Peter Herrmann, VFW Fluke Tourney Impresario, Remembered
Updated: Apr 25
Amid life’s uncertainties, it may be reassuring to think that we will leave some good memories behind once we depart this earth. I thought about the smiles, laughs, and fun times that Peter Herrmann inspired when I learned he died suddenly on Tuesday, April 20, at the age of 75.
Peter was the driving force behind the VFW Post 9261 Martha’s Vineyard Fluke Fishing Derby. Beginning in 2000, and continuing for the next sixteen years, in the weeks before the tournament, Peter, post commander, would contact me and ask that I include information about it in my weekly fishing column in The MV Times newspaper. I was always happy to help out.
In a typical Island summer (before Covid), Martha’s Vineyard hosts non-stop, big-ticket fundraisers for one individual, organization, or another. These events are, with good reason, reliant on generous seasonal visitors and residents.
The VFW fluke tournament (and its successor, “Fluke for Luke”) was very different. Like the one-story post building on Towanticut Avenue, it was a no-frills affair, and that is what made it so appealing. Local Island businesses and individuals provided the prizes and cash support. While everyone was welcome, this was an Islanders fishing tournament.
That would have been clear to anyone who surveyed the dozens of boats drifting between Cape Higgon and Cedar Tree Neck in Vineyard Sound when that used to be the consistent hotspot for fluke. The fleet included a collection of wooden work skiffs, small center consoles, and commercial fishing boats. Onboard were Island families, husbands, and wives, and the familiar faces that still make up the Vineyard’s year-round community.
Over the years, the fluke tournament would become one of my favorite events to report on, in large part because of Peter, who put his stamp on it. Peter had a wry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that suggested that the retired teacher and Navy veteran inflicted a great deal of mischief on his teachers when he was a student.
The highlight of the tournament was the awards ceremony, held late Sunday afternoon. As hamburgers and hot dogs sizzled on the grill outside, and sunburnt fishermen compared notes and drank beer, Peter in his trademark shorts would be pulling all the loose ends together — fried men and women, sugared-up kids, VFW regulars: get the picture?
Peter’s real skill was the auction portion of the awards ceremony. Bidding wars among friends and fishing rivals was always a highlight. It was a generous crowd, mostly Island plumbers, electricians, landscapers, and builders, and the spirited bidding continued for a variety of items. The fluke derby was that kind of affair and lots of fun.
“Sure to be a collector’s item,” Peter said one year as he held up a beer mug engraved with the fluke derby logo. The winning bidder forked over $50. A set of four wine glasses with the fluke logo climbed to $40 — this was a beer crowd.
Peter held up another glass, noting, “I’m not a wine connoisseur, but we have two of these.” The brandy snifter sold for $40.
A package of frozen Island-raised organic meat donated by John Packer — “We’ve got ribs, we’ve got steak, we’ve got burgers,” said Peter — went to Kenny Silvia of Vineyard Haven for $100.
One year, Peter held up an envelope and said it was good for a round of golf at Mink Meadows, one of the Island’s prettiest courses, for four people and it included two golf carts. It was a very generous donation worth about $400.
Peter began the bidding at $300 but heard no offers. He went to $200 and the crowd remained mum. “Do I hear $150?” Peter asked. “$100?”
“You could sell that for $300 in Edgartown,” said a fisherman who was familiar with the market value of the sport but not apparently willing to play it.
Billy O’Brien of Oak Bluffs, who had spent two days at the helm of his boat trying to put his wife, Kris, their two daughters and friend Heather Maciel (team girl power) on fish, looked around and said, “There are no golfers, they’re all fishermen.”
And it was quite true.
“Okay, I’ll bid $125,” the resourceful chairman Peter said. “It looks like I’m going golfing.”
The first year the tournament signed up 28 participants. Within a few years, that number had grown to more than 150 fishermen, young and old. Family and fun were exactly what the founders of the tournament intended, Peter said.
One time, he pointed to two lists of names on the wall denoting $50 and $100 sponsors. Peter told me that people, many of whom do not even fish, donated the money to help subsidize the free entry fee for kids and support the prize structure.
Since its inception, the tournament had focused on kids. And many of the kids embraced the spirit of generosity the tournament exemplified.
I recall when young Brian Fraser was holding an armful of gear he’d won. I jokingly asked him if his dad was going to build a shed to hold all his fishing trophies and prizes.
Another little boy was standing next to him, admiring all of the prizes. As he walked away Brian’s dad, Jim called the boy back. With Brian’s okay, he gave the boy a new spinning rod and reel.
“Thanks,” said the kid in shock. He showed it to his mother, who was packing a group of kids into the van. The mother looked at Jim and Brian to reassure herself that it was indeed what it seemed.
“It’s fine,” Jim told the woman as the little boy holding the new rod beamed.
There was the year Peter handed Nathaniel Packer his grand prize trophy, which also went with a big cooler emblazoned with a familiar name and logo on it. "Sorry it says Budweiser," Peter said, "but we weren't expecting a ten-year-old to win it."
"What's the best part of the tournament?" I asked Peter wearing my reporter hat as the ceremony was about to get underway.
"In about 5 minutes when all the prizes are given out and I can relax," Peter said with a laugh.
Kidding aside, Peter said, "It's satisfying because I followed through with something that somebody else started." And he added, "It's fun seeing the kids so happy."
That was Peter.