The number of fish is no measure of success

Ralph Norton perched on the end of the jetty, and Ken Berkov went in search of fish they did not find at Mink Meadows. — Photo by Wilson Kerr

The weather was perfect, with light breezy winds and cool. The fishing was slow. Approximately 129 fishermen participated in the 21st Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club striped bass catch and release tournament, but the final tally of fish caught and released was only 123.

But if you prefer, as I do, to take the measure of any fishing tournament by the character of the participants and overall fun they have, then I would call the tournament, held last Saturday night, a great success.

The best fishing provides an escape from stress. The worst fishing tournaments heap it on for participants, organizers, and fish.

Freshwater bass tournaments in particular have become the fishing version of NASCAR, with the production values of a World Wrestling Foundation match and the feel of the Roman Coliseum. Fishermen wearing sponsor logos on every square inch of clothing step onto a stage amid splashy lights and blaring music to thunderous applause and hold up a bass — what’s that all about?

At the catch and release awards ceremony held Sunday morning in the regional high school cafeteria the mood was much more low-key. Of course, that had something to do with the fact that many of the fishermen, and that included me, had fished hard from the 7 pm start time Saturday, to the final bell at 2 am, Sunday.

For those not familiar with the tournament, fishermen fish as teams of any number. The “weigh-in,” which coincides with breakfast, requires that a member of the team who is math-capable turn in a slip with the number of fish caught and released divided by the number of his or her team members.

I am the master of ceremonies. My job is to look at each team’s average number, keep it all straight, and hand out the plaques to the winners — I mess it up every year. But no one cares because the prizes, most of them donated, are with a few exceptions handed out in a random drawing to everyone who joins the tournament and is present at the awards ceremony.

On Saturday, Ed Lepore, Karen Hathaway, and I helped check in fishermen who had preregistered by mail and those who signed up that day. As I looked through the registration sheets I saw numerous instances where a fishermen had noted that he or she would not be able to fish but wanted to join in order to support the tournament.

It was that kind of a group on Sunday morning when I, as master of ceremonies, helped to hand out some very impressive prizes and have a lot of fun at the expense of our prize winners.

The Orvis crew donated a very nice gun case made from the hide of a Cape buffalo. Now where are you going to find a lunch box like that?

Rather than hand it out in the random drawing we decided to hold a “top shot” competition in which one fisherman tried to hit a balloon resting on the hat of his partner with a foam dart pistol. It proved to be challenging for the participants and entertaining for the approximately 100 spectators. Those bass tourneys have nothing on us.

The 21st Catch and Release Results

A total of 129 fishermen registered for the tournament by mail and in person. That number represented a decrease of 27 fishermen from last year.

It is difficult to say exactly what accounts for the decrease, however last year’s weather (rain and northeast winds), and poor fishing (58 fish caught and released) may have led some fishermen to sit out the tournament, in which case they missed glorious weather and so-so fishing.

The awards ceremony included a number of acts of generosity and highlights that reflected the true spirit of the tournament:

* Ralph Norton of Oak Bluffs presented a check for $500 to the Rod and Gun Club kids trout derby.

* Chuck Hogkinson of West Tisbury won the “Pot of Gold” raffle in the amount of $587 and donated the money back to the club for programs that benefit kids that include a Camp Jabberwocky outing and the kids trout derby.

* The tournament committee and fishermen participants recognized those active and reserve military members in the group with a sustained ovation.

* The tournament recognized retired educator Ken Beebe of Vineyard Haven, who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, for his determination to fish and inspirational positive attitude.

* Several individuals won prizes in the random drawing and took a pass, allowing for another name to be drawn at random.

The official catch report total was 123 striped bass. About ten teams caught the majority of those fish. Standings are based on the number of fish divided by the number of fishermen. The results follow:

The official catch report total was 123 striped bass. About ten teams caught the majority of those fish. The results follow:

Roberto Germani Prize (for the most stripers caught and released by a team): 1. Magnificent Seven (Ned Casey, Nelson Sigelman, Jason Zimmer, John Zimmer, Peter Duggan, Brian O’Neil, Chris Newhall), 38 fish; 2. Old School/New School (Janet Messineo, Wilson Kerr), 8 fish; 3. Team Italia (Mike Gagliardi, Steve Baccelli), 6 fish; 3. Slickos (John Piekos, Peter Sliwkowski, Greg Bobbit) 9 fish; 4. Dutch Deal (Ton Kalkman, Rene Sehr), 5 fish.

Arnold Spofford Prize (for the most fish using one fly): 1. Team Norton-Berkov (Ralph Norton, Ken Berkov), 4 fish; 2. Team Last Cast (Ed Tatro, Scott MacCaferri, Jeff Stevens) 2 fish; 3. Shore Liners (Tom Currier, Don Taft, Joe Panetta) 1 fish.

Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Prize (for the largest fish caught and released): Rene Sehr aka “the Dutch guy” (43-inch length, 16-inch girth).

Father’s Day contributions

In an earlier column I invited readers to submit stories and photos about fishing with dad. Not many of you took me up on the invitation. But that’s fine as long as you take time this Sunday to wet a line with dad.

By Joe Serpa

“It’s now or never,” protested my dad as we set off for our final troll. My dad, brother, and I were fishing off of Cape Pogue light during the fishing derby. I had chosen my special Yozuri plug that I hadn’t had much luck on that year…until now. BAM! It hit like a monster.

All I heard was the zipping of the line as it spun off the reel. My dad started reeling the second rod, so it wouldn’t get tangled with the other line. Like a spring, I jumped up and grabbed the rod. I was reeling like crazy, but it fought like a shark.

We didn’t know what it was. “My arms are going to fall off,” I gasped.

“Keep reeling. Don’t stop!” my dad said encouragingly. As the fish lurked closer and closer to the boat, my dad brought up the motor and put it out of gear — This is a big move because you can’t control the boat.

“There it is!” we all yelled. Dad grabbed the net and ran over to where I was standing. As I held on to the rod with all my strength, my dad grabbed the line and netted the 10.44 pound albacore. Shiny and smooth the false albacore flopped on the deck while all of stared with our mouths open.

On the way home, we were so excited. We were screaming about how big my fish was. Later that night, we went and weighed in the fish. People were complementing and staring at my fish. As I went up to weigh it, the guy at the counter whispered, “Hey, kid, nice fish.”

I ended up in third place in the derby. What a great day!

Fishing brings my dad and me closer together. We have fun together. My dad is encouraging, smart, fun, and funny. He is a good fisherman. When we fish the derby, we reel the fish in by ourselves. We don’t chase the fish, we let the fish fight. We let the fish have a fair chance. We have respect for the fish and their population.