Gone fishin’: No sommelier needed at VFW fluke derby

It’s just Coop; the Sole Men triumph; and a mutiny goes unrewarded.

Cooper "Coop" Gilkes, left, and Rick Harvey, also known as the Sole Men, won the team competition. Coop also took first place individually. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The sunbaked fishermen gathered inside the VFW building Sunday evening looked just a few degrees short of well-done. Two days of hot, sunny weather drifting in Vineyard Sound bouncing lead sinkers and fluke rigs on the bottom in search of big doormats had taken its toll.

The fluke derby is about perseverance, skill, bait, and luck, and not necessarily in that order. Did I mention aspirin? Without it I do not think I would have been able to move Sunday morning.

The plan was to meet brothers Ned and John Casey at Tashmoo landing at 6 am and head out in my Tashmoo-18, an open skiff. John and I had fished Saturday, while Ned worked. We finished the day in second place in the team standings.

At 5 am Sunday I received a text message from Ned. I am new to the world of text messaging, but pretty much it is a way to electronically shout back and forth without punctuation or spelling.

“Going to be windy. 3 in your boat ok?

I could see where this was going. I suggested Ned was a kitty.

“Soaking wet,” he responded.

I referenced Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who made a 700-mile journey in a 20-foot boat.

“Shajelton wouldn’t have gone in your boat,” Ned responded. “You’re a [unkind noun deleted].” Then he asked if I would bring snacks.

I pointed out that I was the Fluke King and he, as my vassal, should provide any snacks.

The mutiny was on. Ned said he and John would see me out on Vineyard Sound in his tin boat. Our team was no more.

If it had been a made-for-TV movie, I would have landed a giant fluke and won the tournament. But it more resembled late-night cable. I did catch four nice fluke, which provided plenty of fillets. Ned and John caught two unremarkable fluke and a dinner of sea bass.

The awards board outside the VFW, a nondescript single-story building on Towanticut Avenue in Oak Bluffs as unpretentious as the tournament, told the story.

First place: Coop, 7.92. No last name. I jokingly asked longtime tournament organizer and master of ceremonies Peter Herrmann who Coop was. “Some guy in Edgartown,” Peter said.

The truth is that if you need to ask “Coop who?” you’re in the wrong Island fishing tournament.

Cooper and his teammate, Rick Harvey, the Sole Men, also took top honors in the team competition. The combined weight of their eight fish was 43.18 pounds, nearly seven pounds more than the second-place Slab Men, with 36.4.

Coop sat at a table, his knees a brilliant shade of sunburn red. He and Rick had fished both days hard. Coop wore a sly smile. He said he had a new secret weapon. “And a lot of luck,” Rick added.

There were two moments in the annual VFW fluke derby that characterized this event. As I walked from the parking lot, I followed Beverly and Gene Bergeron. I overheard Beverly talking to her grandson, Joe Medeiros.

“You were a trooper out there; you’re 7 years old and you did so much fishing,” Beverly, a hard-fishing trooper herself, said to Joe. “And helping scrub the boat afterwards, I’m so proud of you.”

No audience. Just the two of them and an eavesdropper. But that kid will always remember fishing with Grandma and Grandpa.

Inside, the Packer family and friends commandeered a large table. The fluke derby is a two-day event, and they make the most of it.

Peter began the awards ceremony by noting it was the 16th year the VFW had sponsored the event. Standing in front of many piles of prizes, most of which go to the kids, he thanked the many sponsors and proceeded to auction off several items.

There were no dinners with celebrities or trips to France. But there was a fluke doormat. That went for $30 to John Packer, who I suspect has quite a few around the house.

Peter “discovered” another fluke mat and proceeded to push up the bidding. “Sold to Sandy,” he said, “for $30.”

“She’s your wife,” his grandson blurted out, eliciting a knowing laugh from the room.

A set of four wine glasses emblazoned with the fluke derby name and logo went on the auction block. I thought they looked kind of nice. Timidly, knowing what my wife would think, I bid $25.

Another bid $30. Another $40, the winning bid.

Next up a pair of beer mugs, also with the fluke logo. The crowd was interested. The bidding quickly eclipsed the $40 for four wine glasses. The two mugs sold for $50.

What a great tournament.


Individual: 1. Cooper Gilkes (7.92); 2. Andrew Nichols (6.83); 3. Steve Barron (6.52). Sea Bass, Ed Starzec (5.05).

Team: 1. Sole Men (43.18); 2. Slab Men (36.40); 3. Payback (30.67).

Under 16: 1. Charlotte Packer (4.04); 2. Nathaniel Packer (3.17); 3. Radio Goulart (3.13); 4. Joseph Medeiros (3.11); 5. Sydney Brown (3.11); 6. Michela Benefit (2.63); 7. David Packer (2.34); 8. Ivy BenDavid (2.17).

First bonito

The arrival of bonito in Island waters is a much-anticipated event. These tasty mini-tuna are exciting to catch and delicious to eat.

I received an email from David Kadison, who said his son Dylan, 13, caught a bonito at the hooter Sunday, a buoy that marks the end of Muskeget channel about three miles southeast of the Vineyard, and a popular spot to fish.

“We were trying to catch bluefish for shark bait and we caught three stripers in a row and then the one bonito,” David said in an email. “We were saying to each other that when we try to catch stripers and bonito we usually catch bluefish. We finally caught three bluefish for bait and had one mako and a swarm of blue sharks around the boat. Great day to be fishing.”

David and Dylan are expert fishermen and perennial Derby winners. In 2014 they won the boat grand slam in the adult and junior categories, respectively. It is no surprise that they should announce the arrival of bonito. The big question is when will the fish come closer to shore.