WOONSOCKET — Roused out of bed around 4 in the morning, Connor Burt didn’t consider for a second the notion of hitting the snooze alarm and going back to sleep. The 12-year-old from Killingly, Conn. jumped out of bed ready to greet the day, and, most importantly, greet his grandparents in Woonsocket.
Within 45 minutes he and his two younger siblings – Logan, 10, and Kylie, 9 – were out the door, armed with their tackle boxes, ready to tackle the annual Ernest A. Carignan Jr. Memorial Fishing Derby at Cass Pond in Woonsocket.
The Burt siblings were among close to 200 people – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and youths from all across Rhode Island – who were at the pond, some as early as an hour before sunrise on Saturday to celebrate Opening Day – the start of the trout and general freshwater fishing season.
“I’m very excited to fish,” Connor said. “All the memories I have of fishing start with me being very young. The first picture we took, I was 3 years old. I thought you just throw the pole into the water and wait to see the fish up close.”
Laughing at this memory along with Connor was his grandmother, Woonsocket resident Kate Burt. She said her grandchildren anticipate Opening Day and the annual Woonsocket fishing derby perhaps more than any other day of the year – sorry, Santa Claus – and that the derby provided more than an opportunity to catch fish, but also to share some time together and create lasting memories.
“It’s great,” Kate Burt said. “I’m glad. I’d rather they be doing this outside, getting their exercise. They love fishing and they look forward to it every year.”
As of about 9 on Saturday morning, three hours after dropping a line into the pond, Connor said he’d had three bites. Unfortunately, two of them got away before he could reel them to shore. But that was not a concern to him, he said, as the thrill of the chase is perhaps more exciting than actually catching a fish.
“I like the wait. When you finally get a bite, that moment gives you a rush. You feel a sense of happiness and pride,” he said.
Not to be outdone, Connor’s younger sister Kylie exclaimed: “I caught three fish! My favorite part is catching the fish.”
“It’s nice to have this tradition,” Kate Burt said as Kylie tossed a line into Cass Pond. “They come to us and say ‘When is that day?’ They used to live in Woonsocket and we continue that tradition even though they’re a state away. We have a slumber party (the night before) … It’s a nice thing, they really want to do it.”
The continuation of a long-standing family tradition is exactly why the Woonsocket Elks Lodge #850 has sponsored the annual Ernest A. Carignan Jr. Memorial Fishing Derby for the last 30 years.
The annual derby, sponsored by the Woonsocket Lodge of Elks and the Woonsocket Parks & Recreation Department, was held for children ages 12 and under. Cass Pond came alive with energy Saturday morning, as some had arrived at the park ready to drop their lines into the pond as early as 5 a.m. and counting down the minutes until the derby’s 6 a.m. start.
Paulette Beaulieu, the esteemed lecturing knight of the Woonsocket Elks Lodge #850, said when she and fellow derby staffers arrived at Cass Pond at 5 a.m. to prepare, there were already close to 100 people registered and ready to cast off.
This was despite a steady, soaking rain that fell overnight Friday into early Saturday morning.
“It’s a fun time … It’s nice to see generations coming out and remembering what they did,” she said, noting that she and other Elks Lodge members saw young parents on Saturday morning, who they recalled fishing as children at derbies several years ago.
“I think it’s great, I hope they continue to get their kids involved,” Beaulieu said.
Saturday’s fishing tournament was named after Carignan, honorary life member of Woonsocket Elks Lodge #850, who served as chairman of the Elks’ annual children’s fishing derby at Cass Pond for more than 20 years. When Carignan died in 2012, the Elks renamed the popular children’s event in his memory.
Participating in her third fishing derby was 8-year-old Karmyn Morris of Woonsocket. Fishing alongside her father, Stanley, she looked to him when asked how she was inspired to become an angler.
“I got into it because of my daddy,” she said.
Stanley Morris said he learned to fish alongside his cousin and continues to fish in Narragansett. An avid fisherman, he said he knew the worthwhile, lifelong benefits that his daughter would receive from being active in the outdoors.
“It’ll keep her out to enjoy herself, where she can be happy,” he said.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette