Gone Fishin' : Fish tales from the Derby's Kids' Day
Going to the Derby's Kids' Day Sunday made me want to grab a pole and take a kid fishing again.
When Nelson asked if I would cover the Kids' Day while he was away last weekend and write about it as a guest fishing columnist, I was relieved he didn't ask me to cover some other kind of sporting event. I'm no hockey mom, but fishing I know.
I jumped at the chance to witness an Island tradition and revisit a familiar pastime. I spent many happy hours as a kid, fishing with my dad and my younger brother, Richard. And when my son, Brien, was big enough to hold a pole, dad and I relived those feelings of anticipation, excitement, surprise, and wonder that only a child's face can express, when he or she feels that tug on the end of a pole and reels something in.
All of that came back to me Sunday morning when more than 200 kids and their parents lined the Steamship Authority (SSA) pier in Oak Bluffs for the Kids' Day, the only time fishing is allowed there. Starting at 6 am, young anglers darted onto the dock like a school of minnows, from little ones who carried fishing poles twice their height to sophisticated 14-year-olds with the latest gear.
The early bird not only gets the worm but also the fish. Ten minutes after starting time, about 40 kids already were lined up to get their fish measured and recorded. Derby committee member and Kids' Day volunteer Janet Messineo said she couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the growing line.
Watching the fishing frenzy brought back memories of the best time I had fishing with my son, now 26, at a pond stocked with sunfish.
There were supposed to be some trout in the pond, too, but it didn't matter to Brien. He just wanted to cast his line and catch something as soon as the hook hit the water.
That's how it went for Lachlan Cormie, age 9, who took first place among the 9- to 11-year-olds with a 13-inch sea bass. He figured he caught about 20 scup, 9 sea bass, and, he mentioned casually, a sand shark.
Lachlan said he and his friend Devon Metters, also 9, were the first ones to arrive at the derby. Lachlan's dad Leigh, the SSA Oak Bluffs terminal manager, graciously opens the pier for Kids' Day every year. Devon, who estimated he caught seven sea bass and between 20 to 30 scup, hit the jackpot with a 13.5-inch banded rudderfish, which seasoned anglers told him was an unusual catch in Vineyard waters.
Photos by Susan Safford
"These two have been practicing all summer long," said Lachlan's mom, Berni, while keeping an eye on younger son Landon, age 4. "That's all they like to do is go fishing."
For some participants, the kids' derby may be the start of a lifelong hobby. Emily Mello, 6, a first-grader at Oak Bluffs School, was hooked after catching her first fish, a scup. "I want to fish some more - maybe today!" she told her dad, Times web administrator Rick Mello. If Nelson had a hotline number for fishing gear consultation, he would have called him.
Abby Buckham, 7, and Avery Phillips, 8, of Edgartown both wanted to keep fishing after a car horn sounded a little after 8 am, signaling the end of their first derby. Although Abby said she had caught a lot of scup before off the Edgartown dock, she was more excited about her latest catch, a crab. Avery told the biggest fish tale of the morning, however. While recently fishing in Edgartown Harbor, she said she hooked the On Time ferry. Luckily, her line broke before she tried to reel it in.
Three winners with the longest fish were chosen from three age categories, 8 and under, 9 to 11, and 12 to 14. The winners received a plaque, an Okuma fishing rod and reel, and a soft-sided tackle box.
Five-year-old Ava Ben David took first place in the 8 and under category and also won the prize for the largest scup with her fish that measured 13.75 inches. The petite kindergartner from Oak Bluffs School, who looked like she would fit in her new tackle box, attended the derby with her parents Joellen and Gary, and brother Nicholas.
Ava also received a plaque with a preserved scup on it from Ms. Messineo, who is a taxidermist. It took about nine months for the process, Ms. Messineo said. She will start work right away on the scup Ava caught for next year's plaque.
Cooper Gilkes, the familiar Island angler and owner of Coop's Bait and Tackle, came up with the idea for the Kids' Derby about 30 years ago. He's not sure exactly when. However, Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee chairman John Custer recalled that when he participated in his first kids' derby at age 10 in 1980, Cooper and his wife Lela were helping then.
"Cooper organizes the Kids' Derby - this is his baby," said Mr. Custer. "His focus is on kids and getting them to fish - he loves to see kids with fishing rods."
When Sunday's derby ended, Mr. Gilkes declared, "This was a golden one - one of our best." His wife said they kept their fingers crossed for a beautiful day - and it was.
Mr. Custer, dean of students at Tisbury School, has been the derby committee chairman for the last six years. He was grateful for help at the kids' derby from about 12 committee members and about eight community volunteers, especially after being at his 20th Martha's Vineyard Regional High School reunion until 2 am Sunday morning and arriving at 5 am to set up.
Ryan Uva, 11, a sixth-grader from West Tisbury School, created the winning design on tee-shirts given to each participant. Everyone got to pick a piece of tackle, as well. Sponsors included Okuma, Vineyard Vines, Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank, and the SSA.
My first experience with the Kids' Derby has inspired me to find a youngster to go with next year.
Kids Day Derby Results
Grand overall: Austin Morley, 11, 14-inch sea bass.
Largest scup: Ava Ben David, 5, 13.75-inch scup.
Through 8 years old: 1. Ava Ben David, 5, 13.75-inch scup; 2. Nolan Bouchard, 7, 13.5-inch scup; 3. Taylor Trudel, 6, 12.75-inch scup.
9-11 years old: 1. Lachlan Cormie, 9, 13-inch sea bass; 2. David Packer, 9, 13-inch sea bass; 3. Donald O'Shaughnessy, 10, 13-inch scup.
12-14 years old: 1. Michael Montanile, 14, 13.25-inch sea bass; 2. Steven O'Leary, 13, 13-inch sea bass; 3. Kyle Stobie, 12, 11.25-inch sea bass.