Fishless, but not empty-handed


By Jeff Gilliland – [email protected]

Just a couple weeks ago I ventured down this same path, but since credit should be given where credit is due, it only seems right that I follow it again.

Two weeks ago I wrote about taking a grandson and nephew fishing at the annual Kids Trout Derby at Rocky Fork Lake. I had been there several times before and it is always a worthwhile trip. So last weekend my wife and I decided we’d take the grandson to Family Fishing Days at Liberty’s Park’s Harmony Lake in Hillsboro.

This was the second year for the event. Last year it attracted about 100 kids. This year that number grew to about 200 kids and since the organizers said they hope to keep making it bigger and better, I expect the turnout will grow, too.

When I asked one of those organizers why they decided to put the event on again this year, he said it’s because it gives him a warm and fuzzy feeling seeing youngsters spend an afternoon fishing with their families. And, when I left the event a little before my wife and grandson to go spend a couple hours on the mower, that’s pretty much the same feeling I had.

Watching young kids grimacing and grinning as they reel in a trout in the 2.5- to 3.5-pound range can make you feel that way. Ten-year-old Tahia Burns, who was fishing to our our immediate left, talked about how tight her stomach felt each time she reeled a fish in. Her fourth grade cousin was fishing next to her and was complaining about how he wasn’t catching anything.

“Be patient, just be patient,” “Hank” Burns kept telling him. Less that five minutes later the fourth grader reeled in a fish of his own. Suddenly he was all smiles.

I took a photo of Scott Wayt helping his 2-year-old granddaughter, Riley Gehring, land a fish. They placed it on the ground after they unhooked it and she knelt right beside it. Each time it would flip or flop, she’d squeal with delight. I watched as she stroked a more docile fish on the ground nearby.

“She spent the day with the papaw, so she’s happy,” Scott said.

I saw the same scene play out time after time, sometimes while kids were enjoying the hot dogs, pop and water that were also provided free of charge.

We weren’t so lucky on the fishing part. While big fish were being landed all over the place to our right and our left, grandson Evan got one slight bite the whole afternoon.

Actually, I arrived at the event a bit later than my wife and grandson. She’s not the most experienced fisherwoman, and neither am I, but there was a kind gentlemen sitting next to them lending tips to Evan, all while he kept baiting lines and helping the three cousins he’d brought with him.

I had been talking to the gentleman for 15 or 20 minutes when he told me his name was Hank Burns, a fellow classmate from the Hillsboro High School class of 1979. When he took his sunglasses off I recognized him instantly, but up until then I had no idea who I was talking to.

Over the next 90 minutes or so Hank helped Evan just about every way he could. He shared the trout bait his group was using with Evan, told him to fish on the bottom like his bunch was while most everyone else was using a bobber, casted for him a few times, and even watched his line some.

It just wasn’t Evan’s day to catch a fish.

As I drove away from Harmony Lake a little later I was reminded of a time I took my stepson fishing many years ago at Rocky Fork Lake. We didn’t catch anything that day either. But when we stopped at a bait shop and were checking out the snacks when we spotted some $20 bills on a shelf. When we unfolded them there were six bills. It was odd because just before we entered the store I was pretty sure I’d left six $20 bills folded exactly the same way in my car.

So, without saying anything to anyone, we headed out to the car to see if my $20 bills were still in the car, or if I’d somehow set them down in the store as we wondered around. When we found that my $20 bills right where I left them in the car, a bit of guilt struck me and I told my stepson that we had to take the other $20s back in the store. The stepson was not happy, but then as we headed back toward the store something dawned on me. If we take them back in the store, I thought, we’ll never see them again, whether they belong to the store or not.

So we went back to the car and headed to our fishing spot. When we got home we called the store. I told them that we had some money we found in the store a few hours before. I said that if someone could tell us exactly how much money we’d found, and what denomination it was in, we’d gladly return it, then gave them our phone number.

We never got a call and a few days later the stepson and I split the cash.

So while we never caught any fish that day, we certainly didn’t go home empty-handed. Neither did Evan last weekend.

He was one of 175 kids that received a brand new Zebco rod and reel courtesy of Walmart. Thirty kids got loaded tackle boxes. Most everyone got hot dogs and drinks courtesy of the Hillsboro Elks, Pepsi and Nickels Bakery.

City of Hillsboro employees Jason Bernard, Kyle Clemons and Gary Lewis organized the event and other volunteers lended a hand. They all helped make a lot of kids happy.

It was a good day, someone said. I couldn’t agree more. And I’m sure a fish will be dangling from the end of Evan’s new rod and reel soon.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

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