The mirror-like surface of Duarte’s Pond off Lambert’s Cove Road may have been less than ideal for fishing on Saturday morning, but otherwise the weather couldn’t have been better. Early arrivals at the annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Kids Trout Derby were met with a chill, but the skies were clear, and the temperature climbed steadily as the sun got some traction in the eastern sky. By the time the competition ended at 8:30, layers had been peeled away and some folks mentioned they might head to the beach later in the day, perhaps even to try some saltwater fishing.
“Fishing was slower than usual,” said Cooper Gilkes, who, with his wife, Lela, has overseen the Trout Derby since its inception 38 years ago. He held the weather responsible: it was too nice out. “You need at least a riffle on the surface. Even though they’re hatchery fish, they get skittish. We lost four to osprey the day we stocked the pond.” Not only is the pond stocked by the state every spring, but the Rod and Gun club also chips in with a truckload or two from Blue Stream Hatchery in Barnstable.
In spite of the imperfect conditions, almost all of the 220-plus young anglers caught something, even if was just a catfish or a frog, and absolutely everyone seemed to have a good time trying.
Take, for example, Liam Weiland, aged 10, of Oak Bluffs, who muttered through a smile when he pulled in another clump of gunk from the bottom of the pond, “If this was a seaweed contest, I would have won.” The comment drew a chuckle from his dad, Brian, and a roll of the eyes from his sister, Avalon, 8. Minutes later, Liam had a bite and pulled in a sunfish, which came in not only with Liam’s Powerbait, but also the worm and bobber from another angler’s bait. Hardly a trophy catch, but a definite upgrade over weeds.
On the other side of the pond, near its outlet to Blackwater Brook, buddies Max Suman, 5, and Emmett Athearn, 6, both of West Tisbury, were proud to show off the bucket full of catfish they’d taken. But they also viewed fishing with some perspective, as Max proved when he said to his dad, Barney, “Give me one good reason why I have to fish.” Barney looked stumped.
For Emmett and his dad, Brian, however, fishing was serious business, and they had arrived at Duarte’s at 4:30 to claim a prime spot along the pond’s shore. “I woke him at 4, we had eggs, and came over,” Brian said. For the Athearns, Duarte’s is something of a home pond advantage since they live less than half a mile away.
Wise before his years, Max seemed to understand the importance of luck when the action slowed to a crawl. “I’m gonna look away so the fish will bite,” he said.
Others were less casual, although it was sometimes hard to tell if the intensity came primarily from the parents or the young anglers. For most participants, though, it was simply a sweet, shared experience between generations.
Bradley Carroll, 13, of Chilmark and her dad, Marshall, have made an annual event of the Derby since she was six. Two years ago, they were joined by her brother, Brooks, who not only compromised the father-daughter bonding, but also added insult to injury by landing the largest pickerel. Bradley showed a bit of a scowl as she recalled the incident.
Meanwhile, Bradley was having a frustrating morning of fishing Saturday, made more so by the success of two fishermen not five yards away from her. Wyatt Nicholson, 4, and his dad, Caleb, of Oak Bluffs, were having a banner day. With a green sparkle Powerbait, Wyatt had landed a 13-inch brook trout and five rainbows nearly as big. Though the Carrolls were using the same bait and fishing the identical stretch of shore line, for some reason the fish gravitated to Wyatt’s bait.
Another impressive catch was turned in by Riley Sylvia, 6, of Oak Bluffs, who took four brookies and one rainbow. Fishing with his grandfather, Raymond Sylvia, Riley relied on a yellow Powerbait, which worked exclusively on the species he was targeting. “No catfish, no sunfish — just trout,” Raymond said.
For most of the young fishermen, the anticipation of the tournament is as big a deal as the actual fishing. After all, how often do you get woken in the dark of night, grab a bite, gather up your gear, and head out for a magical place, Duarte’s Pond, with a morning — and a whole season — of fishing ahead of you?
Of course, it takes much more than magic to run this incredibly popular event every year. Cooper Gilkes is the undisputed inspiration and the driving force behind the Derby, but he has help from many quarters. Dozens of volunteers pitch in, and they seem to have as much fun as the participants. And why not? Who doesn’t feel a bit better when they bring a smile to a child’s face?
The Rod and Gun Club, the official host, budgets $4,600 for the Derby each year, president Bob Delisle explained. A big boost in fundraising comes from a group called the Century Club, made up of individuals, organizations, and businesses that donate $100 or more to support the event. And local businesses also chip in with donated food, prizes, and equipment. Chief among them are Wheel Happy, Dotty’s Potties, Tilton Rent-all, Dippin’ Donuts, and of course Coop’s Bait and Tackle.
It takes a lot to pull together an event this big that means so much to so many families across the Island. But to hear Coop tell it, you’d never know it. After acknowledging the donors and recognizing the young anglers and their chaperones, Coop needed only five words to sum it all up: “It’s a lot of fun.”
Grand overall winner
Largest trout: Tony Canha, aged
12, 16″ trout
Largest fish of any other species: Ethan Donovan,12, 20 1/4″ pickerel
Ages 4 to 8
1st – Cabot Thurber, 8, 15 1/2″ pickerel
2nd – Mackenzie Condon, 8, 14 1/2″ trout
3rd – Charlotte Packer, 7, 13 3/8″ trout
Ages 9 to 11
1st – Lacey Dinning, 10, 16 1/4″ pickerel
2nd – Ethan Mayfield, 9, 15 1/4″ trout
3rd – Cameon Maciel, 11, 15 1/4″ pickerel
Ages 12 to 14
1st – Dennis Rose, 14, 18 1/8″ pickerel
2nd – Ryan Uva, 12, 13 7/8″ trout
3rd – Tom O’Shaughnessy. 12, 13 1/4″ trout