Down on West Harbor Beach’s docks on Saturday, the fish were running and the “next generation” of kids were out in force, as residents of the Bayville community rekindled their multi-generational love affair with the waters that surround them at the Mill River Rod and Gun Club’s annual Pat and Jimmy Carroll Snapper Derby.
In all, some 80 children under-12 years old were on hand to test their luck with hook and bait against one of the liveliest little fish to run through the harbor.
When all the bait was cast, and all was said and done, 15 of them had caught at least one snapper, securing bragging rights among friends and family to last the year long.
“My grandson and granddaughter both signed up, and this year Charlie – that’s my granddaughter – won,“ Bob Sniffen said. “My grandson William showed up in his football uniform right from practice but didn’t catch anything.”
But last year William did win.
“It’s a big rivalry for them,” Sniffen said. “They’ve been going since they were three years old.”
Snapper is one of a wide variety of fish typically caught in the Oyster Bay Harbor complex, along with striped bass, bluefish, fluke, flounder, weakfish, blackfish, and eel. And depending on the time of year and what’s running, the Mill River club hosts one of a number of derbies specializing in one or another of them.
This time of year it’s snappers, which are baby bluefish.
Snapper fishing starts in August and is in full swing by Labor Day or mid September, which of course explains why the club has been putting on their snapper derby this time of year for over 35 years.
And because this is when snappers feed voraciously and will strike at nearly anything that moves, they make for an easy and fun catch for children.
“The club gives out bamboo poles and killies,” said Sniffen. “My grandkids had their own rod and reel, but you do just as well with a bamboo pole.”
According to James Carroll, president of the Rod and Gun Club and the second generation of Carroll’s to run the children’s snapper derby, this year experienced a great turnout of children. “As for the catch,” he said, “it was a little less than usual. It was a little windy out there.”
For a waterside community like Bayville, it makes sense that the annual snapper derby is known as a family activity and as in previous years, plenty of parents (some of whom were in the derby themselves) were on hand to cheer the kids on, and afterwards to stick around at the clubhouse for the hotdogs and refreshments provided by the club.
“The snapper derby is a great way to expose the next generation to the waterways surrounding us,” says Carroll. “This is a boating community. It's a wonderful resource and it is something we can expose our children to so that they can also use it and enjoy it the rest of their lives.”
“Most of the kids we know love fishing,” said Sniffen. “There’s just nothing like rolling down to the pier and catching a fish.”