Scup, sea bass and weather cooperated to the delight of bleary eyed parents and hundreds of excited children who lined the rails of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority dock in the annual kids mini-derby early Sunday morning.
Members of the Martha’s Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee, organizers of the event, kept an anxious eye on the rain clouds moving in from the west as kids juggling squirming fish scampered across the dock to the measuring table. Luckily, the rain held off until just about 8 am, the official finish time.
The forecast for heavy showers that morning did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the young fishermen and the adults baiting hooks and untangling lines on the dock — the one day a year when fishing is allowed from the boatline pier.
“It’s a huge crowd, a huge crowd,” said Derby chairman and Tisbury School principal John Custer as he surveyed the crowd. “I was worried about how the weather would affect the turnout but when I got here at 5:20 am there were about 25 to 30 people lined up. I let them in at 6 am just when it became light.”
Location, location, location. The earliest fishermen to arrive quickly claimed prime spots at the deep end. Young Derby veterans fished side by side with those new to the sport. Bait squid and advice were shared freely.
Cooper Gilkes, longtime kids day chairman, said that after hours spent looking for fresh bait in the form of sand eels or silversides he fell back on frozen squid. He finished cutting up the bait into kid size morsels just before midnight. If the fish had a preference it was not evident judging by the number of kids with bent rods at any given moment.
For David Silva of Vineyard Haven, fishing with his granddaughter, Cassandra, 8, of Edgartown, it was a new and fun experience. David said he knew nothing about fishing but had heard about the kids day for years but was always too busy working to participate
“You know, I’ve been wanting to do this for years. I’ve been on the Island for 8 years but I never had the chance because I’m always working,” David said. “So this year I made it a point to spend some time with my granddaughter and she always wanted to go fishing, so we got a rod and here we are.”
Asked what the best part was, David said, “It’s great just to be here, watch the sunrise, just to be outdoors and hopefully catch something.”
His prospects initially were not good. A diamond jig with a hook more suitable for cod dangled from the end of Cassandra’s fishing pole. “I just got this pole two days ago,” David said.
A tackle switch was suggested. Nearby fisherman Lucas Mercier provided a smaller hook. A short time later Cassandra had caught three fish, much to the delight of her beaming grandpa.
Not far away on the rail, newcomers Alissa Purda and daughter Katie were having a great time. Alissa said they had recently moved from western Mass to Edgartown to be near her parents, Mark and Karel Mattison.
Alissa said Katie wanted to fish so they stopped in at Coop’s to buy some equipment. “She wanted to get squid and what she needed and they said, there’s a derby tomorrow at 6 am. I said, I don’t know, that’s pretty early but we definitely wanted to do it.”
It was a good decision. “Everybody’s been so friendly and she caught one,” Alissa said. “But she wouldn’t touch it.”
Further down the dock a trio of Derby veterans, Darien Kral, 8, brother Dylan Kral, 6, and Silas Vanhorn, 8, all of Oak Bluffs dangled squid in search of another big one. Darien explained what happened.
“I was fishing with a squid head, and it just went off,” he said. The “it” was one of his fishing poles. An unseen fish, likely a striper, had pulled it over the rail.
Thinking quickly, Darien grabbed his brother’s pole to try and snag it without success. Asked how he was going to explain the missing pole to his mom or dad when he returned home, Darien had a ready answer. “Oh, that was my grandpa’s fishing pole and my grandpa’s working right now.”
Likely his grandpa, Peter Hermann, a retired teacher and VFW fluke tournament chairman, took the news with a smile.
Kids Day Derby Results
Biggest scup of the day: Sophia Nevin (age 10), 13-inches.
Biggest sea bass of the day: Hannah Landers (age 6), 14.25-inches.
Through 8 years old: 1. Julia Spanek, 14-inch sea bass; 2. Chase Toomey, 14-inch sea bass; 3. Molly Sylvia, 7,13-inch sea bass.
9-11 years old: 1. Sarah Spanek, 13.75-inch sea bass; 2. Chelsea Bouchard, 13-inch sea bass; 3. Kylie Estrella, 13-inch sea bass.
12-14 years old: 1. Ryan O’Malley, 12.5-inch sea bass; 2. Jacob MacCaferrie, 12.25-inch sea bass; 3. Addy Shonning, 12-inch sea bass.