The 67th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby is underway and this past Sunday, one of the derby’s highlights, The Saltwater Challenge, began. The 4th Annual American Heroes Saltwater Challenge hosts ten wounded warriors (and their loved ones) this year, who are here for a week of fishing and Island hospitality. The vets come from as far away as California and Iowa and will spend a week fishing and enjoying the Island thanks to the Derby and the family of Sarah and Bob Nixon, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn, and Home Port Restaurants in Chilmark
After a true heroes welcome on Sunday afternoon at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the vets made quick work of getting out there to fish. At 7 am on Monday morning, the group left from Squid Row aboard the boats of renowned boat captains Scott McDowell, Jennifer Clarke, Jonathan Boyd, Charlie Finnerty and Tom Langman.
Without question, their first day out was a success. Simone Washington caught the first fish of the day, and her first fish ever, a 10.37 lb blue, aboard the Mary Sea. Colton Wiley saw the ocean for the first time in his life and reeled in his first saltwater fish ever aboard the Lauren C - a 10.64 lb blue. His partner in crime Dylan Waugh, also on Capt. Scott McDowell's boat, pulled in a 3.75 lb bluefish. Legendary Lev Wlodyka put Ben Harrow onto a fish in every category. Chester Jenkins (escort) reeled in a 3.91 Bonito and a 10.82 blue aboard the Phoenix II. The Femme Fatale got into the albies and Mante Bernardo brought in an 8 pounder while his boat mate CJ (Christopher Cappetta) reeled in a 7.5 pounder. But Leslie, Nathan Rimpf's girlfriend, is in the lead for blues bringing in a 13.89 pounder aboard the Tomahawk and taking 2nd Place Boat Bluefish Daily.
The consensus of the group at the end of the day was that they were ready to get out there bright and early the next morning.
The American Heroes Saltwater Challenge is the brainchild of the Nixon’s youngest son, Jack, who came up with the idea when he was just seven years old. The story goes that Jack saw a newspaper photo essay about veterans recently home from Iraq and Afghanistan and told his father he wished the veterans could fish the Derby. “I think what he was thinking was, ‘There’s nothing like catching a fish, or the feeling you get when everybody says hi to you at Squid Row. I feel so good here, maybe these vets can feel good here too,” explained Jack’s mother, Sarah Nixon. Jack’s parents, recognizing a good idea when they saw one, put plans into action. Three weeks later, some six veterans were fishing in the Derby and four years later, this wonderful Island tradition continues.
Anyone interested in meeting these real American Heroes and thanking them for their service can come down to the Evening Weigh-In every night this week around 8:30 pm.