PROVINCETOWN — The sun was out after an overcast morning, the water was calm, and the wind was low last Friday as dozens of young anglers and their families lined the dock’s edge for the start of the Capt. Kenny Silva Fishing Derby.
The event, held at MacMillan Pier, has been part of the Provincetown Portuguese Festival for over 25 years, said Jill Macara-Lambrou, who organizes the derby with the town’s recreation director, Brandon Motta. Open to kids of all ages, the derby is named after Capt. Kenny Silva to commemorate the fisherman’s ongoing support of the contest.
With bait — squid and halibut, provided by Cape Tip Seafood, chopped, nestled into quahog shells, and distributed by festival volunteer Shannon Corea and committee member Lisa King — and fishing rods provided, all that was left by the 12-noon start was to see how the fish were biting.
For a little while, at least, they weren’t biting much. Thirty minutes in, all that had been pulled from the water was some seaweed and a large section of metal wire. That was to be expected, said Macara-Lambrou. Kids have reeled in seaweed and even shoes at the derby, she said, though the catch typically also includes mackerel, perch, and the occasional starfish or squid. King added she’s seen the same fish caught more than once by the determined young fishermen.
All who participate receive a prize of a dollar, and winners in categories including “largest catch” and “weirdest catch” (the categories vary from year to year, as judges get creative to reflect what’s caught) walk away with a new rod and a lure set, donated by Land’s End Marine Supply.
The anglers were unperturbed by the slow start. Liam Conlon almost got his lure into the water on the first try and had it sailing in a beautiful arc on his next cast. “I like catching fish,” said Liam, who is five and was visiting Provincetown from Culpeper, Va. What he was looking to catch, he said, was “a big fish.”
For Myla Desrosiers, 8, and her sister, Macie, 4, in town from Maine, the best part of fishing is “catching them.” Despite the fact that they’d broken a pole, the siblings’ morale was high. Myla had not yet had a bite but said the biggest fish she had ever landed was a large bluefish, caught on another visit to Provincetown while fishing on her grandfather’s boat.
For Donna Arsenault, who was on the pier with her daughter and grandson, this was a first time at the derby — even though she has witnessed many blessings of the fleet. Arsenault lived in Provincetown for 40 years before moving to Wellfleet. For her, “fishing is in the family.”
Amira Saunders, 12, said she lives part-time in Provincetown and has participated in the derby at least three times. One year she won the prestigious “most unusual catch” prize for pulling up a particularly interesting bit of seaweed. To her, the derby was about more than just fishing. “It’s a part of Provincetown tradition,” she said. Being part of it, she added, “just feels right.”
At 12:42 p.m. the competition really started heating up as Lyla Vernacchio, 7, of Eastham, caught the first fish of the day: a perch. Just a few minutes later, Mila Vargo, a competitor from Colorado, brought in a mackerel. Her father carried it, still flopping, to be weighed by the judges. The mackerel was 7-year-old Mila’s first-ever fish. The action continued until just before 2 p.m. when prizes were awarded.
Seven fish were caught over the derby’s two-hour span. The largest was Mila’s mackerel, which came in at just over one pound. Lyla Vernacchio won both the “first fish” and “most fish” prizes. The prize for “strangest catch” was awarded for an interesting snail-rock combo. Recreation director Caroline Thompson said one jellyfish had also been reeled in. And, as usual, a lot of seaweed.