Catch and release tournament celebrates 20 years


On Saturday, I will help to host the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Catch and Release Tournament. It began 20 years ago, and I have been involved in every one.

I admit, knowing that I have been involved with any event for two decades makes me think I might be getting old. At the awards ceremony Sunday morning, I expect to greet one of the many fishermen I see once a year and think, “He’s looking old.” That is what happens when you mark time in one-year installments.

Granted, fishing much of the night does not do a lot for youthful vigor, but the fact is that after 20 years, age starts to catch up to anyone’s hairline and waist. I will need to remember to not look in the mirror.

The catch and release is a unique tournament in many respects. Fishermen who might not normally be attracted to fishing competitions find it promotes the best aspects of fishing — the camaraderie that fishermen share on the beach, for example — and downplays the competition and prizes that make some tournaments unpleasant events.

This year will be notable because the club will host four members of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 101st Artillery unit and two members of the 1060 Truck Company. All have recently returned from service in Afghanistan or Iraq.

SPC John Palmariello, SSG Matthew Kulikowski, SPC Joseph Zero, SPC Heather Gramz, Staff Sergeant Mark Welch, and Sergeant Joel Larson will join the catch and release tournament at the invitation of the rod and gun club.

Ralph Norton has arranged for the soldiers to stay in a house on Oak Bluffs Harbor. The club will host a welcome barbecue at the house early Friday.

The plan right now is to have fishing teams “adopt” a soldier for the weekend and help him or her get into fishing.

If you plan to fish the tournament and would like to help out, please give me a call at 508-680-6853.

I think the club and the Vineyard can take some pride in the tournament. The catch and release tournament is unique in a variety of ways. It is a competitive event that barely honors the competitors for their achievements. It gives away several thousand dollars worth of prizes to people who are generally surprised to win anything.

The catch and release tournament began 20 years ago. A group of us that included Cooper Gilkes and Sonny Beaulieu would get together every Monday night in the winter and tie flies and tell fish stories to each other in the Rod and Gun clubhouse off Third Street in Edgartown.

The storytelling was as much fun as the tying.

One night we got to talking about Roberto Germani, an Island fly fisherman and character who had died that year. What do I mean by “character?”

Well, one day I ran into Roberto, and he proceeded to describe watching bait and bass under little bridge. He got the idea to eat some of the bait, little silversides I recall, to see what the fish experienced. He then learned what cormorants know, that it is important to eat the bait so its little fins slide and do not hook going down one’s throat. Roberto, who believed strongly in catch and release, survived that experience.

The group of fly tiers decided it would be fun to sponsor a catch and release tournament and give away a prize in Roberto’s name for the most fish caught and released in one night of fishing by an individual and in later years by a team. Saltwater fly fishing was just beginning to gain popularity and we decided to match fishermen up randomly in teams — off-Island fishermen with Islanders.

Prizes were given to top finishers. Catch counts were on an honor system. Paul Fersen of Orvis, the Vermont company built on fly fishing, added his considerable support with no conditions or requests for recognition. Over the years, other individuals, groups and companies also donated prizes.

As the contest gained popularity and attracted more off-Island participants, we made changes. We quickly ran out of Islanders and broadened the category to include anyone familiar with the Vineyard. We also presented only plaques and not prizes to the top finishers, a change meant to eliminate competitive acrimony over prizes.

The change added greatly to the excitement of the awards breakfast and ceremony. Now we pull registration forms out of a box, and a fisherman may not catch a fish all night and still walk away with a new fly reel worth several hundred dollars.

When the match-ups became a logistical nightmare we went to a team system. Catch reports remain on the honor system.

Sadly, the club also added two new prize categories, to remember and honor Island fishermen. We added the Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Trophy for the fisherman who catches the largest striped bass and releases it. In 1993 Sonny and Joey Beaulieu, father and son, died in a boating accident, along with Fred Loud and Fred’s son Adam.

In 1995 we created the Arnold Spofford Trophy, for the most fish caught and released by a team using one fly, to recognize Arnold Spofford, fly fisherman and gentleman, who was a familiar face to many who fished the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard.

The contest rules are simple. There is no fishing from boats. Fishermen may only fish from beaches that are accessible. The first cast cannot be made until 7 pm Saturday, June 11, and fishing must stop at exactly 2 am Sunday.

The club hosts a breakfast in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria Sunday morning followed by an awards ceremony at 9:30 am.

The cost to enter is $35. The money raised helps support club youth fishing programs that include the spring trout derby. Teams can register between noon and 3 pm Saturday at the high school.

Bird beach closings

Chris Kennedy, Trustees of Reservations Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, provided an update on off-road vehicle beach closings to protect nesting shorebirds on property managed by The Trustees. All of this information is subject to change depending on the whims of the birds and the dining plans of the Island’s gulls, crows, hawks, and skunks.

As of Monday, Norton Point Beach on the Edgartown side was open for ORV access from left fork to the breach. “A marauding falcon has apparently caused a plover pair to abandon their nest which was due to hatch this past Friday,” Chris said. “As a result, we will reopen ORV access to all of Norton Point until the next plover nest hatches, and that is expected next week.”

Norton Point Beach on the Chappy side of the breach remains closed due to beach erosion.

The inside and outside trails on Leland Beach are closed to ORV access due to the presence of plover chicks. Several other plover nests are due to hatch over the next few weeks.

To fish Wasque Point, fishermen can drive to Wasque Reservation, park at the fishermen’s lot and walk over the boardwalk to Wasque Point. Vehicles can also drive over the Dike Bridge and go straight out to East Beach where they are limited to several hundred feet of beach, or they can take a left and head to Cape Poge, which remains open to the gut.

Chris said only active fishermen are allowed to remain on the properties from 10 pm to the following morning at 5 am. “Rangers are on duty to enforce this rule,” he said.

Dear dad

Last week, I included the results of Dick’s Memorial Day tournament. I received the following email from James C. Cornwell Jr. of Vancouver, Washington, commenting on his dad’s undue share of glory.

“You listed the results for Dick’s Memorial Day Tournament and listed Jim Cornwell as the 3rd place Bluefish winner at 9.6 lbs. Well, you need to put a JR on the end of Cornwell. My dad is getting credit for my fish and as you know he already gets enough press.”