The VFW big boy anglers were no match for a girl

The winning kids (l-r): Donald O'Shaugnessy, Charlotte Packer, Nathaniel Packer, Molly Menton, Elizabeth O'Brien, Darien Kral, Michael Gibson and Joseph Medeiros.
Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The winning kids (l-r): Donald O'Shaugnessy, Charlotte Packer, Nathaniel Packer, Molly Menton, Elizabeth O'Brien, Darien Kral, Michael Gibson and Joseph Medeiros.

The message delivered at the awards ceremony for the 14th annual Martha’s Vineyard Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9261 annual Fluke Derby was that the girls can play with the big boys.

In the first year that the tournament eliminated the separate women’s division, Molly Menton, 10, a sprite of a fifth grader at the Tisbury School, hauled in a 9.47-pound fluke to claim the coveted title of VFW Fluke King — actually, Queen — beating out some pretty grizzled veteran fishermen.

“I thought it was going to be a shark,” Molly, wearing a crown and holding a big trophy, told me when I asked her what she thought as she reeled in such a big fish.

The awards ceremony, held inside the air-conditioned comfort of the VFW dining room, was very much a come-as-you-are event, very much toned down compared with other items on the Vineyard summer social circuit. Sunburnt men in tee-shirts traded fish tales, and many looked very, very tired.

The ceremony began with an auction of donated items. The Possible Dreams, the gala August fundraiser, it was not. Unique, it was.

Auctioneer, tireless tournament organizer, and all-around good guy Peter Herrmann held up a beer mug with the fluke logo on it. Before the bidding could start he held up its companion glass and added a caveat. “This one does have a slight chip in it,” he said. That got a big laugh and attracted a top bid of $11.

Caught up in the spirit, I bid $22 for a set of unchipped mugs. Rick Harvey bid $23. “Thank you,” my wife, Norma, said to Rick. “I’ll chip in the dollar.”

Although the tournament rewards individual catches, the real competition is among the teams. This is very much an Islander’s contest, and many of the fishermen know each other. With team names like Slab Men, Fluke Skywalker (AKA the Packer Family), and Girl Power (the O’Briens), they look forward to bumping the competing teams off the leader board.

The fluke fishing was tough for the 130 or so entrants, and the daily tallies of the four heaviest fish weighed in each day by the 17 registered teams reflected it. Unlike past years, when fish in the three-pound range would be left behind in the cooler, fish smaller than that hit the scale.

Once the totals were in, there was little surprise when Peter Hermann announced that the Sole Men, with a total weight of 37.92 pounds, were the 2013 team champs. For Cooper Gilkes and Rick Harvey, they were in familiar territory.

For their young teammate, Donald O’Shaughnessy, who landed an 8.70-pound fish that helped push Sole Men into the lead and won him the teen prize, the tournament was a learning experience about the value of owning an alarm clock.

In the wonderfully written book, “A River Runs Through It,” (University of Chicago Press), Norman Maclean included a telling exchange between his brother, the main character Paul Maclean, a fly fisherman, and his sister’s boyfriend, Neal Burns, when Neal arrives late to go fishing.

Neal’s excuse is that he didn’t get in until late. Paul replies that he didn’t get in at all but he made it. And he explains, “Neal, in Montana there’s three things we’re never late for: church, work, and fishing.”

Membership in the Sole Men crew requires that sort of single-minded dedication to fishing. The plan was to leave Coop’s at 3 am, drive to the launch ramp at West Basin in Aquinnah and be on the water for the bite at first light. Early Sunday morning, Donald was not at Coop’s at the appointed time. After waiting a reasonable time for Donald, the men left.

Donald’s mom, Janna, drove her son up to Menemsha at 5 am, in time to meet Coop and Rick before they left the harbor. Taking a page from the film Captains Courageous, the men instructed Donald to remain in the front of the boat in exile. If he paused in his jigging he was instructed to keep fishing.

“At the end, he was getting real tired,” Rick said.

At the awards ceremony, Janna tried to take the blame because her alarm did not go off.

“It’s my fault,” she said. Coop would not hear it.

“No, it’s not,” he said.

I asked Donald about his day. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I felt like I was in jail.”

VFW Fluke Tournament results

Adult division: Chuck Hibbett (7.66); Bill Dreyer (7.5); Sheldon Ebanks (7.42). Kids 12 and under: Molly Menton (9.47); Charlotte Packer (5.62); Dariene Kral (5.13); Nathaniel Packer (4.82); Joseph Mederios (3.55). Teens 13-16: Donald O’Shaughnessey (8.70); Elizabeth O’Brien (3.36); Michael Gibson (3.29). Largest sea bass: Andre Levesque (5.04).

Launch ramp sweep

Last Thursday, I reported on all the boats and trailers left parked for days and even weeks at the Lagoon Pond launch ramp, taking up very valuable and limited space.

Thursday morning, I heard from Environmental Police Sergeant Mike Camire. He said he had cited every vehicle/boat/trailer that was there illegally, and he said if they were still there when he returned, he would have them towed.

That was good news to Ed Lepore, who called and happily reported that parking spaces were opening up, and a late model Toyota and boat that he found particularly grating, which had been left for more than a week, were gone, along with one or two boats and trailers.

In an update, Sergeant Camire said one problem he had encountered is that there is no designated tow lot. He said he would continue to check on the ramp until the situation improves. Seems to me we have what we need to start an artificial reef system.

On Sunday, the ramp needed a cop just to direct traffic, with people launching and hauling boats. It was a mess.

There are some simple courtesies people could practice that would make it more pleasant for everyone. Here are a few: load your boat before you get to the ramp; don’t tie up to the dock and block other people; and double up with another member of your group, if you are not hauling a trailer.

Bonito arrive

Bonito have arrived. I heard this week from multiple sources about bonito caught in Island waters, mostly off East Beach. Nicholas Wall won Coop’s Roberto Germani trophy, for the first bonito caught and released.

I have mixed feelings about this news. I love to catch bonito, and it is a delicious fish to eat. But it can be very aggravating to fish for the often finicky, elusive bonito. Do we need another source of insanity on the Island right now?

Shark circus comes to town

The 27th annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament comes to town Thursday through Saturday. The weigh-in spectacle on both sides of the scale takes place between 3:30 and 7 pm on Friday and 3:30 and 6:30 pm on Saturday.