The best time to catch fish during tomorrow morning’s trout tournament is early, at its beginning.
The 34th annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club’s trout tournament is free for youngsters 14 years of age and younger. As many as 200 youngsters are expected to show up to the shores of Duarte’s Pond, off Lambert’s Cove in West Tisbury.
The tournament starts early, before sunrise, and concludes at 10 a.m.
How early? That is hard to say precisely. Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, long-time chairman of the event, said the fishing starts at “first light.”
“It is important fishermen get there really early, because that is when they catch fish. We don’t like the idea of getting parents up early, but that is really the best time,” Mr. Gilkes said. Any fishing later in the morning tends to slack off.
This week the pond was stocked with handsome-looking rainbow, brown and brook trout from a hatchery in Barnstable.
Every year the size and number of fish gets better. Mr. Gilkes said that the rod and gun club has a special relationship with Blue Stream Hatchery Inc.
“We have our own pond over there and they have designated the fish for us,” Mr. Gilkes said.
The fish from the hatchery are funded through contributions of money raised by the club. The stocking almost guarantees that a lot of children will catch a lot of hungry fish. There also are some natural pickerel and in years past they have been huge.
Plenty of prizes are waiting for the winners. Anglers are broken up into three age groups: eight years old and younger, nine through 11, and 12 through 14. Grand overall winners walk away with the biggest prizes. Island merchants and good friends of the club donate all the prizes.
Tomorrow morning is the only time on the Vineyard you can have a free hot dog before most people are up having breakfast. Club volunteers maintain a gas grill and turn over hot dogs and rolls for the hungry. Hot cocoa is served, too.
“This event has become an institution,” Mr. Gilkes said. In 34 years of continuous operation, Mr. Gilkes said the event has generated plenty of veterans, not only fathers and mothers who fished the tournament, but participants who now are grandfathers and grandmothers.
In years past the tournament has been held at other ponds. Old Mill Pond and Uncle Seth’s Pond were once used, but while the fish didn’t seem to mind, parents were concerned about children and their proximity to fast-moving cars. The tournament also was held at Wiggy’s Pond in Oak Bluffs, but that was troublesome because it was a private pond surrounded by privately held land.
In 1989, the tournament was first moved to Duarte’s Pond with the blessing of property owner Doug Fitts. The tournament went well and parents loved bringing their children there, for the site had all the assets for a good tournament: it was safe, the fishing spots were far from the road and the property owner was an advocate for the club and its mission.
Ten years later, in 1999, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchased the 18.8-acre property for $1.2 million.
“I would invite parents and their children to take a walk after the fishing tournament,” land bank executive director James Lengyl said. “In fact, bring a picnic basket.”
Since that initial purchase, the land bank expanded the conservation land to a total of 106 acres. A lot more land than the pond and the shoreline now is open to public access. There are plenty of trails and open land going far beyond the pond.
“A family can spend quite a bit of time there,” Mr. Lengyel said.
“The purchase of the land stands out in land bank history. It is another reason why Martha’s Vineyard is so privileged to have a land bank, because the land bank treasury exists and was able to preserve the whole property,” Mr. Lengyl said.
“This was an intriguing acquisition,” he said. “The land bank was looking at the property interested in a trail easement. We talked to Doug Fitts. The land bank always knew that the trout tournament was there, but it helped to motivate us, to purchase the land, so that the fishing tradition would last. And that was the seller’s wish too.”