Luke Gurney was known to many as a skilled angler and a master carpenter, but his ability to touch the hearts of those around him is one quality that the entire Island fishing community celebrates and remembers each year.
Gurney died in a fishing accident in 2016, while onboard his beloved 42-foot open-stern fishing boat, No Regrets. Now, each year in July, anglers of all ages and skill levels head out on their boats to fish the deep waters in search of fluke and sea bass, then everyone gets together for a celebration and commemoration once the weigh-ins wrap up.
This year, the fifth anniversary of the Fluke for Luke fishing tournament saw 272 registrants and some massive fluke and sea bass being plopped at the weigh station. The weather was crisp and clear for the award ceremony on Sunday at the Portuguese-American Club — families danced to live music and purchased some custom-made gear for the event. Hot dogs and other grillables were also available as folks streamed in to weigh their fish with the hopes of topping the leaderboard.
Dozens of Island organizations and individuals contributed to the event to make it happen this year, and there were some serious items available via the online auction: art prints from Matthew Poyant, taxidermy pieces by Janet Messineo, and a bonito painting by Kip Richmond, just to name a few.
The first-place winners in each category pulled in some major catches, with Ethan Rivers taking the junior fluke title with a 2.76-pound fish, and Jake Gatchell taking the lead in the junior sea bass division with a 3.54-pounder.
Julian Pepper won the adult fluke competition with an 8.86-pound fluke, and Matt Merry took home the sea bass gold with a 4.04-pound fish. As for the winners of the team category, Three Buoys and a Gull took the lead with 32.28 pounds of fish caught overall.
According to John Custer, Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee president, every year of the tournament feels special because it gives folks an opportunity to get together, see old friends, have a laugh, and tell old fishing stories — some involving Luke Gurney and members of his family. “It’s the fifth year, and the learning curve gets less and less each year. But when we get to about March or April, the last thing we can do is pray for good weather,” Custer said. “We pray to Luke — just give us good weather, Luke.”
Anglers lucked out on that front this time around, Custer said. He noted that even if the fishing isn’t spectacular, and the weather doesn’t entirely cooperate, it’s still a great event for a great cause. “The fishing is really secondary. It’s all about coming together and celebrating the life of Luke, who was a great guy with a wonderful family and a love for fishing. It’s sad that we have to do this, but we all enjoy it because it gives us an excuse to get together and celebrate friendship, fishing, and family,” Custer said.
Arilson Desouza, who took second place in the adult sea bass category, said he worked with Gurney while building a house, and getting to know him was an extremely positive experience. “I came from Brazil, and I couldn’t have met a better person than Luke. He was such a kind person, and this is really to honor him and what he loved to do,” Desouza said. “Everytime I catch a fish, I think of Luke. We have a saying, ‘What would Luke do?’ Every person he met, he would share the positive vibes that he had, and I was lucky he shared that with me.”
Here are the tournament results:
Third place: Jake Gatchell, 1.92
Second place: Henry Sullivan, 2.01
First place: Ethan Rivers, 2.76
Junior sea bass
Third place: Reed Cabot, 3.29
Second place: Latham Kurth, 3.34
First place: Jake Gatchell, 3.54
Third place: Ashton Hannah, 6.88
Second place: Josh Kresel, 7.45
First place: Julian Pepper, 8.86
Adult sea bass
Third place: Peter Jackson, 3.84
Second place: Arilson Desouza, 3.93
First place: Matt Merry, 4.04
Third place: Girl Power — total fish weight of 18.34
Second place: Sole Men — total fish weight of 21.28
First place: Three Buoys and a Gull — total fish weight of 32.28