On the third try Kids Day derby is a success
Young fishermen press against the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal gate before dawn in anticipation of securing a choice fishing spot. Photos by Alan Brigish
Better late than never, and it was almost never for the Derby kids day tournament held on the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier.
The fishing contest just for kids got moved back one week to last Saturday when Ophelia, a tropical storm that brushed by the islands, created high surf and swell conditions that prevented the derby from stationing a boat by the pier just in case an overanxious kid or parent ended up in the water.
The Derby committee's plans were upended again when the weather gurus forecast strong northeast winds. In the interests of safety the committee decided late in the week to bump kids day back to Sunday, news that came too late for inclusion in the Island newspapers which both reported the Saturday date.
Ethan Mendez, with his 22.75-inch striped bass, took first place in the youngest division.
Any worries committee members had about the turnout were quickly dispelled. On a beautiful Sunday morning hundreds of kids were lined up along the pier rails holding fishing rods.
Judging from what I saw, the most popular fishing method was the Kids Day bait glob. The way that specialized technique works is a kid jams as much squid or as many silversides or sand eels on his or her hook as his or her little fingers can get on the hook without the rod doubling over from the weight.
Not every kid was interested in putting bait on a hook. Some, like two-year-old Charlotte Packer, clutching a handful of silversides, just wanted to squish the bait.
As kids rushed back and forth from the measuring table, Derby chairman John Custer and Cooper Gilkes, Kids Day committee chairman, said they were very happy about the strong turnout. "I think it is one of our big ones," said Coop.
Gabe Bergeron stands next to his twice-caught winning dogfish.
In order to comply with the closing of the recreational scup fishery, the committee members set up a bucket brigade that allowed scup to be caught, measured and returned to the water. "I haven't seen a single scup floating," said John.
The morning catch had been a typical kids day bouillabaisse, meaning the usual fare of scup and skates as well as a few surprises, like a small snowy grouper, a native of tropical Atlantic waters that grows to a length of four feet.
But the best fish story of the morning was that of a big dogfish, caught not once but twice by the same young fisherman.
Gabe Bergeron, 9, was fishing from a concrete perch between the steel abutments at the very end of the pier (not a good place for the faint of heart to stand or a young fisherman's grandparents to watch) with his pal, Will Trapp, 11, of Edgartown when he hooked a dogfish.
As any experienced fisherman knows, piers are hazardous places to try and land a fish. The chief problem lies in how best to keep your fishing line from rubbing against the mussel and barnacles that cover the pilings.
Gabe fought the fish for about ten minutes with no small measure of inherited skill. His grandfather, "Chip" Bergereon, is an experienced Derby fisherman and as far as I know the only fly fisherman ever to accomplish a shore fly rod grand slam.
But sometimes even the best Derby fisherman loses a fish. The line parted leaving Gabe and his dad, Mark Bergeron, very disappointed.
Fred Condon and his twin four-year-old daughters Alexis and Mackenzie look anxiously to see what is on the end of the line.
Not ten minutes later, Gabe hooked up again. This time the fishing fates were kind and the big dogfish was netted before it could break off. To everyone's surprise, the fish had a piece of fishing line trailing from its mouth. And it was attached to Gabe's hook.
"What are the odds of that happening" said John Custer, "that with all the kids fishing on the dock it would bite the same kid's hook twice?"
Not every young fisherman was wrestling with sharks. I asked Gabriella Hoxsie, 8, of Edgartown if she had caught any fish. "One fish," the diminutive third grader told me, "a scuppy."
A little before 9 am the tournament ended. Many of the young fishermen and their parents had arrived at the dock in the morning darkness anxious to secure a good spot.
Simone Geary, 7, of Oak Bluffs was among the best-dressed fishermen.
But if the kids were tired it was not evident in the excited faces that crowded around the measuring table during the brief awards ceremony.
Ever gracious, John Custer, a Tisbury School teacher, thanked Coop for all his work and highlighted the generational bonds that bind the kids day tournament. "I fished this when I was a kid and he was running it then," he said. In turn, Coop thanked John for all his hard work, which derby outsiders rarely see.
Cutting to the chase, John asked the kids if they were ready to get some awards. "Yeah," they shouted in unison.
The first place prize, a plaque with a scup mounted by Janet Messineo of Island Taxidermy in Tisbury, went to Gabe Bergeron.
There was no doubt he had earned it through a combination of luck and perseverance and that is the way Derby winners are made.