“I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve never seen so many big fish come in,” volunteer Ed O’Melia said, standing at the measuring table at the 41st annual kids trout derby at Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury, early on Saturday morning.
As the day dawned, an estimated 75 young anglers, and the adults who brought them, lined the mist-covered pond in windless and mercifully temperate conditions.
There are many traditions that accompany this traditional event. For some, part of the ritual is getting there well before first light, when Lela Gilkes, wife of kids trout derby chairman Cooper “Coop” Gilkes and derby record keeper, honks her truck horn three times to signal the start of the contest.
Barney Suman of Aquinnah arrived at 2:30 am with his son Max and three of Max’s friends. They secured a prime spot by the dam, where last year’s winner was stationed. Barney said their pre-pre-dawn arrival is one of the things that makes the trout derby special. “The kids were excited to be out, running around, playing tag at three in the morning. They were having a blast,” he said.
Ned Casey, carpenter and experienced captain from Edgartown, started a tradition last year when he posted on Facebook, “Anyone on Island have a kid or two that would want to fish the derby Saturday morning who for some reason would not be able to go otherwise, I would be willing to teach and and bring to the pond.”
Mr. Casey had no takers until the night before the derby, when Michelle Cacchiotti from Oak Bluffs called and asked if it was too late to take her 6-year-old daughter Elaina. Mr. Casey jumped at the chance. This year, Elaina called Mr. Casey herself, and asked, “Are we going fishing?”
Last year it took a while for Elaina to embrace the fishing experience, but by the time the final horn went off, she didn’t want to stop. She was even helping other kids with their casting technique. This year, Elaina was laser-locked on her line from the first cast. Like last year, her mostly pink outfit coordinated nicely with her pink rod and reel, only this year, Mr. Casey brought her a reel that sparkled when she retrieved the line. Mr. Casey told The Times that the reel was not from his personal arsenal.
Last year, Elaina caught one trout. This year she caught five, possibly owing to Mr. Casey’s secret technique of spitting on the bait, a small nugget of rainbow Powerbait, before casting it into the drink.
Another derby tradition, embraced by adults and kids alike, sometimes repeatedly, is feasting on the grilled jumbo hot dogs which are flown in from St. Petersburg, Fla., by Rod and Gun Club member Tony Iannotti. The trout derby is a free fishing contest, paid for by the Rod and Gun Club with the assistance of generous contributors. It’s introduced generations of Islanders to the fun of a tug on the end of a fishing line. Many of the adults present grew up fishing the tournament.
“I loved doing this as a kid,” Kevin Peters of West Tisbury said. Mr. Peters started fishing the trout derby when he was 6 years old, when the derby was held at Wiggy’s Pond in Oak Bluffs. He pointed to other adults along the shore. “We all grew up doing this. We’d get to the pond at three in the morning and guard our spot. Our parents just dropped us off. They were different times.”
Mr. Peters choked up recalling his favorite derby memories, when he fished with his friend and hockey teammate Ryan Mone, who died in a car accident on New Year’s Eve in 1998.
Five-year-old Zackary Moore, one of three young fishermen Mr. Peters was overseeing, caught his grand-prize-winning tiger trout around 6:30 am. It was Zachary’s first trout derby, but with some calm coaching from Mr. Peters, he played the trout like a pro, even after the fish broke water and revealed its impressive size. The smile stayed on Zachary’s face all morning, and only got bigger when he was presented with a towering grand-prize trophy that was half his height, a new rod and reel, and a new bicycle from Wheel Happy bicycles in Edgartown.
The mystery of fishing was on full display 10 yards away from Zachary, where Christian Turner fished all morning and barely got a bite. Still, Christian showed no sign of disappointment as he packed up. “It was fun hanging out with my dad,” he said.
Grand overall prizes
Zachary Moore, age 5, 18-inch tiger trout
Amber Ventura, age 6, 21-inch pickerel
Ages through 8
- William Nicolson, age 7, 15½-inch rainbow trout
- Molly Sylvia, age 8, 13¾-inch rainbow trout
- Grace Cotton, age 7, 13-inch rainbow trout
Ages 9 to 11
- Riley Sylvia, age 11, 15-inch rainbow trout
- J.J. Polleys, age 10, 14¼-inch rainbow trout
- Camden Townes, age 9, 14-inch rainbow trout
Ages 12 to 14
- Katherine O’Brien, age 12, 15½-inch rainbow trout
- Micah Vought, age 12, 12¼-inch brook trout
- Veronica Wendt, age 13, 12-inch brook trout