• Nelson Sigelman

Glory Fades Away; Sportsmanship Lasts Forever

Updated: Oct 15

To promote good sportsmanship, Derby leaders asked me to write the following essay for the 2022 Derby souvenir booklet.

Nelson Sigelman holds his winning shore, fly rod striped bass in the 1996 Derby.

Latin scholars and fans of the movie “Patton” will certainly be among the more than three thousand fishermen expected to participate in the 2022 Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. I’m guessing there are more of the latter than the former. But never mind, nearly all will recognize the phrase "Sic transit gloria mundi." Loosely translated, it means “All glory is fleeting."

To put that in the context of the 77th Derby, should you be so fortunate as to ascend the awards platform in the aftermath of the competition, the applause you hear will quickly fade away, and few outside your immediate family will remember or care that you were once a Derby winner.

However, if in the single-minded quest for glory and prizes, you get so carried away that you scream obscenities at others, cast lures with no regard for nearby fishermen, or wield a fishing rod like a lightsaber, people will remember that you were a Derby jerk.

I understand the context. Take a group of fishermen who have existed on a diet of too little sleep and too much sugar, and stand them on a jetty or a dock casting sharp hooks for hours, hoping to hook a fish. Suddenly, a school of false albacore appears in a feeding frenzy.

The more deranged among the assembled fishermen wouldn’t hesitate to send a jig flying past his grandmother’s ear if she stood in the way. Luckily, Island grannys are a spry lot, and there are no recent reports of concussions. But lines get tangled, words are exchanged, and tempers may flare.

Derby leaders report that in tackle shops and on the beaches, they’ve heard about rude and bullying behavior by shore and boat fishermen that, in at least a few instances, have led to police involvement. Concerned that civility seems to be eroding faster than Chappy beaches, Derby officials would like to remind fishermen that for 77 years, community spirit and good sportsmanship have been at the heart of the five-week competition.

“The Derby committee is committed to running a tournament where individuals, where families, can enjoy themselves without feeling intimidated or threatened,” 2022 Derby chairman Phil Horton said.

He added, “It’s about simple respect. Respect each other. It’s fishing. It’s supposed to be relaxing. Try to give other people a chance to enjoy themselves.”

Phil has been fishing the Derby for more than 35 years. He’s a Chappy beach guy and has experienced his share of Wasque-bluefish-blitz-scrums which calls for a certain level of expertise required if you expect to fish shoulder to shoulder without incident. He says it’s important to understand how to get along with other fishermen.

“I look at things and make a judgment. If a place looks too crowded, I find another place to fish even though there are fish there. Generally, I try to avoid situations where there might be hard feelings.”

Arguments over Island fishing spots are not new. Claims to a rock, a beach, or a section of a rip—the Derby has always brought out the territorial imperative. But thirty years ago life was much simpler (or so we thought) because a lot of what went on only made it as far as the local coffee shop. Google Maps, Tweets, Facebook, and TMZ didn’t exist.

A guy who documents what he ate for breakfast on social media is sure to let you know that someone chucked a three-ounce sinker at him when he decided to plant his twin-engine center console in the middle of Cape Poge gut—and leave out the part of how close he was to the fishermen lined up along the shore.

Joe El-Deiry, 2021 Derby chairman, commenting on some of the stories he’s heard, said, “It’s gotten a little out of hand.”

Joe said more than a good day fishing is at stake. “Many people fish the Derby, not because the fishing’s great; they fish the Derby because of all it represents because it's the Derby,” he said. “So if we lose that spirit, then we’re really risking the future of the tournament, and it's important for people to know that the committee takes sportsmanship seriously. But we can't do it alone.”

Under the heading, Committee Rights, the Derby rules hold that the committee “may disqualify” from the Derby—from one day to forever—any person or persons who “act in an unsportsmanlike manner.”

A fisherman who witnesses something serious needs to step up to the plate and file a grievance with the committee. There’s no official form. Describe in detail what occurred and list any witnesses.

I know some fishermen may not want to get involved for fear of repercussions. But we all have to do our part to protect the integrity of the Derby. And the committee does not take action based on anecdotes or complaints whispered about in tackle shops.

The offending party may simply be told to dial it back, or the committee may decide on more formal action. Any threat or actual physical violence is a matter for the police.

The members of the Derby committee are all volunteers. I’ve served on the Derby committee, and I can say that they take disciplinary action very seriously. But the committee is not in the business of sorting out every schoolyard argument. Or, as Joe told me, “We take our responsibility to run a good tournament seriously, but we can’t control idiots.”

The reality is that some people are annoying. But you’re not driving on a jammed expressway or stuck on a subway. You’re on Martha’s Vineyard, and there’s always another fishing spot down the road.

Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy the 2022 Derby:

  • Get there first if you want to fish at the end of a jetty.

  • Avoid fishing on a jetty or wharf if you don’t like people.

  • If a fisherman vacates a spot to land a fish, expect him to want to reclaim it.

  • Don’t crowd a fisherman who is not a family member.

  • In a boat, stay out of the casting distance of shore fishermen.

  • Do not cut off another boat from a breaking school of bonito or albies.

  • If a fisherman hooks up, don’t cast over his or her line.

  • If you screw up, apologize.

  • Be respectful of fish and other fishermen.

  • When fishing becomes more aggravating than reading the newspaper, it’s time to go home.


Nelson Sigelman, a member of the Derby Hall of Fame, is the author of “Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors: Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island,” and “Martha's Vineyard Fish Tales: How to Catch Fish, Rake Clams, and Jig Squid, with Entertaining Tales About the Sometimes Crazy Pursuit of Fish.”


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