Gone fishin’: Derby Kids Day never gets old, but the kids do

Molly Sylvia, 8, of Oak Bluffs hold the trophy she won for catching the biggest scup. Myles Sprague of West Tisbury was the grand champ with a 17.25 inch bluefish. — Photo by Michael Cummo

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After 32 years, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Kids Day outing still has what it takes to put a smile on the face of a little kid, and big kids too. The annual event, held on the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier, is based on the simple formula that most kids just like to catch fish and there is no need to make the experience difficult.

Early Sunday morning, kids, parents, and grandparents lined the railing, squid close at hand, and dangled baited hooks. A steady stream of young fishermen ran down the dock clutching a variety of fish to the measuring table where volunteers sat waiting behind a table outfitted with a yardstick. There is an art to measuring flopping sea robins, scup, fluke, sea bass, and bluefish before you have had your second cup of coffee.

Derby president Ed Jerome and tournament chairman Cooper “Coop” Gilkes stood on the dock surveying the scene.

Coop has an eye for talent and knows what it takes to catch fish. “Boy,” Coop said, “we sure have got some kids coming up that are going to be fishermen.”

A little kid ran by holding a fish. “He’s so excited,” Ed said to me. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Ed has seen a lot of excited kids. The retired Edgartown School principal and longtime Derby president reflected on 32 years. When it first began, Zebco, maker of the classic pushbutton reel, was the main sponsor.

A little boy ran back from the measuring table to his waiting father. “Dad,” he shouted, “it’s bigger than you expected, it’s 13 [inches]!”

Attend a fishing tournament as many years as we have, and you start to measure the passing of time. It is not always flattering. I pointed out to Ed that I was seeing people I remembered as kids who were now losing their hair.

“It’s always one of my favorite days,” said John Custer, Derby chairman and Tisbury School principal. “I think it’s great.”

John pronounced the turnout good, in part due to the warm, clear weather. “It’s better than last year,” John said, referring to the rain that dampened the 2013 event. Irrespective, it is always fun. “One guy told me, if you think it’s all about the fishing, you’re missing the point,” John said.

Much of its appeal for Islanders is the tradition. John recalled fishing the tournament in 1981. Now he was there with his own children.

That sense of tradition is not reserved for Islanders. Further down the rail, Karin and Michael Prime from a town outside Philadelphia stood fishing with their three children, Elizabeth, 8, Shawn, 7, and Daniel, 2. The family comes to the Vineyard this time every year on vacation, and makes it a point to attend Kids Day.

“The kids love the Derby, and all three of them love to fish,” Karin said. “It’s well-run.”

Shawn stood in his socks and held a fishing rod missing about the top eight inches. I pointed that out to his dad. “Got to do what you’ve got to do,” Michael said.

Kids Day Derby Results

Biggest scup of the day: Molly Sylvia of Oak Bluffs (age 8), 14.5 inches.

Biggest fish of the day: Myles Sprague of West Tisbury (age 9), 17.25-inch bluefish.

Through 8 years old: 1. Matthew Fontaine (age 7), 14.75-inch sea bass; 2. Molly Sylvia (age 8), 14.5-inch scup; 3. Audrey Polleys (age 8), 14.25-inch sea bass.

9-11 years old: 1. Edward Cherry (age 10), 17-inch bluefish; 2. Jake Scott (age 10), 14.75-inch sea bass; 3. Matthew Strem (age 10), 4.75-inch sea bass.

12-14 years old: 1. Nolan Bouchard (age 13), 15.25-inch fluke; 2. Shelly Ponte (age 12), 14-inch sea bass; 3. Avery Gazaille (age 13), 13-inch sea bass.

Each young fisher received a gift certificate for a Mad Martha’s ice cream and a T-shirt with a design chosen in a school-wide competition. The T-shirt design contest winner was sixth grader Danielle Oteri of the Edgartown School.

Lost net

A visiting fisherman stopped into the office with a black hand net he found on the Eastville Jetty. Stop in to claim it, or give me a call at 508-693-6100, ext.13.