For around two decades Robert Earnest spent the first weekend in April migrating to the Maumee River to fish for walleye. Last Saturday though he decided to break from tradition and instead helped his grandson catch his very first fish at Rocky Fork Lake. He said it could not have been a better experience.
The 6-year-old grandson, Ashton Jackson of Dayton, was among an estimated 450 kids that took part Saturday in the annual Kids Trout Derby put on by the Highland County Rod and Gun Club and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and ODNR Division of Wildlife.
“This is what I was hoping for,” Earnest, a Hillsboro area resident, said as his grandson beamed at a rainbow trout dangling from the end of a fishing pole he saved his allowance to purchase. “Stuff like this is what kids need. Stuff that keeps them off computers and things like that.”
Earnest said about 20 years ago he started traveling to the Maumee River to fish the annual walleye run, then six to eight years ago started taking a couple buddies with him. The buddies went again, but Earnest and Jackson headed to Rocky Fork.
“It ended up being a lot better for me because when he caught that fish he was just ecstatic,” Earnest said of his grandson. “I don’t think I’ve ever saw a happier child catching a fish. He kept saying, ‘I caught a real fish.’ When that thing came out of the water and hit the ground and started flopping around, he couldn’t stand still and was jumping up and down all over the place. That made it a lot better for me than anything I could have down up on the Maumee River fishing with my buddies.”
Earnest said the two trout Jackson caught Saturday were his first ever. He said when Jackson bought his fishing pole it had a plastic fish on the end of it to help him learn how to cast. He said that’s why Jackson kept saying he caught a real fish.
The only other time Jackson had went fishing, Earnest said, was last summer at Rocky Fork. But he said that was at nighttime, Jackson couldn’t see his bobber, didn’t catch anything, and got ate up by mosquitoes.
“This time he didn’t get bit. It was the fish that were doing the biting,” Earnest said.
All day while they were fishing, Earnest said, Jackson kept saying he was going to take the trout home and turn them into fish sticks. On the way home they stopped and showed the fish to another grandparent, then took them home and cleaned and cooked them.
“He wouldn’t eat them, but papaw sure did,” Earnest said.
Tim Schlater, one of several Rod and Gun Club members working at the fishing derby, said that once again it was a big hit. The derby was held from 1-4 p.m. and before that archery and shotgun shooting areas were offered to kids from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Besides those events, the club provided a free lunch of hot dogs, chips and drinks, and gave away about $1,500 worth of free prizes, including prizes for the first 500 kids that registered. Most received a fishing lure, but some won prizes that included tackle boxes, rod and reel outfits, T-shirts, bag chairs and more.
The Division of Wildlife stocked 1,625 rainbow trout into a netted area at the lake for the derby. Schlater said it was the first year in a dozen or more that he could remember anyone not catching at least none of 12 trout tagged and worth $100.
But, Schlater said, kids caught lots of fish early before it got windy and colder as the event wound down.
“It thought it was great event. The weather started to deteriorate at the end, but overall I thought it went real well once again,” Schlater said. “If I’m not mistaken, it’s the biggest kids wildlife-type event in the state, other than what the Division of Wildlife does at the state fair.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.