Young fishermen pass the torch in kids trout derby

William Nicholson holds his winning 19-inch trout from the 2013 derby. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Social scientists and essayists have opinions about how to build strong, safe communities. Trout and worms may not figure in any of the popular literature on the subject, but the annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Kids Trout Derby held Saturday at Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury provided plenty of evidence that fishing should.

Almost four decades old, the annual trout derby has provided a lifetime of enduring memories. For longtime volunteers, every year, the kids who seemed so little get a bit older, and the faces of a new generation begin to appear around the pond.

Adam Moore arrived about sunrise at the pond with two of his four children, Ingrid, 9, and Robert James “Huck,” 6, but had little luck. As is generally the case at the kids trout derby, the quality of the fishing had little influence on the quality of the experience.

“Well, we had fun,” Adam said as they prepared to leave the pond just before 8 am. “We ate hot dogs at 6:30 in the morning. This is the only day we do that.”

Some trout like worms and some prefer power bait. Kids are a little like fish.

Chris Reardon was shepherding his friend’s daughter, Tatum, 7, around the pond. Her account of the fishing that morning was emphatic: “I saw completely nothing,” she said.

Asked if she had enjoyed a hot dog, she was just as emphatic: “Doritos,” she said. “I’m not a big fan of hot dogs.”

Tatum still has time to develop an appreciation for the annual tradition of an early morning hot dog. For many parents, the odor of a grilled dog carried on the early morning mist is a trout derby tradition.

Just as important for many families, is the spot — not just any spot, but the spot that is their spot.

Bill and Kris O’Brien, and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine, had arrived in the early morning hours and set up in front of a bench not far from the tent headquarters. Over the years, the daughters have pulled a fair amount of fish out of the pond and have the trophies to prove it. Not that morning.

“Not a bite,” said Bill when asked about the fishing. Asked why, he gave as honest an answer as a fisherman will give. “I wouldn’t know,” Bill said. “I’ve been here so long, I wouldn’t know.”

Jonathan Burke, fishing nearby with his son, had no better luck. “We were here last year and caught eight fish,” Jonathan said

Janet Packer, who had arrived just as early at the pond with her husband, John, and kids, walked over to see how her friends the O’Briens were doing. She provided her own distinct take on the parent experience. “It feels like I’ve been her since last year,” Janet said.

The fact that the fishing was slow had little relation to the number of fish in the pond. On Thursday and again on Friday the rod and gun club had arranged with a private hatchery to stock the pond with more than 1,000 trout.

The cost of which was defrayed with a $2,000 contribution by Caleb Nicholson and Jack Darcy, co-owners of Contemporary Landscapes, one of many generous derby supporters.

“We’ve got a lot of fish in here and it’s not paying off,” Cooper “Coop” Gilkes, longtime kids derby chairman, said, as he surveyed the kids and adults ringing the pond. Coop had theories but no clear answers as to why the trout were not feeding. A cold front and drop in temperature Friday night might have affected the fish, he thought.

Irrespective, adults and kids were treated to a quality outdoor experience not found on the Internet or YouTube. The earliest arrivals witnessed a bright meteorite smash into the Earth’s atmosphere, part of a meteor shower caused by the debris trail of Halley’s Comet.

“It was huge,” Donald O’Shaunessy said. He and his fishing pal, Brendan Morris, had arrived at pond-side about 1:30 am. Their early morning arrival likely added to their serious fishing demeanor. Seeing a trout lying next to a box of cereal, I asked the obvious question: “Did you catch him on cereal?” I asked.

Without cracking a smile, Donald answered, “No, power bait.”

The boys woke up early in order to claim a spot that had been good to them in the past. “Last year, we didn’t get it and the person here won,” Brendan said. “This year it’s not paying off.”

Once the sun rose, a nearby flock of geese added to the general clamor of excited kids. Ospreys demonstrated aerial acrobatics.

For longtime trout derby fishermen Cameron Maciel and Brahmin Thurber of West Tisbury, both 14, Saturday’s tournament marked their last year of eligibility.

As the derby approached its closing moments, Brahmin stood on a foot bridge casting a small “Torpedo” lure into a bed of lilies hoping to draw a strike from a pickerel. A chunk of hot dog was embedded on one set of hooks. It was not clear if the embellishment was an experiment or culinary statement.

Normally he wakes up at 4:30 am but this morning he had got off to a late start. “I got here right when it started, but I still caught four trout,” he said.

Brahmin, who will be entering the ninth grade, said he would miss fishing in the derby. “I love just waking up early in the morning,” he said. “Getting ready; trying not to wake up my mom; coming out and hearing the bell; casting out and catching all the trout I can get.”

Outside the awards tent, Cameron Maciel held a first place trophy he would soon add to an already considerable collection of fishing trophies.

Cameron provided some insights into the strategy of a winning fishermen. His secret? “Pond shiners,” he said.

“They catch 14-inch trout, and I go there [the bridge] and catch a 20-inch pickerel,” he revealed.

Cameron will miss the derby, in particular, sharing the excitement of the morning.

“I like seeing all the kids trying to catch fish,” Cameron said. ” I like to see all the looks on the kids faces when they catch a fish, whether it’s big or small, and when they get a prize.”


Grand overall winners

Largest trout: William Nicholson, age 5, 19.25 inches rainbow trout.

Largest fish of any other species: Cameron Maciel, age 14, 19 1/16″ pickerel.

(The two top winners each received a bicycle donated by the Rod and Gun Club and Wheel Happy Bicycles.)

Ages through 8

1. Jack Scarborough, age 3, 19″ pickerel

2. Scarlett Pangia, age 2, 19″ pickerel

3. Kyle Peters, age 8, 18.5 ” rainbow trout

Ages 9 to 11

1. Veronica Wendt, age 11, 13.5″ rainbow trout

2. Riley Sylvia, age 9, 13.25″ rainbow trout

3. Cabot Thurber, age 11, 13″ rainbow trout

Ages 12 to 14

1. Brahmin Thurber, age 14, 18 3/16″ pickerel

2. Ethan Maciel, age 12, 14″ rainbow trout

3. David Packer, age 14, 11 7/8″ rainbow trout