Oral History Exhibit Explores Vineyard Derby Lore

Martha's Vineyard Museum
Martha’s Vineyard Museum

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has a new exhibit featuring oral-history recordings of some of the best and most memorable fishermen who have participated in the famous the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby over the years.

Full interviews of Vineyarders’ Derby experiences and more can be heard in the Museum Library.

For more information about this exhibit, please contact Nathaniel Janick at 508-627-4441 x115.

Here are some highlights and oral history clips from the exhibit:


Listen to veteran fisherman Janet Messineo talk about the inspiration and challenges of her early days of fishing and of ‘putting in her time’ to be accepted as a Derby fisherman.

An early Derby promoter was John Hughes. Better known for his work at the lobster hatchery, he would travel off-island with other organizers to sporting expos to help promote the event. Listen to his memories of those early days.

Cooper and Lela Gilkes have played a key role in the Kids’ Derby. Listen to them explain the ins and outs of this special day.

“Reading the water” is a skill at which good fishermen are adept. Listen to fisherman Paul Schultz talk of the subtle nuances of the ocean, the wind, and fish behavior that every expert fisherman learns to notice as well as Paul’s thoughts on what makes a good fisherman.

Like most fishermen, Derby Association president and charter fisherman Ed Jerome has his favorite fishing spot. Listen to Ed speak of the beauty of night fishing and the never-ending opportunity for learning that fishing offers.

Marion Morton was the wife of Ben Morton, a founding member of the Derby and its leader in the early days. Listen to Marion’s memories of the Derby Queens and the early days of the tournament.

Kib Bramhall remembers Serge “the Mad Russian” de Somov, one of the more memorable Derby participants. Listen to Kib talking with Bob Post about Serge’s remarkable talent.

In its early days, some of the Derby’s prizes were designed to attract people from off-island, at times to the detriment of local residents. Listen to Ralph Grant tell of one such occasion, when he and an off-Island friend were in neck-and-neck competition.

Frances Young and her sister, Vineyard poet Marion Lineaweaver, were avid anglers. They often went fishing with Island fishermen, including Ralph Grant and his brothers. Listen to their fishing stories.

Bob Boren did not participate in the first Derby, but he could remember hearing about it. The Derby lured him back to the Island where he fished for many years and eventually served on the Derby Committee. Listen to Bob recount the early days of the tournament.

Arnold Spofford was an active and important member of the Derby Committee for 15 years. He is also well known for his lures. Listen to Arnold Spofford tell how he developed one of his more famous models, the Ballistic Missile.

For those like Gus Ben David, fishing isn’t a sport, it’s a family function. Listen to Gus talk about the Ben David dynasty.

Fishing creates memories that can never be forgotten. Sometimes these memories take the shape of a mount on the wall, and other times, they become stories that are told time and again. Listen to Ed Belisle talk about his early fishing years and his favorite fishing stories.

Who caught the fish? The one who hooked it or the one who reeled it in? It is an age-old question that has decided bets and ruined friendships. For Howard Andrews, the question was easily answered. Listen to this story of true sportsmanship.

Fishermen often speak of solitary enjoyment that fishing brings, but it also can bring pleasure to whole families. Listen to Jack Weldon talk about how his family celebrated his son’s Derby victory.

Derby prizes have ranged from the extravagant to the absurd (300 chopsticks anyone?), but regardless of the size of the prize, everyone who has ever won returns home with pride. Listen to Ed Tyra remember a friend’s joy from an unlikely source.

The fish that got away would grow in size. The fish that were caught met Helen Scarborough. For years, she worked at the weigh-station, keeping records by chalkboard and paper. Listen to Helen’s memories of her work as the official record-keeper of the Derby.

Everyone who registers for the Derby gets a button with the year and their number on it. Anglers who enter year after year end up with a lot of buttons. Like many Derby competitors, Alfred Wilde saved his. He created a decorative painting and display of his 30-year collection. Listen to him talk about some of those 30 years he has “gone fishing”.

Bob Post loved to fish so much he wrote a book about it. In 1986 and 1987, he interviewed some of the Vineyard’s most heralded fishermen. Those interviews would be transformed into the much loved Reading the Water. When he passed away, his wife donated the interviews to the museum. A number of those interviews are featured in the exhibit. In 1986, Bob was in contention to win the Derby. Each morning, he diligently recorded the WMVY Sports Report to check to see if he was still in the lead. Coincidentally, he also recorded the announcement of Lee Welch’s record weakfish, a record that still stands today. Listen to this radio recording and drift back in time.

The most critical change that the Derby saw was the Striped Bass Moratorium. Listen to Cooper Gilkes remember how the difficult decision to temporarily remove the Striped Bass from the Competition was made.