Rain, early hour do not dampen trout derby spirit
Many of the soggy kids and adults hunkered down to fish around Duarte's Pond in West Tisbury early Saturday did not look very reflective. Likely few paused to consider that the events of that rainy morning might someday become treasured memories.
What makes the annual Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club kid's trout derby a singular Island event? It is eating a grilled hot dog slathered in ketchup for breakfast, filling a Dixie cup full with plump worms, a wriggling trout or catfish on the end of line, dad or mom unhooking a fish, and sharing a laugh with very muddy friends.
Along with the most dedicated fishermen, the club organizers and volunteers responsible for the 34th annual tournament arrived at the pond located off Lambert's Cove Road in the predawn hours. The rain that pelted the Island Friday night had even stopped.
But after a brief lull the rain picked up where it had left off. It was no morning for fair weather fishermen, but just the type of morning one would expect to find Island fishermen, boys and girls who take their fishing seriously, in their element.
I arrived about 7 am. Standing outside the tent set up to provide shelter for the hot dog grill and measuring table was Brian Athearn and his two sons, Hunter, 6, and Emmett, 4, taking a break from the action.
Nearby, Kyle Peters, 3, was methodically digging through a large plastic crate filled with dirt and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of earth worms. Kyle, a worm-lover according to his dad, was in heaven. "Are you having fun," I asked. Kyle took a brief break from his labors and proudly held up his Dixie cup, filled to the brim with churning worms. "See," he said.
I took shelter in the tent from the increasingly heavy rain. A bedraggled girl walked by me as I entered. "You look pretty wet," I said. Her response was a scowl. I did not take it personally and figured it was a healthy reaction to a transparent conversation-starter comment from an adult stranger rather than her lack of enthusiasm for the hot chocolate and hot dogs.
An osprey hovered in the slate grey sky eyeing a buffet of stocked trout unseen, and in many cases uncaught, by hundreds of youngsters who lacked the winged fisherman's eyesight and vantage point.
Earlier, the bird saw an easy meal when Tom O'Shaughnessy, who was having no luck while his brother Don kept catching fish, finally caught a trout. Tom might have lost his fish but for the timely intervention of a bigger fish hawk named Cooper Gilkes.
Coop, the derby chairman, and his wife, Lela, unofficial co-chairman for the tournament and all of Coop's affairs, were disappointed in the rain but pleased by the turnout of about 150 kids. "It was amazing considering the bad weather," Lela said.
Kids and parents had already staked out fishing spots when Lela and Coop arrived about 4 am. "And its hard to get 'em up for school," said Lela with a knowing laugh.
The Maciel clan and friends, experienced fishermen all, had staked out a prime corner of land near the sluiceway that creates deeper water. A full stringer of trout lay nearby.
Around the pond, mothers and fathers helped their children bait hooks and cast lines with varying degrees of fishing success. They were part of a continuing story that for more than three decades has introduced kids to the fun of fishing and punctuated Island lives.
I recently came across the first issue of The Martha's Vineyard Times, which was published 25 years ago on May 3, 1984. On page 10 of the yellowed issue I found a story, "Trout tourney attracts early season anglers," by Carole Guarante.
The story reported that some 300 youngsters had gathered around Wiggies pond in Oak Bluffs from 6 to 10 am and consumed 500 hot dogs, 14 cases of soda, and 250 ice creams. The story did not name the rod and gun club nutritionist who came up with the menu, but it did include a photo of winners Laura Joannidi, holding the biggest perch, and Harold Lawry [the fourth] holding the biggest trout.
Harold lives in West Tisbury and owns an excavation business, Lawry Bobcat Services. A telephone call caught him a little off guard, but he soon recollected the events of that day.
He always went to the same spot and caught many fish over the years he participated. "I think I still have those trophies up in the attic," he said.
Harold has two sons, ages six and four, Harold [the fifth] and Noah, and looks forward to bringing his sons to the derby.
Harold Lawry [the third] and his wife Amy of West Tisbury laughed at the memory of that day. At one time the couple owned and operated the famed and much-missed Lawry's Seafood Restaurant on Upper Main Street in Edgartown.
Harold said he did not go fishing with his son so he felt obliged to help eat the winning fish for dinner even though he did not like trout. "And I got a bone stuck in my throat," said Harold. "I went to take one bite and the bone stuck right in the back of my throat. It was terrible."
A nephew was called in to do some emergency surgery with a pair of tweezers. In an ironic twist I am sure the trout would have appreciated, Harold said Amy made his nephew tie a line around the tweezers "so he wouldn't drop them down my throat."
Harold, who drives for R.M. Packer, said, "I haven't eaten a trout since."
Greg Joannidi had no difficulty remembering the events of that day. Greg, a popular regional high school social studies teacher, and his wife Clare, a nurturing Tisbury kindergarten teacher whose class my daughter was lucky enough to be in, are both retired.
I told Greg about finding the story and the photo. He laughed and told me his daughter is an interior architect for a national firm and lives in Waltham with her husband and three-year-old son Luke.
Greg looks forward to taking his grandson to the trout derby. He also remembers every detail of the day Laura caught her fish.
"Laura wasn't much of a fisherman and really wasn't all that interested. She threw a cast straight up in the air, over a branch and down into the water. The bait and bobber hit the water, the bobber went under and she had a fish on."
Greg was unsure how strictly the rules applied to parental help so he did not want to touch the rod or the line. He coached Laura how to get it around the branch. Luckily the fish was well hooked.
"She pulled it in and threw it up on the shore and I asked, 'do you want to throw it back, it's not a trout.' She said, 'No, I've never caught anything like that. That's a big fish dad. Why don't we take it home and we'll show it to mom.'"
Greg knew that fish other than trout sometimes qualified for prizes. Catching a fish kindled Laura's fishing enthusiasm. So the job of bring the fish to the measuring table went to her younger sister Carol.
Initially the folks on the measuring table ascribed the winning fish to Carol and not Laura. Luckily a future book and session with Oprah Winfrey was avoided. Greg sorted it all out and Laura won a bicycle, fishing tackle, and a trophy.
She still has the trophy. "It was never forgotten around this house," said Greg.
Trout Derby results
Grand over all winners: Largest trout, Donald O'Shaughnessy (age 8), 17.5-inch trout; Largest fish of any other species, Aurora Austin, age 10, 14.5-inch pickerel.
Ages 4 to 8 category: 1. Elizabeth O'Brien, age 8, 17.12-inch trout; 2. Owen Dibiaso, age 4, 15-inch trout; 3. Emily Maciel, age 4, 14-inch trout.
Ages 9 to 11 category: 1. Paul Mayhew, age 11, 14.50-inch trout; 2. Ethan Mendez, age 9, 14-inch trout; 3. Brandon Steigelman, age 9, 13.50-inch trout.
Ages 12 to 14 category: 1. Hayley Maciel, age 12, 16.5-inch trout; 2. Mark Turner, age 12, 15.5-inch trout; 3. Zoli Clarke, age 12, 13.5-inch trout.
Gabe Shriver and Katie Oliver were the recipients of the Fourth Annual Dr. Lawrence C. Sack Memorial Award, presented each year to an 8-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy or younger by random drawing. The award is in memory of Dr. Lawrence C. Sack, who loved to fish and taught all seven of his grandchildren the fun of fishing.
Hourly lucky fishermen winners: Kayleigh Bollin, Curtis Fournier, Macol Oliviera, Colin Buckley, Zale Narkiewicz, Kyra Whalen, Gabe Bergeron, Kyle Stobie, Dennis Rose.