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Fishing Derby attracts junior anglers

From left, Kim Petrie, Sharon Melbo, Amber Petrie and baby Landon Gabriel are the impetus behind the 9th Annual Kids Fishing Derby. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Most popular events have humble origins. The Park Rapids Area Kids Fishing derby is no exception.

It all began with a tape measure.

Seventy-five lucky little anglers will dip their poles into the Fish Hook River July 25 - the number Sharon Melbo's tape measure calculated could fit on the banks surrounding the Red Bridge.

The 9th annual contest runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and fills within a day of the entry forms being publicized.

It's a huge hit with kids and disappointed parents who miss the entry deadline.

"I've even had parents call me up and yell at me," said Sharon, the tournament's founder and organizer. This year, she's enlisted three generations of help besides herself.

Daughter Kim Petrie, granddaughter Amber Petrie and infant great-grandson Landon Gabriel have all been enlisted. Landon's job is to be cute, which he performs admirably.

All the fishing contestants get T-shirts, a goody bag of treats and prizes donated by area merchants, local banks, fraternal organizations and some purchased with donations.

Each child also gets a rod and reel, again donated, and a free lunch.

The derby is open for kids ages 5 to 12.

Sharon and Kim are active in Women Anglers of Minnesota. The group was somewhat rooted in the Twin Cities until Melbo, a former Park Rapids Chamber member, began inviting the females anglers to the Park Rapids region.

WAM came, along with their kids, who proved as adept at handling a fish pole as the women.

Melbo said she's always liked the Fish Hook area under the Red Bridge. It was the perfect place to fish, where kids wouldn't get into trouble or drown if they slipped in.

She took her trusty measuring tape down to the river's edge to see how many kids the banks would accommodate. The magic number was 75, so that's how many kids are allowed in the contest.

And every year, the kids get to vote on the color their free T-shirts will be. In 2008, spectators had no problems locating the kids in their hot pink tops. This year, they'll be attired in tie-dyed shirts.