Murky waters and a muddy bank did not dissuade young anglers from taking part in Kids Free Fishing Day at Bennett Spring State Park on May 4, 2019, when 2,500 regular stockers and 20 bunkers waited for them.
Some 540 free tags were given out to kids.
Hatchery Manager Ben Havens said the water was eight to nine inches higher than usual. However, kids still caught fish.
“There were a lot of fish caught. Obviously, conditions were a lot tougher than normal, but I think the kids who stuck it out and gave it a fair shot were successful. It was definitely a lot tougher than normal,” Havens said.
Havens commented on the reason for Kids Free Fishing Day and for Ladies Free Fishing in the fall.
“The purpose of Kids Free Fishing Day is to give youth anglers as well as their families a chance to come out and have a day that’s just for them. The stream is stocked. They know the fish are ready and waiting for them and they can come out, under normal conditions, have a little extra expertise there to help them to be successful. Hopefully, by coming out and fishing with us and learning about how to do it, they can come back on their own time and know what’s going on and how to fish and make it something that they do other than just one day a year,” Havens said.
He said certain age groups frequent the park in much smaller numbers. Grandparents are often the ones teaching youngsters to fish in the park. Free fishing days are designed to be the incentive to encourage all age groups to visit Bennett so a generation of potential anglers is not lost.
Grandparents Debbie and Greg Block from St. Louis watched their grandkids catch their limit off the whistle bridge.
Two year fishing veteran Eleanor, 4, caught a fish bigger than her brother, Terry, 6, but said he was the better angler. Out-fishing him was her favorite part of fishing.
Terry is in his fourth year of fishing.
‘We got him started up fishing, and he loves it. We’re kind of making it a tradition. Their mom and dad don’t fish, and it was up to us to teach them how to fish and keep it going. Those kids love fishing so we’ll keep it going,” Block said.
Hayden Perkins, 11, also has a tradition associated with Kids Free Fishing Day.
It was Hayden’s eleventh year of trying his luck. He was supposed to play in a baseball tournament. When it was postponed until the afternoon, his dad, Tim, brought him to the park Saturday morning to try his luck.
This year, Kids Free Fishing Day coincided with Star Wars Day. However, the Force was not with young Perkins.
“I haven’t caught a fish here in 11 years,” Hayden Perkins, 11, said.
Still, he kept on casting.
“I’ve got a bite on every single cast, but they keep coming off. It’s disappointing,” he said.
His dad noticed that his son’s disappointment had not depleted his interest in trout fishing.
“He likes to come back. We’ve been here a couple hours, and he’s tried just about everything, but he just doesn’t have the luck,” Perkins said.
However, Tim saw a character trait in his son that fishing reinforced.
“He’s persistent though. He enjoys to fish. It gives him a chance to unwind,” Perkins said of his son.
James and Candice Tabone brought their three kids, Darling, 6, Rayne, 4, and
Gabriel, 11, to the park from Springfield for a family outing.
Rayne was more interested in the worm she had found in the mud than using her Disney “Frozen” rod and reel to catch the trout in the murky stream.
“I’d rather catch a shark,” Rayne, 4, said, before her worm accidentally became two worms.
Big sister Darling had no trouble casting as she stood in the mud caused by recent rain and caught a leaf.
Gabriel, 11, identified the leaf as a member of a little known species unique to the Tabone family.
“It’s called a Dad fish. Dad catches leaves,” he said.
Unlike his sisters who used spin-casting reels, Gabriel used a spinning reel and had mastered manipulating the bail.
Some pre-fishing preparation was a common theme.
Jason Warnecke brought his son Noah from the Springfield-Nixa area after Noah got in some practice at home.
“He’s got his own fishing pole, and he goes out in the driveway and tries to get it in a bucket,” Warnecke said.
His skill has not progressed to hitting the bucket. However, he enjoys fishing.
“He likes flipping the wrist and practicing,” he said.
Another theme was first-timers in the park.
Todd Sandlin brought his son Tyler, 8, down from Osage Beach to the park to fish for the first time. It was almost Tyler’s first time fishing anywhere.
“We live at the lake, but we’ve only been fishing one other time,” Sandlin said.
His son found his second fishing experience was a thrill ride.
“It’s really exciting when you feel like you have something. It makes me super surprised,” Tyler said.
Along with the first timers came the seasoned professionals.
Angela Hill and her daughter, Grace, 11, drove down from Washington, Mo. with the rest of the family who was taking advantage of the playground. They come to the park two to three times a year.
“We love trout fishing. The kids fishing day is fun for them. Last year, we came on kids fishing day by accident, and the kids really enjoyed it, and we decided to come back again. They like the extra activities, the hot dogs, getting the fish food and the little knapsacks,” Angela Hill said.
Grace Hill loves the catching and the eating of the fish and helps her mom all she can by eating the fish she can. Angela uses olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. At that point, Grace had caught two.
“I really like how nice it is over here, and that it’s safe to fish around,” she said.
Another grandparent in the park passing on traditions was Dave Dalton from St. Louis who came with his son Frank and his grandkids: Chris, 8, James, 9, Jacob 5, and Samantha, 11.
He said he plans to go on a family outing with the grandkids to a state park each month to fish.
He helped prepare his grandkids for the trips by practicing with them in the yard and outfitting them with the appropriate fishing gear.
Consequently, Dalton’s grandkids were the ones casting over halfway across the stream while some others were doing loopy loops around the rod tip before dropping the lure at their feet and looking at their parents with a happy smile.
“They’ve been tickled pink. They were so excited to come down here this weekend,” Dalton said.
He said he passed on all his fishing secrets.
“They’ve asked me to give them more as they grow older,” Dalton said.
Consequently, his future lessons include how to clean and grill trout while he sits in his lawn chair and enjoys the scenery.
Five-year-old Jacob’s angler’s vest was adorned with tools he could not identify. At age 5, his favorite part of fishing was casting.
His dad, Frank Dalton, is a big fan of Missouri’s trout streams and family traditions.
“For me to take them down to the same spots with my dad and pick out the same type of bait, a little old gummy worm that I started out with just so I could have some fun and switch out some colors, that’s what we’re really enjoying,” Frank Dalton said.
He was happy to have his dad Dave on the bank sharing tips and traditions with his kids.
“I’m trying to teach them the same stuff that my dad did, and I’m proud to see that he gets to come down here and teach them just as well too,” Frank Dalton.
He was glad that other activities kids enjoy had not distracted his kids from the trout fishing he and his dad love.
“I know there is so much stuff with video games and electronics. They’re more excited to do this right now more than anything else. The big old smile on their faces is just awesome,” he said.
Look for free fishing days to continue.
“If we don’t do days like Kids Fishing Day and Ladies Fishing Day, then there’s a good chance that people who are curious about the outdoors or curious about fishing may not be as likely to come out and go it alone as they would if they had a chance or a day where they could be taught and mentored along,” Havens said.