Sweatshirts, polar fleece jackets and flannel pajama pants were the fashion items of choice last Sunday during the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Kids’ Day. The junior fishing competition began at 6 a.m., and not even the unseasonably cold morning temperature of 45 degrees could stop over 200 entrants — and their families — from making their way to the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf for a chance to land a bluefish or sea bass.
“The most exciting thing is to watch these kids walk down here,” said coordinator Cooper Gilkes. “This is the beginning of a lot of young lives getting into fishing.”
The beginnings of Kids’ Day itself became a focus of discussion among committee members.
“We figured we’d had it 27 years, but then [former derby chairman] John Custer came up and said he’d been in it [when he was younger],” said Mr. Gilkes. The exact date remained shrouded in mystery, which only served to deepen the Kids’ Day legacy.
Mr. Gilkes’s “unbelievable” committee was on hand to measure every catch — entrants were allowed just one fish for weigh-in, and were justifiably picky about what would make the grade. Cheyenne Tilton of Edgartown had caught her second fish by 7 a.m., but deemed both scup too small even to be considered for measurement. Others found themselves plagued by the problems of even the most seasoned fishermen — reeling up nothing but conch shells or, as the morning drew on and the fish more accustomed to the baited lines, empty hooks.
Still others reeled in victory. Jeremy Mercier, 12, of Edgartown, landed the overall winner prize for his 19.5-inch bluefish.
“When I saw it, I knew it was a winner,” Jeremy said after the awards ceremony.
Jeremy and his fellow winners received a new fishing pole, a derby bag and a commemorative plaque. Four-year-old Tayla Ben David of Edgartown won in the eight-and-younger group with her 18-inch bluefish, while Curtis Fournier, 10, took home first place in the 9 to 11 age group with an 18 3/4-inch bluefish. Twelve-year-old Cameron Maciel also caught an 18-inch bluefish for first place in the 12 to 14 division.
Seven-year-old Victoria Macres won the largest scup trophy, prepared by Janet Messino of the Island Taxidermy Studio. Victoria, of Edgartown, caught a 14.5-inch scup.
Nobody walked away empty-handed. Event sponsor Mad Martha’s provided T-shirts and a gift certificate for ice cream to every participant, and all were given a paperback copy of Fishing for Bluefish.
By 8:30, the wharf had smoothly transitioned back to its regular ferry services, and the pint-sized fishermen were heading back home as the streets of Oak Bluffs were starting to wake up.
The early start to the day, though, was just a simple fact of life to the likes of six-year-old Matthew Stern of Edgartown.
“It’s not way too early — it’s the derby!” he exclaimed.
What follows are the results:
Overall winner, Jeremy Mercier, 12, Edgartown, 19.5-inch bluefish.
Eight and under: 1, Tayla Ben David, Edgartown, 18-inch bluefish; 2, Dylan Biggs, Vineyard Haven, 17.5-inch sea bass; 3, Peter Glass, Oak Bluffs, 16-inch sea bass.
Nine to 11: 1, Curtis Fournier, Edgartown, 18.75-inch bluefish; 2, Cabot Thurber, West Tisbury, 15-inch sea bass; 3, Lachlan Cormie, Vineyard Haven, 14.75-inch sea bass.
Twelve to 14: 1, Cameron Maciel, Edgartown, 18-inch bluefish; 2, Ethan Mendez, Vineyard Haven, 16.25-inch sea bass; 3, Lila Sullivan, Edgartown, 15.75-inch sea bass.
Largest scup: Victoria Macres, 7, Edgartown, 14.5-inch scup.