By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Tomorrow morning at 12:01 begins the 10th annual Fluke Fishing Tournament, hosted by the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9261. The two-day fishing contest is expected to attract more than 100 anglers.
There were 170 fishermen in last year’s contest, and with fluke in abundance, there is plenty of reason for anglers to put down the $20 entrance fee and join this year. Teenagers and seniors are charged $10. Youngsters 12 and younger are admitted for free but they must register.
For the leading little anglers in the contest, Peter Herrmann-organizer-said of the prizes: “It will be like Christmas. There will be a whole lot of little things.”
Prizes include bicycles, fishing rods, tackle boxes, sporting goods and basketballs.
For the adults, you get prizes but, even better, bragging rights for the rest of the fishing season.
Gone are the days of one fish, one fisherman against the world. Team competition is a big part of the event. Anglers with fishing buddies are encouraged to team up, get a name and fish together. The team idea has remade the contest into another sport. Now the fluke tournament is like the fisherman’s World Series, Stanley Cup, Super Bowl and World Cup rolled into one.
A trophy is being given to the angler with the largest sea bass. It is a worthy prize. The technique for catching big fluke also brings in big sea bass. Sea bass are a wonderful fish.
Mr. Herrmann’s fishing contest now attracts a lot of the Island’s top anglers. He devotes nine months of his year to hunting down prizes for the contest. While the admission fees help to fund the event, Mr. Herrmann said there are individuals and organizations committed to making it a good experience for the kids, and their sponsorship and work in the background is reassuring.
“We’ve had people donate $50 to $200 to help with the cost,” Mr. Herrmann said.
The weigh-in is at the VFW Hall on Towanticut avenue in Oak Bluffs. The last weigh-in takes place at 6 p.m. Sunday. A cookout for entrants is part of the awards ceremony.
Mr. Herrmann is a retired physical education instructor. He put the event together 10 years ago as a way to introduce youngsters to a summer fishing contest. These young anglers don’t necessarily have to catch a fish to go home with some kind of prize. “We do it to get them interested in fishing,” Mr. Herrmann said. It is not entirely about getting the biggest fish.
First Lessons in Fishing
We had a family reunion last weekend. It was a time for storytelling by my siblings, cousins and elders.
My earliest memories of fishing Vineyard waters go back to when I was a really small fellow. We — my three brothers, sister and I — all used to fish together off an Edgartown dock.
We fished the old-fashioned way. It wasn’t about gear. It wasn’t about catching the biggest fish. For the Lovewell youngsters it was all about that magical connection an angler has with something alive only a few feet underwater.
Gearing up five youngsters for a day of fishing was too expensive back then. With five children in the family, my parents raised us the affordable way. They fed our imagination and spent very little money on that. We even hunted down our own bait. We used small periwinkles. We plucked them off a shoreside rock pile. We crushed them with a small rock and used the remaining meat inside on the hook.
No parent should ever say “no” to a child about fishing because of economics. It is one of the few waterfront sports that won’t empty a wallet if the goal is a day of fishing.
They still make the gear. For less than $10, you can turn any youngster, no matter the experience, into a saltwater fisherman.
Simplicity is what makes fishing achievable. I offer no criticism of the father who goes out and rents or buys the spinning reel with all the fancy gear. Eventually I got there. But my first memories of fishing are tied to a hand line, a lead sinker, and a hook.
And someone nearby always had a pair of long-nose pliers.
I suggest you don’t use the oversized hooks that come in the package. Get a really small hook, a hook capable of catching small fish. With some of the big hooks in the tackle shop, all the little munchkin will hope for is a big catch, but instead they’ll catch boredom. Small hooks bring excitement.
For every father who would like his little Johnny Angler to catch a huge striped bass, or a bluefish, may I offer you a quick tip. If your youngster is under the age of eight and you can’t afford a half-day boat charter, no matter. Too many young fishermen are smothered with the love of high expectations, when just enthusiasm for the attainable is needed.
Getting a young angler interested in fishing is about the joy one gets connecting to a fish, any fish. The skills, the strategy, the reeling in huge game fish comes later.
I have vivid memories of spending hours with my brothers and sister catching cunners and little scup off the family boathouse. We spent hours, far from the eagle eye of any expectant parent, just having a ball crushing periwinkles and seeing how close we could get the scup to come from the depths of the sea to the surface.
The hand line was perfect for making memories.
Today, I am an avid fly-fisherman. I love the feeling at the tips of my finger of when a fish takes the fly. It is an amazing fingertip connection, between the animal that lives on the land with the mouth and muscles of a mysterious animal that lives in the sea.
I got that initial feeling of touch with a fish with a cotton-wound line. My siblings and I could feel the moment the little cunner chewed at the small piece of bait on the hook. The trick was getting the little fish to take a big bite and thereby get the hook in its mouth. Pulling the fish out of the water then was easy.
I like the simple handline because at six years of age, I could understand how it worked. The theory behind catching fish wasn’t complicated. I am at one end of the line. The fish is at the other end of the line. The intent is to invite a fish to take my hook.
As soon as I advanced into more sophisticated equipment, like rod and reel, my world of opportunities expanded. But with all the perks of catching bigger fish, so too, came the need to apply a little more intelligence to the effort.
There is nothing casual about using a rod and reel when you are six years old. I am not sure every little angler is prepared to start fishing with a spinning rod. There is a lot more safety involved. And there is etiquette. My first memories of using a fishing rod involved trying to learn how to cast without taking someone’s hat off.
I had to learn some proficiency at managing the rod and reel so people nearby didn’t duck and weren’t scared of me whenever I raised the rod.
By the time I showed up at Memorial Wharf with a rod and reel, I already knew how to be a good neighbor on the dock and I knew how to untangle a tangled line.
A hand line, with a baited hook, is really simple. I remember holding the line in my left hand and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my right.
I gave up eating my lunch while fishing when I switched to rod and reel.
A great deal has changed in the 50 years since I began fishing. Fishermen today must deal with minimum sizes.
The minimum size for fluke is huge: 18.5 inches. The minimum size for scup is also big: 10.5 inches. Parents have the new responsibility of having to explain to a young angler that fishing isn’t just about taking home everything you catch, like it was when I was a youngster; it is about being an active participant and letting little fish go so they can get bigger for the next time.
A lot of Island anglers remember the drop line. Greg Orcutt of West Tisbury is an avid shoreline sports fisherman. He remembered his own exploits as a youngster. “We went for scup. I went fishing with my grandfather Lemont Wells. He started Wells Oil Service. I remember going to the hardware store, getting a drop line and then going to Memorial Wharf to fish. As we fished, we watched Tony Bettencourt operate the Chappy Ferry.
“My grandfather would also take us squid fishing. He would cut off a piece of a dowel and paint it white and attach a treble hook. That was his squid jig,” Mr. Orcutt said.
Another Island angler, Rob Morrison of Edgartown, works at Coop’s Bait and Tackle Shop. At 28 years of age, he lives and breathes fishing. But, he said, “I remember starting with a drop line ... I’ve got memories.”