Scup was king at annual kids day derby
So much of this Derby feels familiar: The waning optimism as I sit on the beach waiting for the rod tip to bend under the weight of a strike; the bass that turned out to be a dogfish; the albies that broke the surface and disappeared again, uninterested in my lure.
Sunday morning I had a purpose when I attended the kid's day derby on the Steamship Authority wharf in Oak Bluffs. I would look for the secrets of Derby success among the innocence of youth.
Despite the blustery wind, several hundred young fishermen lined the rails and stood along walkways fishing. Many had arrived well before the 6 am start, anxious to secure a good spot.
I scanned the crowd of young faces looking for the wisdom of youth. I ignored Derby president Ed Jerome and kids day chairman Cooper Gilkes. Even if they knew something, what would those two cagey Derby fishermen tell me? Not much, I knew.
Lisa Healy and her children Keith and Molly look for a winning fish. Photos by Ralph Stewart
I spoke to Joseph Tuney, 11, of West Tisbury who was fishing from a prime spot near the end of the dock. "Joseph," I told him, "I haven't been catching any fish in the Derby. How about some advice," I asked him.
Joseph gave it some serious thought. He seemed generally concerned with my predicament. "You probably just have to keep trying," he said. "And you should probably just try fishing from some different spots.
"You sure it's not just me?" I asked.
He laughed and reassured me, "Anybody can catch a fish," he said.
His pal Connor Chisholm, 12, of Oak Bluffs was a one-arm fisherman. He broke his collarbone riding his bicycle but that didn't stop him Sunday morning.
Victoria Scott, 6, of Edgartown, dressed nicely in pink, was struggling to get her special glove on her hand so she could pick up a scup she caught without getting slimed. She told me she had caught four fish and already had won three Derby pins.
Victoria Scott holds one of several scup she caught.
"What makes you such a good fisherman?" I asked.
"My daddy taught me," she said. Her daddy is Chris Scott, a member of the Derby committee.
Here was my chance, I thought. "What did he teach you?" I asked.
"Um, he taught me how to cast."
I explained my problem (to a six-year-old) and asked for advice on how I could catch a big fish and win the Derby. "Um, you could go on a boat," she said. I pressed for more details like her dad's favorite spot. "Um, you just need to have patience," she said. Well coached she was.
Jacob Maciel, 14, of Oak Bluffs and Harrison Rodriques, 12, of West Tisbury are accomplished fishermen. Jacob spoke with the insight of a veteran Island fisherman. "Get a boat and quit your job," he said.
Derby Fishing is as much about friendships as it is about catching fish. More treasured than a fish is the memory of something that happened to a friend that you are glad did not happen to you.
I fondly remember fishing Philbin Beach with Tom Robinson. He caught a slime-covered eel that was the size of a boa constrictor. I sure was glad I did not have to deal with taking the creature off the hook.
A group of 13-year-old boys, all 8th graders in the Tisbury School were standing on the dock. John Custer, Derby chairman and Tisbury School teacher, told me they are terrific kids who love fishing.
Austin Fournier was all business Sunday.
Eric McElhinney, Ethan Himel, Nelson Dixon, Michael Montanile, Joe Tripp, Noah Stobie, Trenton Brown, and Joe Burgoyne had one of those mornings certain to be recounted many years from now.
Joe put his rod down to remove a fish when Trenton tripped over his line. The resulting tug drove the hook into Joe's hand.
Joe's friends had no trouble recalling the gory details for me. About that time Joe returned to the dock from his brief trip to the hospital ER with his hand encased in a purple rubber glove.
I asked Joe about his trip to the ER. "Well, I was freaking out," he said. He explained that it had been a little scary when the doctors brought out the tools of the hook removal trade: pliers, scissors and a knife. A shot of Novocain made it a painless ordeal, he said.
Like the stories of many of the kids fishing that day, I bet Joe's will get better with age too.
Kids Derby Results
Donald O'Shaughnessy, age 8, 14 3/8-inch scup.
Through 8 years old:
1. Max Eber, 8, 13 1/4-inch scup; 2. Curtis Fornier, 7, 13 1/4-inch scup; 3. Grace Carroll, 6, 12 3/4-inch black sea bass.
Ed Jerome, Derby president, walks softly and carries a big net.
9-11 years old:
1. Dominic Alosso, 9, 13-inch sea bass; 2. Robert Greenough, 10, 13-inch scup; 3. Thomas O'Shaughnessy, 10, 12 3/4-inch scup.
12-14 years old:
1. Michael Montanile, 13, 13-inch scup; 2. Billy Anderson, 14, 12 3/8-inch scup; 3. Tony Debettencourt, 13, 12 1/4-inch scup.
Fishy Internet story
Do not believe everything you read goes double for items e-mailed from the Internet. A fishing column published on August 30 included a photo of a catfish with a basketball in its mouth as part of a PFD giveaway contest. Last week, I picked the vest winner and identified the photo as taken by a guy who lives on Lake Conroe, Texas.
That brought an e-mail from a distraught Pam Driver of Wichita, Kansas. Her husband rescued the catfish. The story of the catfish, "A tough pill to swallow," by Mike Pearce ran in The Wichita Eagle on May 30, 2004.
Since then the story and photos have figured in a number of web hoaxes. For example, The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia took the bait when an Aussie claimed to have rescued a catfish.
Pam e-mailed me: "I'm sooooo disappointed! I was hoping to see our story in your paper when Google notified me of a story about our catfish. Then, Lake Conroe again and again! I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to see others take credit for the story and photos... Bad enough folks use our photos with no thanks nor benefit to us, but at least please get it correct! I'm sorry, but enough is enough!"
For the record, Kansas's catfish eat basketballs.
Zeb Tilton holds up his 56.51-pound striped bass, the current Derby boat division grand leader.
Zeb Tilton is a house painter and part-time commercial striped bass fisherman. That he caught a 56-pound striped bass that is currently the leading fish in the boat division and one of the heaviest fish taken in Derby history will come as no surprise to many Islanders.
Tilton is an authentic Island name, well anchored in the currents of Island history and life. Zeb caught his big striped bass in waters undoubtedly well known to his great grandfather, the legendary schooner captain Zeb Tilton.
The 32-year-old fisherman was fishing alone at night drifting eels "around Gay Head" in his 21-foot center console boat. The fishing was fairly slow, he said.
"I just got lucky," he said matter-of-factly, "that's all I can say about it."
Zeb is realistic enough to know that there are bigger fish out there and the Derby is not over yet. "There's a lot of time left," he told me on Monday. He knows that the other members of the hardcore up-Island bass fishing fraternity will keep on fishing hard right to the very end of the five-week contest.
Zeb's big fish helped him to eclipse the record boat grand slam total held by Lev Wlodyka of Chilmark of 81.61 pounds. Zeb's total weight of all four species is 81.70 pounds.
Likely he will not get nervous until the last few days when victory seems within reach. Either way he knows that a 56-pound fish is a catch of a lifetime and he is satisfied with that.
Click here for 62nd Derby Results >