July 4, 2001 Six-year-old Luke Davis kneeled over the bulkhead on the St. Thomas waterfront apron and peered into the water. No sooner had he looked than he hooked something. Careful not to tug on the handline too hard and lose his catch, he inched the line to the surface.
Four fish, not one, had bit into the tiny shrimp-baited hooks, eliciting a grin of satisfaction from the young angler. "I caught four fish twice," Luke explained later at the Fish and Wildlife Division weight-in station for the July Open Inshore Tournament, which was set up on the porch of Offshore Marine in Crown Bay.
"We set up right where the pot fish boat comes in to clean and sell fish everyday. Thought that would be a good spot, and it was," Luke's father, Jody Davis, said. The spot and angler's good luck paid off as the menagerie of yellowtail, sergeant majors and seabass netted Luke 2.44 pounds of fish — enough to win first place in the ages 3-6 category for Most Total Weight of Fish Caught.
"We have over one hundred kids fishing in the tournament this year," Harry Clinton, V.I. Game Fishing Club board member and event organizer, said. The July Open Tournament is unique in having three fishing divisions — offshore, inshore and onshore. All three traditionally have been held on or close to the Fourth of July. This year, the offshore, marlin-oriented division is scheduled Friday through Sunday — just after the month's moon.
As of two years ago, the inshore event became the Inshore Four — with kingfish, dolphin, wahoo and tuna the eligible species — fished over the Labor Day weekend.
The junior onshore tournament has stayed true to its Fourth of July holiday date. One hallmark of this no-entry-fee event is the chance for youngsters who have never fished before to enjoy a day casting about and maybe getting lucky.
"Normally, she's hard to wake, but not this morning," Eilia Wiley said of her daughter Felisa. "She was eager to go fishing."
Even though Felisa didn't catch anything, "I had fun," the 6-year-old said with a shy smile.
One emphasis of this year's event was on conservation. Kids reeled in their fish, placed them in water-filled buckets to be weighed, and then released them back to the sea to swim away. One young angler got so caught up in the release concept that he proudly tossed his catch right back into the water without stopping to have it weighed - much to his older brother's dismay.
The overwhelming success of the tournament played out over the young faces as they munched pizza, enjoyed cold drinks and were treated to a splash of cool water, thanks to a visit from Fire Services. Not everyone won a prize or even reeled in a fish, but they all did catch a day full of fun.
Ages 3-6 years
1st Total Weight – Luke Davis, 2.44 lbs.
2nd Total Weight – Delano Peterson, 0.822 lb.
3rd Total Weight – Nicholas Capozzoli, 0.578 lb.
Largest Fish – Nicholas Capozzoli, 0.238 lb.
Ages 7-12 years
1st Total Weight – Noah Matthews, 2.26 pounds
2nd Total Weight – Albert Tharp, 1.3 lbs.
3rd Total Weight – Clyde Tapp, 1.224 lbs.
Largest Fish – Albert Tharpe, 0.828 lbs.
Ages 13-15 years
1st Total Weight – Ban Bruni, 8.77 lbs.
2nd Total Weight – Kai Bryan, 8.3498 lbs.
3rd Total Weight – Lawrence Olive II, 2.9 lbs.
Largest Fish – Bam Bruni, 1.298 lbs.
Most Fish – Kai Bryan, 52
Smallest Fish – Bam Bruni, .004 lb.
Ugliest Fish – A. Harry Blenny (Dakota Whistler)
Funniest Fish – Magnus Larson (Goat Fish)