What do trout want?
That’s the question dozens of kids and their families start to ask themselves mid-spring, as the day of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club’s annual trout tournament draws closer. Duarte’s Pond off Lambert’s Cove is teeming with trout in anticipation of this year’s tournament, which takes place at dawn Saturday. The tournament is open anybody age 14 and under, and entry is free.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries stocked the pond on Tuesday, and the rod and gun club added hundreds more on Wednesday and Thursday. Though there’s always the risk of hungry osprey picking off a few before the big day Saturday, the fish are there for the taking. Older anglers typically already have their own trade secrets about fishing, but for those who are entering the contest for the first time, figuring out how exactly to land a trout can be daunting.
The most important thing, said Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, one of the founders of the trout tournament, is patience. “Patience is the name of the game, especially for youngsters,” he said. “Patience with a capital P.”
Barbara Miller of West Barnstable, who with her husband Wayne owns Blue Stream Hatchery and provides the bulk of the Duarte’s Pond trout each year, offered a different P.
“Perseverance,” she said. “Persevere and enjoy.”
The Millers “really take care of the kids,” Mr. Gilkes said. Hundreds of rainbow, brook and tiger trout are set aside just for the tournament. They were brought over on Wednesday and Thursday and released into the pond, where they’ll make for the cooler reaches of Duarte’s.
“They find any divots they can because it’s not a very deep pond,” Mr. Gilkes said. But the stocking is arranged so that there will be trout from bank to bank. “They should be all over the place, we’re hoping,” Mr. Gilkes said.
“What’s nice about this place is there’s access all around,” Wayne Miller said. Earlier this week, crews from the land bank trimmed back the tall grass and reeds so the shore is full of prime spots.
But get there early to grab a spot. The trout don’t wait for late sleepers.
“We start at first light,” Mr. Gilkes said. “That’s when the trout are feeding, so you gotta go early.” The tournament typically ends by 9:30, he said, and the worst thing is seeing hopeful anglers “walking down the road with their poles, and it’s 9 a.m.”
The early fishing hours mean that bundling up is crucial, particularly in light of the chilly Vineyard spring.
“You might want to bring a little chair,” Mr. Gilkes said. “Something to sit on, be comfortable.”
“Let the fish come to you,” he said. Moving the rod around makes weeds gather on the line, which isn’t appealing to trout.
The trout at Blue Stream Hatchery are raised in spring-fed pools, Mr. Miller said, and though they eat the occasional bug, most of their food is little pellets.
“So if you have something that looks like a little pellet, it’s going to work,” he said. Mr. Miller said Powerbait would likely be the best choice. As a boy fishing for trout, he’d use kernels of corn (Powerbait didn’t exist back then, he said), which also worked perfectly. And there’s always the classic bait: a wriggling worm. The rod and gun club has plenty of nightcrawlers to use.
Mr. Gilkes said using a small number 18 treble hook attached to a steel egg sinker does the job for setting the bait.
“With a barrel swivel between the hook and the egg sinker,” he added. That way, Mr. Gilkes said, the fish wouldn’t even notice he was caught. It also helps keep the line from tangling.
“Leave the line a little loose so the trout has time to eat a little,” he said. “Take your time bringing the trout in.” Patience.
Mom or Dad — or Grandma or Grandpa — can help bait the hook and cast the line, but the only one who can pull the fish in is the junior angler.
Mr. Miller said that for youngsters, using heavyweight line is helpful so kids can “horse the fish around as much as they want” without the line breaking. But that can pull the hook out of the trout’s mouth, so it’s best to keep the fish from struggling in the first place.
“Set the drag [on the reel] so a good-sized fish can pull a line out, that way when you reel it in it’s not fighting hard,” he said.
And once it’s close enough, grab a net and scoop the trout out of the water. Bring it to weigh-in (fish are actually measured according to length, not weight). Awards and prizes are presented after the tournament wraps up. “And everybody’s on their way by 10,” Mr. Gilkes said.
Inside the main tent, hot cocoa and doughnuts are on hand for all. Keurig has donated coffee for the grownups. And the trout tournament is the one day of the year when kids get hot dogs for breakfast. And this is no joke: the hot dogs are flown in all the way from Florida, courtesy of a longtime tournament supporter.
Local businesses and Islanders donate prizes and rod and gun club members volunteer time in the tent or at the tangle table (for those less-than-perfect casts).
“This Island is so gracious. For this tournament, it’s unreal,” Mr. Gilkes said. “The community’s behind it, and the land bank [which owns and manages Duarte’s Pond] — how can you say enough?”
“I hope the trout bite, and I hope everybody has a great time,” he said.