Gone fishin’: Derby Kids Day is about the pure fun of fishing

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Dawn breaks over the annual KIds Day Derby. — Michael Cummo

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Kids Day outing provides a welcome respite from the intensity of all-out fishing competition. For a few hours, the goal is not to climb the piscatorial mountain in pursuit of glory and prizes. The object of kids day for all the Derby committee members, moms and dads, uncles, aunts, and grandparents present — many who wake before sunrise — is to make sure the kids catch a few fish and have fun.

Standing on the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority dock Sunday morning after several hundred kids had departed, many with prizes and all with a T shirt and a Mad Martha’s gift certificate for a free ice cream, committee member Paula Sullivan summed up the general view: “This is the best part of the Derby.”

“I had a ball,” Derby chairman John Custer said about the morning. “I always have a good time.”

Longtime kids day committee chairman Cooper “Coop” Gilkes is the embodiment of the bumper sticker that reads, “A bad day fishing beats a good day at work.”

For Coop, there is no such thing as a bad day fishing. Asked about the fishing, Coop pronounced it mediocre, but quickly added, “But who’s complaining? The sunrise was gorgeous.”

I was interested in the tally. Most of the winners caught sizeable black sea bass, one of the tastiest fish available in Island waters. Unfortunately, the season is now closed, but fishermen who go in search of sea bass next season from shore might want to note the kids day tally. Numerous fish in excess of the 14-inch minimum state size limit came over the rail. Although the SSA pier is off limits, the adjacent state fishing pier provides a very convenient spot to fish for a variety of species.

On Sunday, all of the kids received a T shirt with a custom design by fourth grader Elena Giordano of the Oak Bluffs School, winner of an Island-school-wide competition.

If years of writing about kids day have taught me one thing, it is that kids are a tough interview. Art Linkletter, who parlayed his ability to get kids to spill the beans on mom and dad into a career, knew that.

I asked Elena about her winning design.

“It was a person fishing on the pier and it says Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby,” Elena said shyly.

Where did you get the idea for it? I asked, prodding her for some deeper insight while making sure to avoid a yes or no question.

“I’m not sure,” she said.

A few days ago, Tom and I had come off the beach. A car was parked near our vehicle. Two women and a guy sat on the tailgate and one of the women was involved in a serious monologue about her insights into her id, life, and her psyche. Her discourse continued the entire time it took us to get out of our waders and get out of there. It was so refreshing to gather Elena’s uncomplicated insights.

I asked her if the girl in the drawing was supposed to be her. Is that you, I asked, violating my yes-or-no guideline, and getting the one-word answer it generally elicits.

“Yuh,” she said.

I asked her why she picked a little girl instead of a little boy. The answer was as refreshing as it was innocent. There will be time enough to be pulled into the gender wars.

“Umm,” she said. “Because I’m a girl.”

Over the years, I have sought Derby guidance from all corners. I asked Elena where she thought I ought to fish. She recommended the nearby Oak Bluffs jetty.

If I don’t win the Derby, will you be sad for me? I asked, shamelessly playing for sympathy. She demurred, too polite to say no, but obviously finished with the interview. Art Linkletter would have understood.

Kids Day Derby results

Biggest scup of the day: Leah deBettencourt of Oak Bluffs (age 7), 13.25 inches.

Biggest fish of the day: Hannah Gibbs of Oak Bluffs (age 12), 17-inch black sea bass.

Through 8 years old: 1. Jackson Munson (age 7), 16.50-inch sea bass; 2. Jack Scarborough (age 5), 15-inch sea bass; 3. Leah deBettencourt (age 7), 15-inch sea bass.

9-11 years old: 1. Henry Coogan (age 9), 16.5-inch sea bass; 2. Chelsea Bouchard (age 11), 16.5-inch fluke; 3. Riley Sylvia (age 11), 16-inch sea bass.

12-14 years old: 1. William Herman (age 14), 15-inch sea bass; 2. Jackson Pachico (age 13), 12.75-inch scup; 3. Owen Steenkamp (age 12), 12.50-inch scup.

Each young fisherman 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 fourth grader Elena Giordano of the Oak Bluffs School. Honorable mentions went to: Eli Bryant, Grade 2, West Tisbury School; Henry D’Andrea, grade 5, Edgartown School; and Ella Keene, Grade 4,  Chilmark School.

Art of fly tying

Fly tying in all its facets will be on display this Thursday and Friday in the Pebble Gallery at Featherstone Center for the Arts off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs, just a long cast from the herring run. The Art of Fly Tying will feature Bob Popovics, Page Rogers, “Bonito” Ed LePore, Tim Allan, Jamie Boyle and Karen Kukolich, who will be tying flies and sharing their considerable skills and insights. Art pieces from Ben McCormick, Tim Allan, Alison Shaw, Janet Messineo, Mike Laptew and Edley Oliver which also be on display and on sale.