Rookies were hard to find Saturday at Veterans Park pond in Orangeburg, as even a 6-year-old could boast of three years’ experience at the annual Pearl River Rotary Jim Amann Fishing contest.
The 28th event was blessed with near-perfect weather, and although not approaching the high-water mark of 300 or more participants, a hundred-plus anglers aged 16-and-under attempted to lure the one marked fish that brought along with it a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond.
There were other rewards galore; including prized fishing poles, rubber worms, and trophies small and large, given out throughout the competition by master of ceremonies Vincent Acocella, a retired Pearl River architect.
“This (event) is great for families to have a great day, to really enjoy themselves, so we do it year after year—we live our motto: Service Over Self,” said Acocella, who also had his grandson Chris Shields of Pearl River at his service.
Shields, a freshman football and wrestling standout at Don Bosco Prep, was accompanied by Blauvelt brothers Don Gabel III and Matt Gabel, a Tappan Zee High School junior. The Eagle Scouts were also volunteering, representing themselves well, as well as Troop 36 in Pearl River.
Don, a Rockland CC graduate, competed in the contest in the 1990’s.
“I never did too well here,” said Don, rejecting the urge to tell a tall tale. “But I’m an avid fisherman now; doing well out of Harriman—largemouth bass, which are indigenous to the ponds and lakes in this area. I’m not a salt-water guy, but I go out as often as possible. I just spent eight hours fixing my canoe.”
The aforementioned 6-year-old veteran, Aidan Maursky of Pearl River, was introduced to the sport by his dad, Joe, who himself was introduced by his dad, Arthur.
The third generation angler has already bagged a Catfish from Veterans pond, and once even snared a snapping turtle.
“It had spikes on its back!” Aidan exclaimed.
Aidan’s dad told a tale that supports the snapping turtle catch, as did Pearl River historian Jim Trojan, who recalled another time when a, “35-pound snapping turtle was pulled out. And we also had a good-sized bass, 3-pound largemouth, out of this pond.”
Joe Aidan’s tale told of an old Ranger recounting that several years ago, when the pond was dredged, a snapping turtle was found at the bottom.
“It was so big that they had to get a loader, a backhoe, to move it,” the Ranger told Joe, who owns Pride Gardens, Lawns & Landscaping.
Tappan Zee sophomore Jesse Woodford, 15, competing in his last year of eligibility, caught a Catfish that measured nearly 13 inches
“It’s not going to be the same when I’m not going (to compete),” said Woodford, who was joined by his mom, Kim. “I’ll still keep fishing. I just like fishing.”
Jesse Woodford’s fondness for fishing should not be surprising considering that his mom loves to fish -- as do his sister Kristen—a Pace law student and his brothers Nick, 22, and Cody, 18, a Tappan Zee baseball player.
And where was his father Nick Woodford, who owns Woodford Plumbing and Heating?
“He couldn’t be here because he’s on Lake Ontario right now, fishing,” said Kim Woodford, noting that her children have been fishing, “Since they could hold a pole in their hand.”
Another fishing family enjoying the moment was the McCabes of Pearl River.
Father Frank McCabe is, of course, a fisherman.
“I do fish--fresh water in Harriman, and from the dock in Nyack,” he said, acknowledging no rookies in his group that included son Frankie, an 8-year-old student at Highview Elementary, and daughters Kayla, 11, Emma, 10, and Jessica, 7.
Emma McCabe snared a Catfish measuring 12½ inches, proudly wearing a cap that read, “Girls can’t catch what?”
Asked who might be considered the best of the bunch at what they do, Kayla quickly responded, “Oh, I am!?"
To which Jessica rejoined, “Oh, I am!”
Emma McCabe, one can only deduce, was happy to let her catch do the talking. It was, after all, the largest caught by a girl in the contest.
Nine-year-old Eric Bocchino of nearby Washington Township, NJ, hauled in the biggest fish in his first Pearl River Rotary competition, and earned bragging rights with a Catfish of 14½ inches--just about 30 minutes after his brother Michael, 6, had caught a Catfish measuring 14¼ inches.
The honor of first fish caught went to Henry Blanker of Orangeburg, accompanied by his dad, Chris.
Henry, a fourth-grader at Cottage Lane Elementary, was a first-timer to the event. Asked about his trick to the trade, Henry sheepishly said, “I just found it, and used my net before my pole was ready.”
After returning his catch to the pond, his dad, employed at KPMG in Montvale, NJ, said “He’ll try to get a bigger one next time.”
Big or small, however, at Veterans Pond or wherever, fresh water or salt water, a fish tale or not, Kim Woodford perhaps summed up the lure of the sport for everyone.
“We always fished, any kind of fishing,” she said. “You know the saying: A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of anything else!”
Marked fish brought ashore
Unlike in some years past when the one prize fish that is marked or tagged escapes capture, this year a marked Yellow Perch was landed, earning 11-year-old Sean Russo of Blauvelt a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond.
The fish was measured, and then returned to the pond, as are all catches during these competitions.
Russo, a student at South Orangetown Middle School, and the son of longtime Orangetown police officer Sgt. Sean Russo, was accompanied by his mom, Sharon.
The younger Russo, who won with the help of a bobber provided by the Pearl River Rotary, not only came away with the bond, but through a raffle system for each fish caught also came away with a fishing rod and tackle.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sharon Russo said. “It was a great day, a perfect day. He should go out and play the Lotto now.”
The young fisherman came to the sport only last summer, while on vacation in Virginia.
“He met a man, a fisherman, and took a liking to it,” said Sharon Russo. “Just recently he saw an item in the paper about the contest, and decided to come.”
So much for experience.
Field and stream
- John Buonadonna, a 14-year member of the Rotary, who operates Custom Garden and Landscaping, is among the many Rotarians who live out the “Service Over Self” motto. And he, too, is an avid fisherman. “I fish all the streams and ponds, whatever I get my hands on,” he said.
- Jim Trojan, “The Pearl River Historian,” is a 1961 graduate of Pearl River whose 50th high school reunion will take place Memorial Day weekend. “I haven’t seen some of them since we graduated,” said the last standing member of the group which started the fishing contest. “It was just an idea by one of our members, Jim Amann, and his dad, Jake. When he (Jake) passed away we named the event after him.” The historian, a 33-year Rotarian, especially likes to watch his granddaughter, Ciara, in pre-K, fish. “I enjoy watching her, although she might come more for the hot dogs than the fishing,” he smiled.
- Perhaps the most important man to be seen, on the scene, was Pearl River’s George Westphal, who joined the Rotary and the Nyack Boat Club six years ago upon his retirement from Nice-Pak in Orangeburg. “I picked up the food,” beamed Westphal, who sails on his friend’s Ensign 22.
- Vincent Acocella is a fresh water devotee, but really has little choice. “I get seasick very easily so I gave up on that (Deep Sea fishing),” he said.
- Bob Simon, serving his 14th year as Receiver of Taxes in Orangetown, is completing his one-year term as president of the Pearl River Rotary. He is not, however, a fisherman. “I’m not an angler—too involved with the town, the Rotary, and Historical Society,” Simon says, noting that Veterans pond is stocked every year. “Yesterday (Friday) we brought in fish from a fishery in Columbia County—Bass, Sunnies, Bluefish, Perch, Catfish.”
- One girl brought in a snapping turtle, and asked “Do I get a prize for this?” Maybe next year!