Updated 7:30 am, Friday, May 11
Location, location, location. On Saturday, holding prime real estate meant a relatively weed free spot on Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury. Location made all the difference in the 38th annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Kids Trout Derby.
Well before dawn, scores of young fishermen and bleary-eyed adults staked out a spot around the pond in anticipation of catching a winning trout. They faced a hurdle that was not readily apparent in the early morning dark.
The lack of any significant freeze had allowed pond vegetation to survive the winter. As a result, weeds had filled in many areas of the pond that would normally be unobstructed.
Putting bait in a clear hole was a challenge. Landing a fish more so. Hook a fish — haul in a clump of weeds and hopefully a fish.
Even before the kids arrived Saturday, Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown, longtime tournament chairman and ever the surrogate worried parent of every kid who has ever fished in the tournament, was anguishing over what he could do to improve their fishing odds.
If he had his way he would have enlisted a corps of volunteers in the days leading up to the derby to rake the pond clear. But Massachusetts environmental regulations do not allow for that sort of spontaneous citizen action, so Coop hoped for the best.
As it turned out, the fishing was pretty good. Predicted rain did not materialize and the cloudy conditions appeared to spur the trout and pickerel to action.
Twins Alexis and MacKenzie Condon,10, their mom Carlene Gatting and dad Fred Condon and friend Adeline Hayman, 11, all of Edgartown, arrived at the pond well before coffee would begin to drip in most homes on the Island.
Whether it was intentional or just good luck the trio of fishermen picked just the right spot, within easy casting distance of a relatively weed free hole chock full of trout. Asked how many trout they had caught, Mackenzie said she had caught 12. As for the group, she turned to dad and asked, “19 or 20?”
Their nearby trout bucket was full. The big broad tail of a 20.5-inch rainbow trout, the tournament winning fish, protruded out, and attracted the admiring attention of every fisherman who walked past it.
Ten-year-old Gino Chick walked by in a pair of Cabela’s neoprene waders and stopped short, his gaze fixed on the bucket. He walked over and stared at the monster tail.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Not good at all,” Gino said, never looking away from the trout in the bucket. “I haven’t caught any.”
He looked at the girls — his classmates — and looked back at the bucket, then back at the girls and back at the bucket. His expression combined disbelief and shock.
“What time did you come here?” Alexis asked Gino.
“4:30,” Gino said.
“We were here at 4,” Alexis said. The girls began giggling. It was a knowing laugh, rooted in the DNA of womanhood. Ah Gino, I thought, you have so much to learn.
After more than three decades the trout derby has become a multi-generational event. Robert Gatchell of Oak Bluffs had staked out his piece of real estate with his son Kyle, 30, and granddaughter Alison, 6, snug under a blanket on a lawn chair.
With some prodding shy Alison told me what she had caught. “Three. Two sunfish and a catfish and a hot dog,” she told me from behind a juice cup.
Taxidermist and Island fisherman Janet Messineo stopped to say hello. Kyle’s name rung a bell. “I mounted your fish at the kid’s derby,” Janet said. It was a 22.5-inch winning trout caught at Wiggy’s Pond 24 years earlier.
The morning was not without fishing entertainment. An osprey drew gasps with an aerial performance that culminated in a series of pond smashing dives in pursuit of fish. It was a flyover worthy of the Superbowl as the osprey shot around the circumference of the pond, gained height, hovered and then tucked its wings and dove after its quarry.
Each year the club, with the generous support of donors stocks the pond with about 1,000 trout and gather prizes. Trout alone cost about $3,000. Most year’s the club is happy just to cover its costs.
Last year, the club came up $500 short and had to dig into the budget to make up the difference. Not this year. Contemporary Landscapes of Tisbury owners Caleb Nicholson and Jack D’Arcy donated $2,000 to help the club out.
“It’s the biggest donation we ever had,” Cliff Meehan, club treasurer said.
“I know it was tough fishing,” Coop said as he waited for the awards ceremony to begin. “But the kids hung in there and made it fun and did really, really well.”
Parents and kids crowded into a tent where Coop and club president Bob DeLisle handed out prizes and trophies to 11 kids in four categories. They also distributed gift coupons to the Dairy Queen in Edgartown and the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs to every kid. As another generation of young fishermen walked off carrying their trophies, a weary Bob said, “Made it.”
Grand overall winners
Largest trout: Alexis Condon, age 10, 20.5-inch trout
Largest fish: Tayla BenDavid, 6, 19″ pickerel
* Largest fish: Cameron Maciel, 13, 19.25″ pickerel
Ages 3 to 8
1st – Franchesca Carlos, 3, 14.5″ pickerel
2nd – Emmet Athearn, 8, 14″ trout
3rd – Dylan Biggs, 8, 14″ trout
Ages 9 to 11
1st – Peter Brooks, 10, 17.5″ trout
2nd – Haley Lecoq, 9, 16.25″ trout
3rd – Jackson Wojnowski, 9, 15.5″ trout
Ages 12 to 14
1st – Cameron Maciel, 13, 19.25″ pickerel
2nd – Jeremy Mercier, 17.25, 16″ pickerel
3rd – Ryan Uva, 14, 16.75″ pickerel
* After the tournament concluded, Cooper Gilkes and his wife and longtime derby record keeper Lela Gilkes learned there was an error in the record keeping. Cameron’s fish was the largest fish of any species.
Lela, who attempts to keep all the numbers straight while working in a temporary derby office set up in the cab of Coop’s truck, and Coop immediately took steps to right the mistake.
They made arrangements for Cameron to also receive a trophy and bike.