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Old 10-23-2004, 03:24 AM
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Default Wharf Rat Lands Grand Prize in 59th Annual Fishing Derby

Wharf Rat Lands Grand Prize in 59th Annual Fishing Derby

By MAX HART Originally published in The Vineyard Gazette
edition of Friday, October 22nd 2004

In the end, it was a 12.48-pound false albacore hooked in the shallows off Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, and a 10.13-pound bonito snagged in 60-foot seas off Noman's Land that proved to be the grandest catches of all as the 59th Annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby came to a close on Sunday.
Robert W. Thomas and Tom Langman walked off the stage at the Atlantic Connection in Oak Bluffs the big winners after their keys popped open the locks to the two grand prizes: a 19-foot Boston Whaler and a Chevrolet Silverado 4x4 truck. Mr. Langman won the truck with his bonito and Mr. Thomas won the boat with his albacore.
Dozens of awards and prizes totaling thousands of dollars were also handed out for various categories at the awards ceremony.
There were awards for junior and senior anglers, for individual accomplishments and family catches. Fishermen from eight to 87 took the stage.
Ashleigh L. Plante, 9, walked away with the Wayne Jackson Memorial Award for the heaviest fish caught by a junior, a 39.08-pound striped bass. Fishermen of all ages were audibly impressed. "That's a nice fish," mumbled more than a few members of the audience.
Lev Wlodyka and Jack Livingston won the boat and shore Grand Slam - the highest total weight in all four fish categories. Mr. Wlodyka finished with a 76.98 cumulative score in the boat category while Mr. Livingston weighed in with 48.50.
Mr. Wlodyka still holds the record for the highest grand slam score with 81 points. "I started fishing too early this year," he said with a smile. "Next year's the year."
Derby weigh master Bill Jurczyk said while the grand leaders are the ones who get a shot at the big prizes, winning the grand slam "is like winning the green jacket at the Masters. It's a symbol of respect among the fisherman."
But as usual in this tournament, people were most anxious to see the awarding of the grand prizes. Two out of eight grand leaders walk away with the keys to the boat and truck in hand, and this year it was, as always, a nerve-wracking moment.
Each of the four grand leaders - the fishermen who caught the biggest bluefish, bonito, false albacore and striped bass during the tournament, from both the boat and shore categories - chose randomly the order in which they would select a key from out of a hat. After establishing the order, all eight contenders picked their keys, and then waited for their turn at a lock.
Only one key in both foursomes opened the lock. The gang of four boat leaders in contention for the truck tried their luck first, and it was Mr. Langman, who chose second and popped the lock.
"My friends told me I wanted to be second or third in line, so I was delighted when I picked second," Mr. Langman said afterwards. "I didn't expect to win, but I got lucky. People always say ?Good Luck' when you go out fishing, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you end up winning a truck."
Mr. Langman, a seasonal resident of Menemsha, said he was originally trolling for large bluefish south of Noman's Land with Ben McCormick when he caught the bonito on a Missouri plug.
"Winning this, it's a once in a lifetime experience," he said.
After Mr. Langman's brief celebration, Betsy Miraglia (8.75-pound bonito) strolled over to derby president Ed Jerome for the first shot at the Boston Whaler, but her key failed to open the lock. Keith McArt (42.26-pound bass) was next, but he, too, was unsuccessful. That left an incredulous Daniel Benedetto (15.40-pound bluefish) and a giddy Mr. Thomas for the top prize.
Mr. Benedetto was next in line, and his anxiety was evident. With the crowd yelling "fifty-fifty", Mr. Benedetto stepped forward. When his key failed to click open the lock, the crowd erupted into applause for Mr. Thomas, who raised his arms more in disbelief than in victory.
Chants of "Bobby" echoed throughout the club.
"I couldn't believe it," he said afterwards. "I spend year after year fishing that wharf, and to win with a fish I caught on the first day [of the derby] is just unbelievable to me. It's something. Good karma, I guess."
His false albacore, weighed in at 8:01 am on Sept. 12, was caught on a rod he borrowed from a friend at the one spot he always fishes.
"I am always down there, that's why they call me a wharf rat," Mr. Thomas joked later as he stood next to his new boat. "I'm just still in shock."
Mr. McArt, who was fishing in his sixth derby, was only a little disappointed he didn't win the Whaler. For him, the satisfaction came in just being on stage.
"It was very warm up on stage," he joked afterwards, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. "But it was something I have always dreamed about. Of course you want to win it, but for me, it was more about being part of the history of this tournament."
Mr. McArt was also in the running for the shore grand slam, but never found a bonito to put him in contention. He could only laugh when recalling how close he came.
"I was standing next to Betsy [Miraglia] when she caught the winning bonito," he said, laughing. "We were on the jetty off Beach Road in Oak Bluffs. I had been fishing for awhile with nothing biting, and when I decided to take a break and sit down and eat something, she hooks this big bonito. Right next to me."
He smiled and shook his head.
"Oh well, what can you do?"
Fish tales of the like were abundant on Sunday, and as the Atlantic Connection emptied out on to Circuit avenue and another derby came to an end, Burt Horrow was eager to spin his own yarn. He went to accept the Howie Leonard Award for largest boat false albacore caught by a senior for his friend, Harold Gordon, who was in France. As Mr. Horrow waited for his wife to pick him up, he clutched his friend's award and joked that he should have won this prize.
"I was the fishing guru," Mr. Horrow said, laughing. "I taught Harold everything he knows about fishing. But he won this, so now, I guess I have become the student."
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