A bright-eyed 3-year-old, Bryan Ellis, stood and watched with fascination as his freshly caught black sea bass was measured and thrown back into the current.
“17 inches. That’s a nice fish, nice job,” Ron McKee said as he cordially shook Bryan’s hand.
The boy smiled and clomped away from the table, determined to get his line back in the water.
This was the scene at the 2019 annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Kids Day.
Just one week after the start of the Islandwide Derby, Kids Day at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier is a way to shift attention to young anglers and give them a fun and exciting morning.
That’s not to say things don’t get competitive. All kids on the pier were rod-in-hand and ready to hook on. Larry Weiss stood next to his 12-year-old son, Hunter, as he looked over the edge of the pier in anticipation for a bite.
“Something’s interested,” Weiss said as the tip of Hunter’s rod began to bob. “You’re on!”
After reeling his hook up to reveal a shredded piece of squid, Hunter wasted no time in snagging some more bait from his bucket and casting out again.
A short time later, another fish hit. This time, a sizable black sea bass was pulled up over the railing.
“Look at that one, go bring it over,” Weiss said as his son sprinted to the measuring table.
Weiss said he has been coming to Kids Day ever since Hunter was 3.
“He’s 12 now, it’s just become a strong family tradition,” Weiss said. “Both my kids always jump right out of bed.”
When asked if he was a fisherman himself, Weiss said, “Not really a good one. My kids are. Everything my kids have learned, they’ve learned from the people here.”
Weiss said the reason his family always brings extra fishing rods to Kids Day is because one year, they had a nasty bird’s nest and couldn’t get it untangled.
“Then Coop came over like some ethereal force and helped us out. He is always walking around and helping people when they need it,” Weiss said.
Over at the measuring table, McKee grinned as he measured another young fisherman’s catch.
He said Kids Day is always a momentous occasion for children with a love for fishing.
“It’s an absolute ball,” McKee said. “These kids are pulling up itsy-bitsy fish sometimes, but it’s a giant fish to them.”
McKee said he, along with other anglers on the pier with decades of fishing under their belt, get pleasure watching kids catch fish and learn about fishing.
“A lot of us are grandparents, and it’s great to look out and see all the kids having fun. That’s our future,” McKee said as he pointed to a young girl reeling vigorously along the railing.
Janet Messineo sat behind the table alongside McKee, and noted all the unique fish that were being brought up to be measured.
“There are a lot of strange species being caught this time around,” Messineo said. “A lot of these fish are deep-water bottom fish.”
She counted one pufferfish and two goosefish.
McKee recalled one year when a young fisherman pulled up a massive sand shark. “That shark was bigger than he was,” McKee said.
At the closing ceremony, kids were awarded first, second, and third place in their age groups.
Before giving out plaques, rods, and tackle boxes to the winners, Derby president John Custer thanked everyone who made the event possible. “This event has been happening for nearly 40 years. I fished this event when I was a kid,” Custer said. “I love seeing parents and kids fishing together.”
Custer thanked Cooper “Coop” and Lela Gilkes for their continued dedication to the Derby.
He also paid tribute to longtime former Derby president Ed Jerome, who greatly enjoyed Kids Day, and was always in attendance to cheer on young anglers. “This event feels much different without Ed Jerome here. He loved Kids Day,” Custer said.
“Congratulations to all the kids, and thank you to all the parents who made it out here on another early morning.”
Here are the final winners for the Kids Day Derby:
Grand overall winner: Clara Robini, age 9, 20-inch black sea bass
First place: Ellis Estrella, age 5, 17-inch black sea bass
Second place: Bryan Ellis, age 3, 17-inch black sea bass
Third place: Finn Hall, age 6, 16½-inch black sea bass
First place: Yury Demares, age 11, 17½- inch black sea bass
Second place: Ashton Trott, age 11, 17-inch black sea bass
Third place: Jake Ponce, age 9, 16½-inch black sea bass
First place: Jacob Riis, age 14, 16½-inch black sea bass
Second place: Jack McHale, age 14, 15½-inch black sea bass
Third place: Henry Coogan, age 13, 15½-inch black sea bass