Kids are the winners at Trout Tournament’s 50th

Five local kids win prizes as part of the annual Kids’ Trout Tournament.


Nora Arieta, a 7-year-old from Oak Bluffs, clambered through the crowd up the path that winds around Duarte’s Pond Saturday with a heading. She was going to the weigh-in station. 

Stopping only to show people the haul that lay in the bottom of her bucket, Nora, appropriately dressed in a “Girls Kick Bass” sweatshirt, hot pink waders, and a Red Sox baseball cap, ran just ahead of her mother, Alexa, who tried to keep up with her.

“I caught a fish,” she yelled to the other kids and parents gathered on the perimeter of the Island pond.

Nora is one of many children and families that gathered for the 50th annual Kids’ Trout Tournament, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Rod & Gun Club.

“My favorite part is catching fishes,” she told The Times as a large worm hung from her rod — no lures are allowed. “This is my favorite day of the whole year, because it’s the only time we can eat junk food for breakfast.”

And that’s true. Cooper Gilkes of Coop’s Bait and Tackle, known just as “Coops” to those who frequent the shop, has been organizing the popular kids’ tournament for 50 years. He always gets three racks of doughnuts from Life with Humphreys, and serves hot dogs for breakfast, all washed down with fresh coffee and hot chocolate. It’s the tournament’s last run with Life at Humphreys; it is closing in May.

Like Nora, for many of the kids this tournament is a special day. It’s a special day for the parents, too, most of whom have participated in the tournament since its inception 50 years ago, or close to it. A lot of the young participants are second- or even third-generation competitors.

Fishing is in their blood, and the kids, with their parents in tow, race down to the pond — before the sun rises — way before Gilkes blows the horn to signal the start of the tournament at sunrise.

Since 1989, Duarte’s pond has hosted 75 to 150 kids on an early spring morning each year, said Gilkes. Before that, the tournament was held at Wiggy’s Pond, from 1982 to 1988. But it started at Mill Pond, in 1973. Saturday morning marked 50 years, as they had to take a year off during the pandemic.

Gilkes, who’s been fishing his whole life, and was born with scales, according to his grandmother, is the mastermind behind the tournament, and sits on the executive committee of the Rod & Gun Club. He got the idea after he moved off the Island, “scratching and kicking,” when he was in sixth grade, and participated in a similar derby in his new hometown of Laconia, N.H. When he came back to the Island at 24 years old, with his own kids in tow, he suggested the Island have one.

The rules are simple: Only bait, cast out from sunrise to about 9 am, and try to win prizes with the biggest fish — measured in inches.

Next to the table of doughnuts, Gilkes set up a TV to project home videos of the tournament “going way back,” he said. Many of the parents, now there with their kids, tried to find themselves in the films. 

“Oh, man! Fifty years,” said Gilkes. “This is why we do it. It gives the Island kids a chance to see something,” he said, as one kid waded out into the pond, hooked his fingers around a large turtle, and hoisted the reptile up. The boy’s grandfather, Francis Fisher, a prophetic last name for his career as a commercial fisherman, looked on and said, “He’s going to lose a finger.”

A particularly fond memory of the tournament is the year they had golden trout. Right in front of the kids, an osprey dove in the water, grabbed one, and dropped the fish in a neighbor’s yard. “It was the neighbors’ hand-delivered breakfast that morning,” Gilkes recounted.

Guy Codding, another last name that seems fortuitous for a life on the water, remembers that day. Codding was at the pond with his grandsons, Finn and Owen, from Vineyard Haven on Saturday morning, and they’d been there since 5 am. 

Codding, who’s lived on the Island since he was 2 months old, brought his kids first, and now his grandkids, to the derby. He’s done it for the past 35 years.

“It’s something in the spring that gets you going,” he said. The fish weren’t biting for the Coddings, but Finn just likes “having fun with [his] brother and grandfather.”

It was a true family affair all around the pond.

Hunter Peters, an 8-year-old from Oak Bluffs, and his father, Kevin, were there for at least the fourth year in a row, but Kevin said he’s been coming since he was a little kid.

“I’m 44 now, so must be 39 years,” he said.

Christian Flanders got up early for the event with his wife Ellie, mother Rebecca, and 3-year-old daughter Athena, all of West Tisbury. 

“I love it. It means everything to me. This is what the Island’s supposed to be about: fishing in the woods and eating hot dogs,” said Flanders, who’s participated in the tournament his whole life.

But things have changed since he started. “There didn’t used to be this many trees,” he said. “You used to be able to fish around the whole pond.” Now anglers have to find a spot with enough open space to cast out. There also didn’t used to be so many lily pads on the surface of the pond, which give the fish somewhere to hide. It was a common source of disappointment across the pond.

Dan and Nerissa Marshall of Aquinnah agreed that it’s not the same as when they grew up. “It’s usually more crowded,” they said. 

Dan and one of his sons, Rocco, started getting their gear ready at 2 am, and grabbed a spot as soon as they were allowed to set up, around 4 am. They came so early because it’s normally packed. This year’s tournament might not have boasted 75 kids, but it’s still “a special rite of passage,” said Dan. And they were able to secure the best spot they’ve ever had.

It’s the last time Rocco, who’s 14 years old, can enter the tournament, but luckily for his parents, Gino, Rocco’s younger brother, can carry on the tradition.

Jax Trott, who’s also 14 years old, from Edgartown, said he likes fishing, and he likes competing. It’s his last year, but like many others, the annual derby has become a tradition. He’s another grandchild of Fisher, and they also bemoaned the lily pads coating the water. “The fish like them, the fishermen don’t,” said Fischer. Even so, Trott had already caught five fish by 7 am, and was able to reel in a few more before Gilkes called it. 

At around 9 am, after some had been there for five or six hours, a bullhorn went off to signal the end of the tournament and the start of the awards ceremony.

The catch “was slow,” said Gilkes. “But the weather was great. At least it didn’t rain,” he commented.

Almost immediately after the siren went off, a group of kids gathered around the table of prizes, all waiting to hear their name called. If the outdoors had walls, they would have been bouncing off them in anticipation. Up for grabs were lures, hats, rods, trophies, and two bikes.

Cliff Meehan, president of the Rod & Gun Club, and Gilkes stood behind the table and handed out prizes to the winners. All of the kids got new lures through the raffle, and one girl still held onto her fish as she went up to claim her new gear. 

Others won big. Nora’s 14.5-inch brook trout won her first place in the under-8 age category, her first haul at the tournament. While her brother has taken home “a lot of trophies,” this year, she’s bringing home her own. 

Sloane Rossi won the 9-11 age category with a 14.5-inch rainbow trout, and Connor Giegler beat out the rest of the 12- to 14-year-olds with a 15.25-inch rainbow trout.

McCabe Neadow won overall largest trout in any of the age groups, with a 15.5-inch rainbow trout, and Trott, who’s won for the past two years, was a three-peat champion with his 17-inch fish. He won the largest catch of any species.

“There’s nothing like standing at the weigh-in station and seeing a kid holding up a trout or fish that they’ve never caught,” said Gilkes. The tournament is a way for the Rod & Gun to give back to the Island’s next generation, but anyone can see that for Gilkes, it’s his way of passing down his love for the sport.

“It’s special to me,” he said. “It’s been one heck of a trip.”


  1. Thank you Coop. I have been bringing my 3 boys and my sister for 17 years, and i fished at both of the other spots growing up. This is truly a special time. We owe you many thanks for this.

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