More than 200 fly-fishermen from all over the Island, the country, and the world turned out for the 28th annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club Fly Rod Striped Bass Catch and Release Tournament.
Just as in years past, the awards ceremony was held Sunday morning in the Edgartown School cafeteria, and featured some light breakfast bites and coffee.
Cooper “Coop” Gilkes of Coop’s Bait and Tackle has helped facilitate the tourney every year, and said he can’t get enough of it. Gilkes donates rods, tackle, and equipment from his shop to be used as prizes, and even gives out gift certificates.
Gilkes said his favorite thing about the catch-and-release tourney is the togetherness of fishing, not necessarily for competition, but for pure enjoyment and bonding.
For Gilkes, fishing with a fly rod is an incredibly technical art that requires concentration and determination. He said anglers who use spinning rods and have never picked up a fly rod are “missing the boat,” and should give it a try sometime. “If you fish with a spin rod, you won’t always remember your first fish or your biggest fish, but with a fly rod you always remember that feeling; it is very special,” Gilkes said.
Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School history teacher and angler Andrew Vandall and his girlfriend Jessica Wilcox sat at a table as prizes were raffled off and chatted about their night on the water.
“You know, we went to a bunch of different spots, and sometimes it’s not exactly fishing, just casting,” Vandall said. “But that’s what’s so cool about this, everyone is included and everyone gets to have fun.”
Vandall said he has been fishing for more than 10 years, but just recently started fly-fishing. He said the sport is more demanding than when using spinning rods because you are more actively engaged.
“There is so much to know about fly-fishing, it will totally blow your mind,” Vandall said.
“I am really fascinated by the mechanics of fly-fishing,” said Wilcox. “It’s almost like everything is an equation, and you have to solve that equation just right.”
And Wilcox said because you have to work harder to hook and land a fish, the reward is that much more gratifying. “A couple that fishes together, stays together,” Vandall chimed in.
Nelson Sigelman acted as master of ceremonies for the tourney awards ceremony. Sigelman said the most important thing about the catch-and-release tourney in particular is comradery.
“All these guys come here year after year just to hang out with their friends and have a great time,” Sigelman said. “It’s not about how many fish you catch or what prizes you win, it’s about being out there with real good people.”
Tourney winners receive a plaque, and everyone had an equal chance to win awesome prizes in a raffle.
The switch from prizes to plaques goes with the spirit and lightheartedness of the competition, Sigelman said.
“I’d say about 40 percent of the time we screw this up,” Sigelman said. “If we do, it’s not a big deal, they’re plaques, you can get them on eBay.”
Father-and-son fishing team Todd and Aron Cascone both agreed that fly-fishing brings some of the kindest and most interesting folks together to be a part of something bigger than themselves. “This is such a unique group of people — some have been friends and fishing buddies for years, and others only see each other for this event,” Aron said. Since the start of the tourney, Aron said, he hasn’t missed a single year. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Aron said. Even though he runs a charter fishing service in Rhode Island, Aron said he makes the trek every year to see old friends and enjoy some time out fishing for himself.
Cliff Meehan stood behind a folding table and served up hot cups of coffee. “This competition is truly just for fun,” Meehan said. “We have some people who are just taking up fly-fishing, and others have been doing this for years, but they all fish together.”
Every year, a few unexpected twists are put on the awards ceremony. This time around, Sigelman called out to the audience for anyone of Scottish descent.
After two Scots came up to the stage, Sigelman took four fishing poles off the prize table and aligned them in two cross shapes on the floor.
“In Scotland, they have a sword dance. I couldn’t come up with swords, so instead we will use these very nice rods from Coop’s Bait and Tackle,” Sigelman said. “Every year we have a theme, and this year is ‘Martha’s Vineyard Catch and Release Tournament’s America’s Got Talent.’”
Sigelman then introduced Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee as the piper who would lead the two surprised anglers in a traditional Scottish jig.
As McNamee started to play, the pair began to step back and forth over the rods, and the audience began to clap to the tune. The two dancing fishermen then received the rods as prizes.
For the second segment of “America’s Got Talent: Fishing Edition,” the executive officer of Coast Guard Station Menemsha, Robert Parent, was called to the stage along with his family.
He was given a banjo, and behind him was a whiteboard with song lyrics written on it.
The song was called “Catch and Release Time,” sung to the tune of “Wagon Wheel.”
Parent began to strum and sing, “Heading to the Island for catch-and-release, thinking all the way gonna hook a great beast, cruisin’ down the road and I’m praying for that one fly.”
The audience sang the chorus, “Rock me Moshup to the catch-and-release, rock me Moshup till I rest in peace, hey, Moshup rock me.”
Parent was presented with a hat signed by many of his friends and fellow fishermen, and said goodbye to his Island home.
Parent is being restationed in Maine, but said he will always hold a piece of Martha’s Vineyard with him, wherever he goes.
“Thanks a lot for really making us feel like a part of the community,” Parent said. “It’s going to be very hard to leave, this place feels like home more than any other place I have been.”
Arnold Spofford Award (most fish caught using one fly, meaning you can’t change it)
Released: 55 (Avg: 18.3)
Jim Lepore, Sandra Demel, and John Kollett
Ralph and Ken
Released: 27 (Avg: 13.5)
Ken Berkon and Ralph Norton
Released: 22 (Avg: 11)
Scott Maccaferri and Jeff Stevens
Roberto Germani Trophy (most fish caught and released)
Just the Tippet
Released: 51 (Avg: 25.5)
Tyler Meyst and Anthony Marcantonio
Released: 41 (Avg: 20.5)
Abe Pieciak and David Thompson
Released: 66 (Avg: 16.5)
Cooper Gilkes, Paul Fersun, Nick Fersun, and Joe Dion
Sonny and Joey Beaulieu Award (for the largest fish caught and released)