June 19th, 2006

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Northfield Fishing Derby
By Jed Proujansky, (jed)

Well it's done. That is my participation in two fishing events in Western Massachusetts. The first event was a Kiwanis sponsored kids fishing derby in my hometown of Northfield. The event is held on a small pond. Fencing is put up on either end the night before the event. Late in the evening we help to stock 200 trout, all 12" or larger. It is clearly beyond the carrying capacity of that pond, but we have plans for that. The fishing derby starts at 6:00 the next morning. Coffee and juice as well as doughnuts are supplied.

There are prizes for catching a tagged fish and about half a dozen or so are caught every year. The prizes consist of tackle boxes, fishing rods or other inexpensive gear. Not the best equipment, but something to allow the new angler to get out again on his or her own. There are no rules about catch and release or catch limits but we do encourage good practices. We have a campfire built and for those who would like we cook up their catch. That is certainly one way to get kids excited.

For the most part people are respectful of the derby rules. There was one family that came and the dads hooked and played the fish until the fish were exhausted, then they passed the rods onto their young teen-aged children and they reeled them in. The fish were then dispatched into the cooler. We had other parents who hooked fish for their youngest kids and that seemed all right. That family certainly took the rules to the limit. The take home lesson for their kids was that it's okay to bend the rules and who cares. It was mentioned to the parents that it seemed a bit over the top and their response was that they had licenses, so...we let it drop. There were plenty of fish and a fight did not seem in order. This is an issue for us to work on for next year.

The best part of this event is watching the parents and adults help the kids. What was outstanding was the number of adults working with their kids and working with other kids. Adults who knew helped those who did not. It was great to watch a group of adults rooting for the few children who had not yet caught anything, moving other kids out of the best spots so that everyone had a chance to catch. There was no fighting, no whining, just a group of happy children enjoying what we love best. This is America at its finest.

The other event was a bit more complex. We have started an annual event that is involving many aspects of fish and fishing within the town of Turners Falls. Our goal was to bring together in one event a place where people could learn about fish and fishing, get lessons in many aspects of fishing and actually catch fish. This was done in partnership with the Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge's Great Falls Discovery Center www.greatfallsma.org, the MassWildlife www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw which is the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. We also included local organizations and businesses and a core of volunteers. This was one example of federal and local governments working hand in hand with individuals that worked very well.

We started out with a core group of people committed to working on the event. There were no "managers." Everyone who came to meetings did the work that came out of the meetings. We started with an idea of what core pieces we wanted to see at the event.

    - A place to fish with equipment to loan.

    - A place to learn to spin fish

    - A place to learn to fly cast

    - A place to have fly-tying demonstrations and participation

    - Information about fishing spots in the area

    - Free giveaways to bring people to the event and to encourage future fishing

We then found people to commit to working on each of those aspects. Mass Wildlife has a program where they have instructors come with spinning rods for teaching spinning and with bait for fishing. Bob Soussa was kind enough to bring out his fly casting equipment which he has for teaching casting. He came with 6 rods, about all our area could hold. Western Mass Fly Fishers volunteered to come and set up three tying stations of their own and three vises for students to tie their first flies. The state based fund donated rods and tackle boxes to be given away or raffled. Regal vise made a donation of equipment, the Gill store, a local business donated drinks and I created the power point presentation that showed pictures and told of many good fishing places in the Franklin county area as well as dispensed advise about fish habits and the importance of taking out what you bring in. We planned on what the event would look like if the weather was good and what we would do if it was raining. Once we had the basics together we went outside our group and solicited others (like the Gill store) to consider sponsoring the event. It was our first time so we had no requirements. Sign on the list and contribute one nickel, you were able to be on the sponsor's list. After the initial contacts were done we put together a flier for publicity. We also had an e-mail list of all the local new sources so we could get out publicity that way. Our fliers went out to local schools and storefronts. All area media were notified. Contributions were collected or people were contacted again. By the time the day of the event came we were ready!

Sleeping was difficult the night before, mostly because the sound of the rain, or more accurately the deluge. It has rained harder than it did that night, I just don't remember when. By morning the rain had slacked off. Everything outside was wet and there was a light mist falling. The sky was ominous and as we gathered for breakfast at the local watering hole we all agreed that we would set everything up inside. The only outside events were to be the casting instruction and the fishing. We called for the event start at 10:00 and by 9:00 we had all the areas set up and were busy greeting the exhibitors. Sadly, probably due to the rain a number of them did not show up. We had the fly tiers, the casting and fishing instructors, some good hands on events for kids and some general information. A number of local businesses tailored their offerings to coincide with our event. The local book store was highlighting The Founding Fish by John McPhee, which talks about Turners Falls and our internationally recognized Fish Lab. The fish ladder was in full swing, with Lamprey eels and Shad migrating. There was a power point presentation that ran continuously and a number of volunteers that together had an enourmous amount of information to share. A few minutes before 10:00 people started to trickle in.

Within a short time the trickle became a flow. The rain came again and slacked off all day but it did not seem to stop the enthusiasm of the people coming to the event.

The fly tiers bench was always full with people watching and people tying their first flies.

We had about 50 people go down to the casting and fishing area and fish. Some caught fish and others did not.

We had about 30 people take fly casting lessons. Each one of them was able to get out at least 30 feet of line cast in a straight and "acceptable" cast. Add that to 9' of leader, 9' of rod and a two foot reach we had people throwing their fly about 50'. I was impressed.

Our raffle ran every 15 minutes and when we were done we had given away over 25 fishing rods and more tackle boxes as well as other prizes. In the end the highlight of the day was the kids.

They came, they learned they fished and almost every one of them was a sure thing to try fishing again. We learned a lot about how to make this event successful. Next year it will be bigger and better and hopefully we will have nicer weather. My advice to those considering putting on an event like this is to get others to help. Remember your goals and involve others through out the process. We will do it again and you might want to also. Email me if you want help, suggestions or encouragement. ~ Jed jed@nenetworks.com

About Jed:

I have been fishing since I was a child and fly fishing for over 35 years. I fish cold water, warm water and salt water. I currently live with my wife in Western Massachusetts where my new goal: To become a certified Mass Wildlife fishing instructor. ~ jed

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