never thought I would take it over the way I did.

What's the hardest part about running a tackle shop?
The time. During the Derby about the only time you can fish is at night.

What's the difference between catching a big bass from a boat and the shore?
It's a lot easier on a boat. The biggest thing, when you're fishing in a boat, you're trying to get an eel as close as you possibly could to shore. Then fishing from the shore, you're wading out to your neck trying to get the eel out as far as you possibly can. (Steve says the night before he caught his fish he spooked fish while wading out. The morning he caught his fish he was standing on the shore and hooking fish in the water where he had been standing the night earlier.)

Are the fish a lot closer than most people think?
Most definitely.

What does it take to catch a big striped bass in the surf?
You've just got to have patience, and you've got to be willing to put in the time. We got beat up, because, you know, you're wading out and you're in the rocks and the waves and the surf, just a lot of perseverance, you've got to really want it. (In three nights of good fishing, Steve said he released fish in the 30-pound range. His big fish came on the first cast of the night. Allowed only one fish per day, Steve says he was willing to take the risk that he would not catch a bigger fish later.) It's a crap shoot, but if I had caught a bigger one it would have been swimming away. Some people might have a little bit tougher time making that decision but it's very easy for me, it would swim away.