Updated 2:30 pm
The 45th annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Kids Trout Derby was a morning filled with friends, family, and fish.
Many groups arrived at Duarte’s Pond earlier than 4 am, with parents ushering their kids out of bed well before first light to snag the best spot and set up.
It was a wet and misty morning. Colorful rain gear and puddle jumping was the theme of the day. Young anglers from toddlers to 14 watched with anticipation for any sign of movement from their red and white bobbers.
Near the Pondside Road hill, Jax Trott, 9, stood next to his two sizable rainbow trout and awaited another bite. Cuyler Fisher, also 9, stood with rod in hand, grinning ear to ear. She had already caught three rainbow trout, and her first one was 17¼ inches.
“I really like to fish,” Cuyler said as she showed off her beautifully patterned trout. “I’ve been doing the derby for five years, and I always get second place.”
The kids’ mother, Leanna Fisher, sat on a milk crate and watched eagerly. “It’s so nice to see all the kids fishing instead of playing Xbox,” Fisher said with a giggle. “They get to be outside and they really like doing it every year; they really do love to fish.”
Cuyler ended up catching the largest trout of the morning, and taking home first place.
Tyler Arieta, 5, won the age 0 through 8 category; Aubrey Warburton, 10, won the age 9 through 11 category; and 14-year-old Miles Wolff won the age 12 to 14 category.
Over on the other side of Duarte’s, Liza Ventura watched as her granddaughters fished along the shallow bank of lily pads.
She pointed to Amber Ventura, 10, and said, “There she is, that’s my granddaughter. She has been fishing since she was pretty much an infant, since before she could walk.”
Her other granddaughter, Ava Trott, will be turning 8 this week. She too scooted along the bank to where her rod was set up.
“It’s just wonderful what they do here,” Ventura said. “The kids get to run around and have fun, which is good. And it even gives the parents a break to relax and enjoy themselves.”
Nearby, Chase Panico, 8, sat in a camping chair and chilled as his PowerBait did the work. Chase said he has been doing both the freshwater and saltwater derbies for four years.
His mother, Lydia Heath, said the family got to their spot before 3 am, and never budged. “I will be ready for a nap after this,” she said.
Heath said her family looks forward to fishing Duarte’s on Mother’s Day weekend and “catching all the leftover fish.”
“It’s stocked, so why not,” she said.
Another angler, 10-year-old Brady Vought, said he has been fishing both derbies for six years.
“I love catching stuff, it’s pretty fun and exciting,” Brady said. “I haven’t had too much luck today; I think the fish are scared of me.”
Last year, Brady caught his first striper, which he said was “pretty awesome.” But he prefers bottom fishing, which is perfect for this competition where lures aren’t allowed (a permanent regulation created just this year).
“I usually use PowerBait or worms, because worms can catch pretty much anything. You could catch a catfish, trout, or even a snapping turtle,” Brady said.
Brady explained that the pond was recently stocked with hundreds of fish, some of which he described as “total giants.” He described the legendary Moby as a massive trout that got thrown in with the other stock as a swimming jackpot. “There are some monsters swimming around, I think, but they must not be too hungry.”
As the end of the derby drew near, Cooper “Coop” Gilkes, the head of the trout derby, laughed as he watched Hunter, his 4-year-old grandaughter, splash in puddles with her brightly colored rain boots.
“This right here is what it’s all about,” Gilkes said. “This is what I love and can’t get enough of. It’s all about family and friends. This is a day for people to just come together and have fun.”
Gilkes described the memorable moment a child experiences when they hook their first fish.
“Seeing a kid catch their first fish is an amazing thing to witness. You can see the dreams in their eyes,” he said.
Updated with complete story – Ed.