Daniel (Danny) Bryant of Chilmark, Island fisherman, hunter, bird-counter, all-around outdoorsman and housepainter, died on Thursday at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston as the result of a fall. He was 76.
He was the 1999 winner of the Martha’s Vineyard Bass and Bluefish Derby with a 16.56–pound bluefish caught from the shore. An inveterate duck and deer hunter, it was said all he needed to down a deer was a glimpse of its antlers. No one on the Island knew the marshes of Chilmark’s Black Point — a feasting ground for teal and mallards and black ducks — better than Danny, who was also a staunch supporter of Ducks Unlimited. After one of his less stellar duck-hunting adventures, however, he earned the nickname Clumps that stayed with him ever afterwards.
Hunting at dusk, so the story he goes, he alerted his companions to ducks that he saw bobbing on the water in the distance. He moved in for the kill — only to discover that the three ducks were instead three clumps of grass. Hence the nickname from his duck-hunting friends, who included the late George Manter, Dave Tilton, Peter Huntington, Flip Harrington, Mike Lynch, Tim Rich, Whit Manter and Albert Fischer 3rd.
Danny’s keen eye and an immense curiosity also made him a remarkable collector of Vineyard arrowheads and fossils and bottle-dump bottles with which he artfully decorated his 1850s State Road house. Decorating it, too, are trophies of his hunts and Vineyard painters’ paintings of the marshes and shores that he so loved — a Ray Ellis beach scene, an Allen Whiting painting of The Tullies at Black Point, among others.
He was born on August 23, 1934, in Oak Bluffs, a son of the late Nelson Bryant and Olga Griffith Bryant. He attended the West Tisbury School and Tisbury High School, class of 1952. It was from his father, longtime West Tisbury selectman and an outdoorsman, too, that Danny and his older brother, Nelson, learned the arts of fishing and hunting. At age 15, during the Vineyard’s first annual deer week, Danny and his schoolmate David Tilton shot their first deer on the Quansoo Road one afternoon after school.
Ever restless for adventure, he went swordfishing when he was 14 aboard Alton Tilton’s Southern Cross out of Vineyard Haven. The boat’s destination was Georges Bank and seas there were so rough that he lost 14 pounds from seasickness during the two-week voyage and vowed he would never go on a swordfishing expedition again. But never one to be put down for long, the following summer he was back on Georges Bank aboard Tom Tilton’s Three Bells out of Vineyard Haven. And he kept on swordfishing, joining the late Walter Manning on his Menemsha boat, Bozo, for daylong swordfishing off Noman’s Land and south of Menemsha. But he was also setting lobster pots for his own use in Menemsha waters and oystering in season and clamming.
Everett Poole remarked that “Danny could catch a striped bass in the middle of the street,” while Sue Whiting said his prowess as a fisherman equaled his prowess as a marksman. She remembered one cocktail hour when her father and mother, John and Bea Whting, were entertaining off-Island professors when Danny stopped by to request a key to the Quansoo Beach so he could go fishing. John Whiting agreed — on condition that he be given a fish in exchange. In half an hour, Danny was back with a striped bass that he slapped down gleefully on the cocktail table as he returned the key.
Although he fished whenever the fish were running and hunted deer and geese and duck at every opportunity, he made sure that he ate what he killed. He was known for his talented preparation for the table of venison, duck and goose; and for the orange chutney and strawberry-rhubarb pies he made using his mother’s recipes, as well as for his gravlax. Mouths would water in the mornings at Conroy’s coffee clatch in West Tisbury as he described some of his culinary endeavors. He also grew his own shiitake mushrooms.
Danny was also known for the annual Fourth of July fireworks displays that he put on at Quansoo. At one of these, his chest-length beard caught on fire, but Danny was unfazed by it. “Grinning like a Cheshire cat,” those who witnessed the event recall, “Danny simply headed for the hose.” Enjoying the fireworks every bit as much as Danny was his chocolate Lab, Dutchess, who delighted in chasing bottle rockets.
There was always a dog in Danny’s life, principally Labs to assist in the duck hunting, but he also had Weimaraners.
Although most of his life was spent on the Vineyard, he enjoyed traveling. With his late wife, Betty Ann, and Sue Whiting and Flip Harrington, he visited Cuba to birdwatch in the 1960s. He had been fishing in Alaska and the Florida Keys and hunting in Minnesota.
Music was also important to him. He played the recorder, the piano and the guitar and is remembered by many whose houses he painted for singing opera while he wielded brushes in two hands. Often such playful antics and his charm led to his being befriended by wealthy summer visitors, whose houses he painted.
He was unique and the last of his kind, his friends said. Certainly there are crack hunters and fishermen still around on the Island, but none with the character and old-time Vineyard flair of Danny, they said.
He is survived by his longtime companion, Evelyn Dengler, of Chilmark; his brother, Nelson, of West Tisbury; his daughter, Laura German, and a granddaughter, Miranda German of North Brookfield and a grandson, James Cleary of Las Vegas, Nev., and by his chocolate Labrador retriever, Sophie. His wife Betty Ann died in 1994.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, July 10, at the West Tisbury Agricultural Society Hall at 1 p.m. Anyone with pictures of Danny is asked to send them to Evelyn Dengler at Box 2, West Tisbury 02575 or leave them at the house at 12 State Road in Chilmark so they can be included in the celebration of his life.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Betty Ann Lima-Bryant Scholarship Fund for young Vineyarders seeking to attend college, care of the Permanent Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 1182, Oak Bluffs 02557.