The sun rose onto a bright blue sky on May 4 as kids lined up in the parking lot of the Duck Pond to await the opening of the 2013 annual Fishing Derby in Secaucus, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, smiling, laughing, teasing each other about the fish they would catch and later did.
Kids of all ages – and some only kids at heart – plunked their hooks and sinkers into Secaucus Duck Pond in what has been an annual rite of spring tradition since 1990, a throwback to a day when Secaucus was a farming town and fishing and hunting were part of a way of life.
Many fishermen, young and old, reeled in fish, boots, and an assortment of other things from the small pond. Along with turtles, snakes, and fish of all sorts, some fishermen managed to catch a license plate and a variety of blue bottles.
Alex Costantino, Dean Costa, Joe Leon, Gabriella Hosein, Adia Leary, and Joe Pepe roamed the sides of the pond in search of game, coming up with several turtles, and – yuck! – a garden snake.
“We got two turtles and a snake,” said Costantino, rushing up the rail track towards the two buckets that sat alongside the pond, while other kids and adults sat still fishing. He held two large box turtles up that he and his friends kept in one of two blue barrels near the northwest corner of the pond.
“There’s a snake in the other barrel,” said Dean Costa, although it took a few moments for someone to actually reach in and pull out the two-footer.
“I think this is a great event.” -- Mayor Michael Gonnelli
The park in which the pond is located was named after former Mayor Anthony Just, who when a councilman in 1990 sought to preserve some aspects of old Secaucus from when his family owned a farm here. The 2.6-acre body of water surrounded by development reminded Just of a pond he used to fish in as a boy when he and his family owned a pig farm just off nearby County Road.
Just had often come down to the Duck Pond as a boy, fishing and even swimming in its shallow waters until development and pollution changed the nature of the town. As a councilman, Just bemoaned the encroachment of development and the use of the pond as a dumping ground, and vowed to clean it up and make a place where kids could come again as he had.
As a councilman, and later mayor, Just started a tradition of inviting kids down to fish in the pond, after the town signed an agreement with the property owner, Hartz Mountain, that allowed the pond to be used as a park. Town workers went in, cleared out the trash, and dubbed the body of water “The Duck Pond” because of the number of ducks that lived there.
Each year since, the town had conducted an annual fishing derby, something Just called “a living legacy” to his administration, and proof of his commitment to open space. Former Mayor Dennis Elwell named the park after Just about eight years ago.
“I think this is a great event,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who as head of the Department of Public Works in the early 1990s helped build the park and maintained the tradition of an annual fishing derby. “This is something the kids really get a kick out of.”
But bragging rights to this year went to those kids who managed to catch the biggest fish, the most fish or the largest of a certain kind of fish.
Eric Dougert won for catching the largest fish, a 17-and-half-inch catfish. Chris Zemack won for largest bass at 8 inches. Kasandra Paradiso won in the catfish category for her 15-inch catfish.
Chris Worthington won for most fish. Colin Frition won as the youngest fisherman at one and half years old. Giana Diacomo also received award as the smallest fisherman.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.