More than 200 children showed up at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf on Sunday morning and not one of them left the Island. The gathering was for the annual Kids’ Day derby, an early morning fishing contest which recognizes that fishing starts with the young and can last a lifetime. For two hours the children ruled the wharf; the ferry boats arrived later.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd is the chairman of the contest and a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. He took a walk along the dock and warned the youngsters to be careful about the hooks. Later, he said it was the largest attendance he had seen, or close to it. The one-day event has been a part of the fall derby, and the September Island experience, for so long that many of the parents there were at one time participants.
There were a few sea robins and at least one exotic tropical fish. But scup and black sea bass ruled as the morning’s popular “catch of the day.” Nantucket Sound is famous for its scup and black sea bass. Black sea bass look nothing like the much celebrated striped bass. It is a shiny black fish that feeds on the bottom. It is also one of the best eating.
Austin Morley, 11, caught the largest sea bass, a 14-inch fish. This contest is unlike any saltwater adult fishing contest held on the Island: fish are measured in length, so no matter the species, the longest is a winner. One year, an angler caught an eel.
There were four adult volunteers at the derby wearing identical work gloves. Their job was to measure each of the wiggling fish caught and write down the angler’s name and numbers. The youngsters came by with fish of all kinds and sizes.
At 7:42 a.m. Devon Metters, 9, of Vineyard Haven, delivered a banded rudderfish, a species more accustomed to Caribbean than Cape and Islands waters. The 13-inch fish resembled a pale-colored bluefish.
Joe Swiridowsky, who stood behind the counter, watched the attention surrounding the odd looking animal and said: “That is a tropical fish. It doesn’t belong here.” Yet the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority Wharf in the fall often is the temporary home for out-of-range foreign fish. Over the years, anglers have pulled out a lot of exotic tropical fish.
Bonnie Dietz, an Edgartown school teacher, was with her daughter Jackie, 10. She said when they arrived at 5:45 a.m., the sun hadn’t risen but there were 50 anxious children at the gate ready to be let in. The numbers kept growing.
Fish were landed quickly. An hour later, the waters got quiet, as though a good many fish had figured out what was going on and left.
Les Baynes of Edgartown was overseeing the fishing efforts of Ben McMalon, 7, of Tisbury — Mr. Baynes the expert, Mr. McMalon the apprentice. “This is by far perfect weather for a fishing contest,” Mr. Baynes said.
No one at the dock would disagree: the air was still, though with a slight chill. Nantucket Sound was flat enough that any fish near the surface would draw attention.
Jeff Sayre was at the end of the dock, carefully watching the water a couple hundred yards away. “I just saw what must have been an albie break over by the green can,” Mr. Sayre said. Mr. Sayre is a former president of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association.
Aurora Austin, 10, of West Tisbury, came with the intention of winning. She wore a winter hat, sweater and a cheetah vest. Last spring she won the annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club’s trout tournament with a 14.5-inch pickerel, the biggest fish of any species. Her prize was a bicycle and fishing tackle. On this morning her glove-covered hands were empty, though she had gotten out of bed by 5:15 a.m.
Last spring Donald O’Shaughnessy, 10, was the overall winner for catching a 17.5-inch trout at the tournament held at Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury. On this Sunday morning, Mr. O’Shaughnessy, caught a 13-inch scup, and got a third place in his age group.
Not all the anglers were local. Miss Austin was fishing right next to a relative, Nate Vought, 14, of Heber City, Utah. He was fishing for his first and last time in the morning contest. The contest is open to anglers 14 years old and younger.
The morning was an opportunity for experimentation. Nathan Francis, 10, of Oak Bluffs, came up with an idea that seemed to work: he took a metal lure usually used for quick retrieving and used it with bait attached. He took a sand eel and attached it to the treble hook and then jigged it from the bottom. He said he caught one fish that way. “It was just a scup,” he said.
The winners are as follows:
Grand overall: Austin Morley, 11, 14-inch sea bass.
Anglers eight years and younger, all scup: 1, Ava Ben David, 5, 13 3/4-inch; 2, Nolan Bouchard, 7, 13 1/2; 3, Taylor Trudel, 6, 12 3/4-inches.
Anglers nine through eleven: 1, Lachlan Cormie, 9, 13-inch sea bass; 2, David Packer, 9, 13-inch sea bass; 3, Donald O’Shaughnessy, 10, 13-inch scup.
Anglers twelve to fourteen: 1, Michael Montanile, 14, 13 1/4-inch sea bass; 2, Steven O’Leary, 13, 13-inch sea bass; 3, Kyle Stobie, 12, 11 1/4-inch scup.
Winner of the Janet Messineo Island Taxidermy prize for the largest scup: Ava Ben David, 5, 13 3/4-inch scup.