The sun reflected off the water onto the already bright faces who gathered around the pond at Grantham Park in Upper Allen Township Sunday for a fishing competition.
Some listened intently to adult volunteers who provided tips on reeling in a big one, while others, needing little instruction, got right down to business, immediately casting their lines into the blooming pond.
Captain Jaime Hughes of BreakLine Charters sponsored the first annual youth fishing derby, which drew a total of 80 children ranging in age from 4 to 15. Hughes provided the equipment for the free event, with B&B Wholesale Bait in Harrisburg donating the worms to lure the fish to the waiting lines of the eager anglers.
The weather even cooperated for the occasion, with bright sunshine illuminating the tableau and temperatures within the comfortable high 60s range. For a gathering of children, the scene was unusually quiet, save for the occasional scream of delight when someone reeled in their squiggling prize. Little else could be heard but the sound of bullfrogs, songbirds and adults offering quiet advice to the budding anglers.
Deemed the “Catfish Queen,” Hughes is a full, licensed captain who conducts guided catfish trips on the Susquehanna River and is also part of the local pro staff at Bass Pro Shops. Although it’s probably in her best interest to get children “hooked” on fishing to join her on one of her future excursions out on the mighty Susquehanna, one gets the sense it’s more about the joy of sharing that which she loves with others.
Jaime’s mother, Brownyn Hughes, who attended the event as a volunteer, said her daughter has enjoyed fishing since she was a very young child when she went on fishing trips with her father.
Each group of 20 was allotted about one hour to catch the biggest fish in their age group. Nico Anderson, 8, of Dillsburg who attended the derby with his mother, Robin, and his father, Steve, was all smiles when he reeled in a 15-inch smallmouth bass, earning him a brand new rod and reel donated by Bass Pro shops. Nico said his favorite part of fishing is spending time with his family at places like Raystown Lake.
Taylor Gould of Mechanicsburg was escorted to the event by her father, Bob. The 10-year-old understood that the event was catch and release, but when she fishes elsewhere, she said she likes to present her acquisitions to two very special people. “I like giving my fish to grammy and pop-pop so they can eat them,” she said.
Christian Yeager, 12, echoed that sentiment, saying his grandmother does a wonderful job preparing the fish. He said his favorite part of fishing is feeling the tug on the line when the fish goes for the worm. Yeager’s father, Tim, explained that Christian is a bit of an old hand at the angling game. “He goes to tournaments on the Juniata and once caught a 29-inch bass,” he said.
Grandparents seemed to be on the minds of many of the young anglers that day. Helena Henderson, 10, also mentioned her grandparents, saying that she had experience fishing with them.
Not everyone in attendance was experienced in fishing — another reason Hughes decided to host the special day to introduce children to the sport. For 10-year-old Justice Arrington, Sunday’s event was her first time, yet she learned quickly how to cast and other important details. When asked if she would do it again, Arrington replied, “Definitely.”
One of her first tasks at hand on returning home was to look up information about aquatic life on the computer. “I want to learn more about fish now,” she said.
At the end of the event, Hughes said she was pleased with the success of an event. “It was so nice to see the kids outdoors on such a nice day and not inside playing video games.”