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Day at the Derby: Big Fish, Big Fun

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to compete in a fishing derby? Here's what it’s like to compete for the biggest fish during a weekend cruising around the North Atlantic Ocean.

By: Jessica Cho + Save to a List

I’m not a fishing expert. Each time out with a rod and reel is a chance for me to learn new skills and techniques on the water. My experience at a fishing derby this weekend has given me insight and respect for anglers and what it takes to be a saltwater master.

What is a Derby?

The term "derby" means tournament. A fishing derby is an organized competition among anglers. Typically, there are several “events” or categories of competition. This weekend, the categories included heaviest blue fish, albacore, or bonito. There are different leaderboards for those who fish on boats and on shore, and there are separate divisions for all tackle and fly rod use.

If you get lucky and catch all three species in one day, you could be a "triple crown leader." For example, catching a bluefish, bonito, and albacore within a day's work would put you on the leaderboard. Typically, there are opportunities for daily and grand prizes too. These range from modest sums of money, fishing equipment, gift certificates, merchandise, and plaques, to a brand new fishing boat to call your own! The derby I attended lasts for about a month, so you have multiple shots to win big.

The Early Bird Gets the Fish

Like other athletes who have early wake up calls, anglers often need to get up at the crack of dawn. Why? Fishing depends on more than just skill. Anglers must factor in the tides, time of day, and feeding patterns of the species of fish you want to catch. That means resisting the urge to hit snooze and instead, pouring yourself a cup of coffee to jumpstart the day in the chilly darkness of dawn. The aroma of freshly brewed hot coffee was a big help in getting me out the door.

Dressing for the Occasion

There may be no set uniform for anglers, but when you’re in the Northeast, even when fall has just begun, it’s important to remember that being out on the water can be colder than on land. You’ll most likely encounter some wind, especially if you're on a boat. 

Dress in layers to avoid feeling uncomfortable and having to head in early! Even on the sunniest day over the weekend with a high of 70 degrees, I wore leggings underneath a pair of sweatpants with a sweatshirt and windbreaker on top. Staying warm will enhance your experience- especially when the wind is whistling all around you!

Adrenaline Buzz

One of my favorite aspects of fishing is the fact that you truly never know what you’re going to get. You can feel the hope and excitement build in the air when the line screeches and you know you’ve hooked a fish. But until you reel it in or watch as it jumps out of the water, there’s a sense of mystery that can really raise your heart rate!

Family, Friends, Community

Everyone connects with fishing differently, but for me, it's so much more than reeling in the biggest fish. It’s nice to be rewarded with a huge catch, but I love that when I’m out on the water I’m with my family and friends. It’s a peaceful and exciting time to rekindle friendships with people you haven’t seen in a while. 

There’s an immediate sense of community when you look around and see others enjoying the same thing as you. We bond over the natural beauty of the land and sea. Looking out onto the shore and seeing anglers lined up along the beach put a smile on my face because I knew that they too could experience the beauty of the natural world and the excitement of reeling in a fish.

Patience and Connecting with Nature

There's no guarantee you'll catch a fish. You can do all the right things, but ultimately, the fish will only bite only when they want. Fishing requires patience, but practicing peace and gratitude while waiting can transform your mindset and mood. Waiting requires a stillness that can sometimes feel like everyone is holding their breath, but there is a great deal of beauty in being quiet and connecting with nature.

Win Some, Lose Some

More times than I can count, we’ve had big bites and heard the squealing of line being pulled further out to sea only to start reeling and have the fish spit out the lure. In some instances, we’ve even had fish bite off the entire lure, leaving us with a loose line with nothing on the end. It's disappointing, but it’s all part of the experience and will only make you more appreciative when you are able to land a fish and maneuver it on board.

Fight on

When you’ve got a big fish on the line, it might take some time to reel it in. Be patient, take your time. Yes, your arm will probably start burning, but hang in there. Don’t give up!

Catch and Release

Be aware that there are environmental regulations set in place for a reason. Restrictions like limits on what type and how many fish you can keep play an important role in the health of our marine ecosystems.

No matter when you fish, certain species will be out of season or too small to keep. Throw them back in the water so they can continue to grow and increase the population. 

It’s always exciting to catch something, but it's important to be respectful to our ocean species. Following conservation rules helps stabilize the food chain for future fishing adventures.


So you’ve landed a big fish and the whole crew is pumped! It's time to to go to the designated headquarters and officially weigh your catch. This is a great opportunity to see others in line waiting to weigh their fish. Remember, this is a competition! You’re hoping the scale will read a big number so you can add your name to the leaderboard!

Reflecting and Making New Plans

The end of the day is the perfect time to sit down to a warm home cooked meal and rest your tired muscles. As you think about the day at the derby, what went really well? What didn’t? What’s the game plan for tomorrow? 

Maybe you need to add layers to stay warmer, or switch bait to see if you catch more fish. Making small changes can help you stay comfortable and increase your catch! Don't take everything too seriously, but it's fun to get hyped for what tomorrow may bring.

Feeling Accomplished

Win or lose, you did it. You went out there and made the most of it. You connected with nature, respected the sea, and bonded with friends. You shared conversation and meals on the water, sat in serene quiet, and hopefully even jumped for joy in pure excitement. There's magic out on the water. You can find it too.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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