Future pro anglers catch pound after pound of fish on Fish Hook River
Six dozen young anglers caught a whopping 512 fish Saturday in a two-hour stretch, probably a record.
That was the 10th annual Park Rapids Youth Fishing Derby, which took place along the tree-lined shores of the Fish Hook River.
The Red Bridge's scenic tree line became a Charlie Brown menace as little tykes cast bobbers into overhanging foliage and parents patiently extricated the lures they could reach.
Seventy-five anglers ages 5-12 competed, with the grand prize going to "veteran angler" Jake Eischens, who caught 5.59 pounds of fish.
In the 9-12 age category first place went to Cameron Daniels with 2.6 pounds; second place to Seth Breitweser with 2.39 pounds and Ben Burdett with 2.36 pounds.
In the 5-8-year-olds, Zachary Lilleodden took away first place with 3.90 pounds; Kordell Preston took second with 2.79 pounds ad Christopher Bruce took third with 1.87 pounds.
"What a perfect day," said co-organizer Kim Petrie of the windless 85 degree weather.
It was the parents, though, who qualified for trophies. Their attention and services were in constant demand.
"I want purple!" Leah Weaver of Menahga told her dad, voicing her choice of plastic trailers while dad was busy trying to outfit another line. "Purple," she repeated again in case he didn't hear the first time. Or the second or third.
"I'm not gonna touch that!" exclaimed Coby Hagen of Park Rapids when the 5-year-old examined the slimy spiky fish that was just taken off his hook.
Parents had to often accompany their children to the weigh scale, where busy members of the Park Rapids Bass Club volunteered their services to weigh the hundreds of dinky fish - after releasing them from their hooks.
"This is the only way I've been able to touch a fish all season," joked Bass Club member Dean Christofferson, offering tips to the kids.
"Get back out there and catch another one," he'd say in a faux gruff manner. Kids giggled and scampered off.
Seven-year-old Anna Kahlstorf managed to poke her perch open-mouthed onto her finger, but dropped it several times on her way to the scale, she was running so hard.
Most of the fish went safely back into the river, even though 2-year-old Henry Wellman, who was too young to enter, tried to play with each fish dumped back into a plastic bucket for release. Then he toddled on over to an unattended fish pole when he thought no one was looking.
He was quickly caught in the act, his angling days over before they began.
"Look at these faces," said co-organizer Sharon Melbo as beaming kids raced to the weigh scale. Each kid got a fish pole and reel, tackle, a T-shirt, cookies, hot dogs and cash prizes for entering.
Jesse Rollins squealed in delight as he spied his gear.
"This is why it's worth it," Melbo said, eyeing a young child with wide eyes and a grin from ear to ear.
His fish didn't quite register in ounces or inches, but it was still a keeper. By days end, it will have been described as a multi-pound, foot-long whopper.
And that's how fishing legends are born.