Bourne Police Detective John F. Doble remembers clearly the first time that his fishing friend, Robert B. Willis, suggested a memorial statue to the tradition of bass fishing on the Cape Cod Canal.
Speaking to a crowd of several hundred people who filled Buzzards Bay Park Saturday afternoon, July 12, Mr. Doble said it was about 10 years ago when Mr. Willis came up with the idea. At the time, he and his fellow fishermen offered to carve something to put up by the canal. That did not satisfy Mr. Willis, he said, who was thinking of something more elaborate—a statue made of bronze.
“We all left that meeting thinking, ‘What, is he out of his mind? How are we ever going to do that?’” Mr. Doble said.
Eleven years and $80,000 later, Mr. Willis’s vision has become a reality. The Fisherman Statue was unveiled to a cheering assembly of young and old alike who share the same passion—fishing along the Cape Cod Canal.
“We stuck with Robbie, we listened to him, as much as sometimes we didn’t want to listen to him,” Mr. Doble said, urging people to thank Mr. Willis for his vision, and his time and effort.
Saturday’s event was multi-faceted. Along with the unveiling, there was food provided by Buzzards Bay Catering. Folks enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni salad, and corn on the cob. Soft drinks and snacks were also made available, and people could purchase beer from the Cape Cod Beer company.
Tables and booths sold all manner of fishing rods, reels and lures, as well as artwork and crafts designed to appeal to the multitudes of anglers who took in the event. Children worked out youthful exuberance inside a bouncy house where they could jump until their legs gave out.
An antique car display featured nearly a dozen classic automobiles, including a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air that was a replica of one of the cars in the film “American Graffiti.” The inside roof was autographed by the film’s stars, Bo Hopkins, Paul Le Mat and Candy Clark.
But the main attraction was, of course, the statue, which remained shrouded in canvas until its unveiling that afternoon. Surrounding the artwork is a walkway of engraved bricks with a variety of messages. Sale of the bricks, along with numerous fundraising events, over the years paid the statue’s $80,000 cost.
Some of the bricks held single names such as Prince, Joe, or Dixon. Some had just a nickname, like “the Aussie,” or “the Dude,” while others bore messages like “Fish Too Much? Can’t Be Done.” Several paid tribute to individual fishing achievements, such as Russ, who, in his rookie season as a fisherman, hooked a 47-inch, 36-pound striped bass.
Many of the bricks were dedicated to family members or friends, including several to the late Stan Gibbs. Bruce L. Gibbs of Chatham, son of the legendary Bourne fisherman whose 1953 photograph inspired the statue’s pose, has a brick placed just below the statue’s plaque. Its message is simple—“I Love You Dad.” Some visitors snapped pictures of their individual brick, while others made pencil engravings.
The statue had been at the center of a heated debate over what should be included in the wording on its plaque. Members of the Fisherman Fund, the group headed by Mr. Willis and that raised the money to pay for the statue, wanted it to honor everyone who has ever fished for striped bass along the canal. Mr. Gibbs wanted the statue named for his father.
In April, the two sides finally agreed upon the plaque’s wording so it will honor both the heritage of fishing along the Cape Cod Canal, as well as the elder Mr. Gibbs. The text that the two sides agreed on reads: “The Fisherman. A tribute to past, present and future striped bass fishermen of the great Cape Cod Canal, inspired by local fishing legend Stan Gibbs.”
Shortly before the statue was revealed, 100 white balloons were released into the sky. Mr. Willis said the balloons represented the canal’s centennial birthday, as well as all the people who have fished the canal over its 100 years of existence.
“Let these balloons be a symbol of our love, friendship and thanks,” he said.
Mr. Willis told the attendees that the statue tells the story of the thousands of people who have fished on the canal. He said that while Stan Gibbs’s name is the only one on the plaque, “there are literally thousands of names adjoined to this beautiful work of art.”
He said that many people who visited the brick walkway while it was being completed shared their own story, “attaching your family name to the statue.”
Selectmen Peter J. Meier and Linda M. Zuern took in the event. Of the turnout for the unveiling, Mr. Meier was impressed, commenting that “every town event should get this many people.”
The creator of the statue, Hyannis sculptor David A. Lewis, called Saturday’s event “a slice of Americana.”
“I mean, here’s a bunch of guys working every day, supporting families…and then putting this kind of effort into this, because this is no small project, believe me,” Mr. Lewis said.
He added that he was privileged to be a part of bringing the statue to Bourne, and said that creating it “has been a lot of fun for me.”