Kids Day provides a glimpse of what a fishing pier might hold

The fishermen caught fish and a beautiful dawn was the bonus. — Photo by Susan Safford

The opening scene from the Andy Griffith Show, the classic 1960s television sitcom built around small-town American values, shows Andy and Opie holding fishing poles and walking down a dirt road.

Imagine instead that Opie was clutching a Game Boy and Andy was talking on a cell phone. Or that the neighbors objected to the single dad and his son going to the local pond because they were worried about noise and trash.

No, not in Mayberry. And I doubt that if the citizens of Mayberry wanted to build a fishing pier they would have gone to the Mayberry Commission.

I was thinking of that sitcom, a tribute to a simpler time, while returning from the annual Derby Kid’s Day. On a clear blue-sky Sunday morning, several hundred excited kids fished from the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority (SSA) terminal pier under the watchful eyes of their moms and dads.

The picture perfect day provided a glimpse of what a proposed fishing pier just to the north of the Steamship pier could offer: An easily accessed platform where fishermen of all ages get to wet a line.

The kids caught scup, sea bass, and bluefish and even had a shot at some bonito. In years past they have caught fluke, sea robins, and striped bass.

The Derby provided fishing rods for any kid who needed one. Cooper Gilkes, longtime event chairman, donated the fresh bait. Mad Martha’s, the Island ice cream company, gave each kid who attended a free tee-shirt and a gift card for a free ice-cream cone.

Under normal circumstances the pier is closed to fishing. But one day a year, from 6 am to 8 am and before the first boat arrives, the SSA generously opens the pier to the kids.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs terminal. The original idea was to incorporate a fishing platform into the pier. That plan disappeared after 9/11, due to security concerns, but not the idea.

For several years, a group of fishermen led by David Nash of Edgartown has been quietly pressing for a fishing pier. And their persistence paid off.

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s office of fishing and boating access is prepared to construct a public fishing pier off Sea View Avenue extension. The proposed L-shaped pier would be 16 feet wide and 317 feet long and provide access for wheelchairs.

The fishing pier would fit neatly into an overall plan for Sea View Avenue extension that includes replacement of the crumbling seawall and the construction of a boardwalk with seating that would provide an attractive pedestrian route between the SSA and the harbor.

What’s not to like? Well, to hear the neighbors and even some selectmen, it is not a good location: The fishing is poor and the noise and additional traffic a fishing pier would generate would be detrimental. There is a push to move the pier to the south side of the terminal (read the various letters for and against the project at

Amid kids clutching fishing rods Sunday, John Custer, Tisbury School vice principal and former Derby chairman, said he hoped that some of those who objected to the proposed pier were watching.

“I certainly hope that it encourages those who may be undecided and sways them,” John said. “When you put a fishing rod in a kid’s hands, it minimizes a lot of other problems.”

Ed Jerome, longtime Derby president and former Edgartown School principal, knows the value of introducing kids to fishing. Many of his former students now bring their own kids to the event.

“Anybody who has any misgivings about the value of a fishing pier should be here with us right now, with 300 children and their parents, and see the joy and excitement on their faces as they are catching these fish,” Ed said. “Fishing is not like any other sport. You can do this the rest of your life, and we’re setting a great foundation. I think the community should do that on a permanent basis.”

He added, “We’re very grateful to the Steamship Authority. This is the 27th year we’ve done this.”

Unfortunately, the lesson was likely lost on those the fishermen most wanted to convince. The Derby invited members of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen and the MVC to kid’s day, but as far as anyone knew Sunday, no members attended.

The MVC has yet to take up the project. There is no telling how the commissioners will fillet this project or how the state would react should the MVC ask for wholesale changes.

I suppose that at a certain point Jack Sheppard, the longtime director of fishing and boating access, might decide that there are a lot of other communities in Massachusetts where he could build a fishing pier for less money and with less aggravation.

The MVC’s land use planning committee will take the question of the pier up at 5:30 pm Monday. That is the preliminary round. The real deal is the public hearing at 7 pm, Thursday, October 7. Fishermen of all ages who have an interest in the proposed pier are encouraged to attend.

Kids Day Derby Results

Grand overall: Jeremy Mercier, 12, 19.5-inch bluefish.

Through 8 years old: 1. Tayla Ben David, 18-inch bluefish; 2. Dylan Biggs, 17.5-inch sea bass; 3. Peter Glass, 16-inch sea bass.

9-11 years old: 1. Curtis Fournier, 18.75-bluefish; 2. Cabot Thurber, 15-inch sea bass; 3. Lachlan Cormie, 14.75-inch sea bass.

12-14 years old: 1. Cameron Maciel, 18-inch bluefish; 2. Ethan Mendez, 16.25-inch sea bass; 3. Lila Sullivan, 15.75-inch sea bass.

Win a stocked tackle bag

A few weeks ago Eben Elias of West Tisbury stopped into The Times and handed me a West Marine tackle bag stocked with tackle. Eben found the bag in Menemsha and wanted to put it back in the hands of the owner.

I was optimistic. Generally speaking, when someone loses gear he or she stops into a local tackle shop or police station, they contact me or read the paper, and the gear gets returned to the happy fisherman.

But, in this case, I heard nothing. I called around but there were no reports of lost tackle bags. I was surprised because, believe me, this is not one of those stained bags that contains a tangled nest of beat-up plugs and rusty hooks that might be considered better lost.

It is pristine, which leads me to believe it does not belong to an Island fisherman but was left by an Island visitor.

The bag contains plastic trays of neatly arranged tackle. There is not a speck of rust on the hooks. The side pockets contain unopened bags of soft baits. I’d estimate the whole package is worth more than $300.

On Monday, I called Eben and said that despite my best efforts I had not located the owner of the bag. I said I thought it now belonged to him. And you know what Eben said: He said he’d like to give it away.

Eben is a fisherman and would have made good use of the gear; he just thought it was the right thing to do, which says a lot about him. We talked about fishing and what it is like to lose gear, or worse, to have it stolen.

Eben said he had been trusting in the past, perhaps too trusting, and had gear stolen from his truck. He said it had happened on the job site too, tools that he needed for his livelihood taken by someone without a shred of decency.

He equated both with the same sense of violation. He said, “If you can’t work, you can’t eat,” then thought about the notion that although most of us do not depend on fishing for our livelihood we draw just as much sustenance from being on the shoreline and added “but if you can’t fish, you can’t live.”

So here is the deal. Think of someone you know who could really use or deserves a new fully stocked tackle bag and mention something about the person. Get the person’s name and contact information to me (email, scrap of paper dropped off, letter to PO 518, Vineyard Haven, 02568).

I will pick the winner of the bag at random on Monday October 18 one day after the Derby awards ceremony and announce it in my last fishing column of the season.