Magnum Bluefish Blitz in the Surf at Martha’s Vineyard

Four hours of ferocious surf-feeding bluefish along the shores of Martha’s Vineyard yields big numbers of brawling bluefish in the 13-to-15 pound range, including a derby-leading chopper weighing almost 18 pounds.

Walter and Peter Hess with their fish
The father and son team of Walter and Peter Hess, hammered the choppers from the surf. Courtesy Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby

Peter Hess, 63, has been fishing the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby since 2004, nearly 20 years.

His dad, Walter, age 92, has been fishing the Derby since 1955. That’s a decade after the Martha’s Vineyard Derby started in 1945.

These days the father-son surf fishing duo visit the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard (east of Long Island) two weeks of the year. They time it during autumn when surf fishing is red hot for bluefish, albies (false albacore) and back-in-the-day, striped bass. It’s also the time the Derby is on.

The Hess team was on the beach at dawn Oct. 5, casting heavy jigs during a blustery Nor’easter with the wind blowing to 30 knots.

“The surf was pretty rough, but there was plenty of bait (bunker), but no birds working for some reason,” says Peter, of Quincy, Massachusetts. “Not many other folks were on the beach except dad and me. You’d never have known there was a bluefish blitz going on until you cast a lure into the surf.”

On one of his first casts that morning using a using 2-ounce silver 4.5-inch Hogy Epoxy Jig he hooked a heavy fish using a brand-new 8-foot Century rod with Shimano Stradic 5000 reel holding 20-pound test line.

He used no wire leader, just a short length of 20-pound fluorocarbon, because he was targeting albacore.

The fish took off, and the reel drag hummed, as Peter Hess knew instinctively knew he’d hooked a good bluefish. About 15 minutes later Hess worked the blue near the beach, the line not parting from the notoriously razor-edge teeth of the blues because the long Hogy jig acted like a leader, and its single hook was in the corner of the fish’s mouth.

“The hard part was getting it in through the waves because the surf was up and I was alone,” he says. “But finally, I beached it, and grabbed the line and pulled onto the sand.”

Hess says he’s caught bigger bluefish to 22 pounds in the surf. But none during the Derby weeks at Martha’s Vineyard. His fish officially weighed 17.16-pounds, and currently is the Derby surf fishing leader.

Not to be outfished by his son, Water Hess got in on the blitz of big blues, too, catching several fish in the 13-to-15-pound range.

“The fishing for blues to 15 pounds was incredible that day,” Peter says. “We were in fish that size for four hours. We caught them and caught them. Then got tired, went and ate lunch, and came back and caught them some more.”

The five-week Derby ends Oct. 15, with lots of prizes (including a boat) that will be given to anglers in multiple categories.

And while Peter Hess looks to be solid contention for the bluefish surf category, his 17-pounder isn’t the biggest thus far entered in the event, as the blitz of big blues continues for many anglers.

Page Smith with her fish
Page Smith goes into the weekend in second place. Courtesy Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby

Paige Smith, a Derby Junior Angler in the boater bluefish division landed a 17.71-pound bluefish. And the grand leader going into the weekend final fishing days is Jason Broadley with an 18.88-pound bluefish.

“The fishing can be great, and that’s why we come to Martha’s Vineyard in fall,” says Peter Hess.

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