Friday night as I glanced at the clock, I groaned because I realized that I'd done nothing to prepare for our early morning fishing venture with my dear friend, Barb and her posse of four.
"Don't worry, Andrea. You don't need to pack a bag. The derby starts at eight, but the kids are not going to last...we'll be out of there by 8:20 a.m.-- tops!" Steve assured me.
Yet at 6:30 a.m Natalie (who had climbed into our bed at 2 a.m. with whoas of bad dreams) woke up with a start and shook my shoulder to announce,"Mama! We've got to get up early. Today is a special day!"
As I scurried around the house making sure everyone was fed, dressed and ready for our 7 a.m. departure, Steve got the poles and other fishing paraphenalia organized and packed into the trunk. We arrived at the park to find our friends already there. Per usual, her kids took extra care in dressing themselves. Her two oldest girls decked out in matching rainbow-striped hats to go with their colorful ensembles and open toed footwear. While her younger two had each carefully selected fish-themed tops to wear for their first fishing derby. Mine...well...as I noticed later, were all dressed in orange.
While Barb headed to the registration table, I hung back with the kids. As Steve threaded hooks, Natalie prattled on excitedly. Although she had never participated in a derby before, listening to her talk to the other kids, you'd think she were a pro already. It's true, Steve has been taking her fishing since she was a toddler, but I think her confidence and love for the sport comes from Steve's own enthusiasm and approach to teaching. Over the years he's learned that the secret to keeping kids interested in fishing is:
#1 Catch Fish - If kids aren't catching fish they are going to get bored real quick. Make sure to take them to places that you know have been recently stocked.
#2 Keep It Short n'Sweet - Kids in general have a very short attention span. Select a location that is close to home because oftentimes a 30 minute fishing session is all they can handle.
#3 Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - Scolding for improper technique will turn kids off to fishing in record time. Instead, focus on their progress and praise them for it. For example, a child who casts without help or baits his own hook for the first time. In the beginning, it's all about getting and keeping them interested in the sport.
By 7:45 a.m. all three girls had poles in the water. They chose a spot just a few feet from where we first arrived and as Steve eyed the dense vegetation, he agreed that it was as good of a place as any to fish. Within minutes Natalie was squealing, "I got one! I got one!" And, it was a nice one. A catfish nearly a foot long. Unfortunately, she caught it at 7:53 a.m. and seven minutes before the official start so it wouldn't count. A few more minutes ticked by and more squeals could be heard from the bank, this time from Lindsay, Barb's seven year old. She caught herself a little bluegill just three minutes shy of the 8 a.m. start. But the news didn't dampen their spirits, on the contrary, it only served to fuel the fire. As soon as Steve was able to get the fish off their lines, they were ready to rebait their hooks.
They had the fever.
In the first 14 minutes of the derby, Natalie caught three fish. And, just as Steve tossed the last one back into the water, Megan, Barb's oldest, began hollering, "I got one!"
It was 8:16 a.m.
I almost felt bad for the scorekeepers who had chosen to monitor our group. They were seasoned derby volunteers and had brought with them comfy, outdoor chairs, but with our group of anglers, their rumps had little use for them. Just as they finished recording a measurement for one girl's catch another girl was excitedly reeling in her next one.
I cursed myself for not placing a bet with Steve earlier.
Hmmm...snips and snails and catfish tails...sometimes it's what little girls are made of!
As the morning progressed, I observed how Steve quizzed the girls on the type of fish they had caught and gently encouraged them to try casting on their own. By 10 a.m. when we heard the call signaling the end of the derby, all three girls were baiting, casting, and even removing the icky, black vegetation that often tangled their lines, without any help from Steve.
The derby may have been over, but the girls weren't all that anxious to quit. Their enthusiasm was infectious and drew the attention of Barb's five year old twins, Jenna and Carter, who then decided they were ready to fish, too. As the officials collected the score sheets and began tallying them, the girls chattered on about their catches.
"I can't believe it. I caught firteen!" squealed Natalie.
More than 60 kids registered for Des Peres Park's 10th Annual Youth Fishing Derby so it took 40 minutes for the final scores to be counted, but the kids never complained. In the end Megan won the "total length award" for the 10-12 age group with 104 inches while Natalie swept it for her division with 107.50 inches and Lindsay made a decent show with 42 inches. And, while the two girls each received tackle boxes filled with lots of fishing gear, I feel the real prize did not come from anything that could be purchased in a sporting goods store. The true reward came in the form of budding confidence, comaraderie and joy the three girls found in fishing that day.
|The girls chattered on excitedly as Steve threaded their hooks.|
|"I wanna catch a clownfish," said Natalie.|
|Natalie was happy to smile for the camera.|
|Lindsay should have been awarded extra points for style.|
|The girls kept the scorekeepers busy.|
|Hot diggity dog. She's a pro at baiting her own hook.|
|Megan and Natalie stand together as the judges tally up the scores.|
|Upon hearing her name, Natalie wasted no time collecting her award..|
|Megan and Natalie show off their winnings.|
|"Sweet mama!" she cried as she gazed at her prize.|