Derby awards ceremony was the answer to a prayer (Part 3)

By Nelson Sigelman

Grandpa's wish

That afternoon the Derby awards came down to eight fishermen on stage, each one wishing his or her dream of winning the grand prize of a new boat or truck would come true.

But first, he or she had to catch the fish that would put them on stage with an opportunity to pick a key. Roger Schaefer came close to throwing his winning fish back. Honest.

Roger grew up in Lexington with neighbors who had a house in Oak Bluffs. So he spent a lot of time on the Vineyard fishing with his pal Adam Darack, now of Edgartown.

Roger was a builder and developer in Colorado. Life and business was very, very good. "I had started five businesses in 15 years,"Roger told me. "I was doing well and I risked everything on my most recent development."

The economy sank like lead. Roger, 35, lost everything %u2014 his house, life savings, all his assets %u2014 trying to hold on to his business in what he described as the worst two years of his life. But he never lost what mattered most, his family.

"We have a one and a three-year-old child and we had lost every dime we had," he said. He and his wife Dana moved into his parent's house in Falmouth and began trying to put their lives back together.

Coincidentally, the Darack's, his old neighbors who had provided his introduction to the Vineyard and the Derby, wanted to put an addition on their house and hired Roger. He was grateful to have work.

The job began on October 1. Rather than commute, he slept on the job site and he fished. A third place daily bass ignited the fire.

"As soon as I got the fever going again, I was fanatical," he said.

When he hooked his bluefish he thought it was a bass. He was disappointed to see it was not and considered throwing back what he thought was about a 9-pound fish.

He walked into the weigh station the next day feeling a little bashful about his catch. "That's a nice fish," someone said. "Yeah, but I wish it had stripes," Roger said.

He did not pay attention when the fish went on the scale. He was talking to the weigh station women. "I was definitely the last person in the room to realize I had become the leader," Roger said. "And when I found that out, I was running down the dock and jumping around because I never really thought I'd see my name on that grand leader chalkboard."

Roger could not wait to share the news with his grandfather Roger Gentilhomme of Falmouth. The two are very close, and after years of success that had made his grandfather so proud he said it was hard not to feel like he'd let him down.

On Sunday, Roger stood on stage. A section of the badly frayed mono leader he used to catch his fish was in his pocket for good luck. But he had all the support he needed.

As Roger stood on stage holding his two children I leaned over and asked his grandfather what he thought.

"I knew he'd win," his grandfather said beaming. "I've been praying hard for him."

Sunday night Roger drove his grandfather home to Falmouth. "When I dropped him off at his house he said to me that was one of the best days of his life. I was glad to have made him proud again."

- Nelson Sigelman is the longtime fishing columnist and managing editor of The Martha's Vineyard Times ( Reprinted with permission of The Times.