It was a great day to be a kid with a fishing pole Saturday at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.
But maybe not so great to be a fish.
The refuge saw a good number of children, accompanied by their parents or grandparents, participate in the annual Take a Kid Fishing Day. The free summer fishing event also took place at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area near Vallonia.
In order to catch a fish, the first thing needed is a pole.
While many families brought their own, the refuge also had equipment available to use, including poles, tackle and bait. Refuge staff and volunteers were onsite to give fishing lessons, teaching kids how to bait their hooks, cast, reel their catch in and take it off the hook.
Several kids got to make their own homemade poles, with help from refuge volunteers, out of bamboo canes and fishing line.
Shannon Rockey, of Seymour, and her three daughters didn’t know if the cane poles would be better or not but decided to give them a shot.
“We never catch a fish, but we try really hard,” she said, laughing.
The Rockeys have been taking part in Take a Kid Fishing Day for more than 10 years, she added.
“We used to bring the boys, but they’ve grown up now, and we’re just down to the girls, but they love it just as much” she said.
As a former participant in the refuge’s Women in the Outdoors events, Rockey said she wants her kids to appreciate and enjoy nature.
“This teaches children you can be sustainable without modern conveniences,” she said. “It’s still important that children know how to feed themselves and that they don’t need fancy equipment to do it.”
Donna Stanley, longtime park ranger, said they had a slow start to the morning, but she was hoping to see a couple hundred kids come out to fish that day.
“It’s just a fun day to introduce kids to fishing,” Stanley said. “We love doing it.”
For youngsters, not as interested in actual fishing, there were other activities set up at the visitor center where they could make a fish-print bandana or play a backyard bass casting game for prizes.
The refuge also provided fishing tackle, posters and coloring books to kids just for showing up.
And Touchdown Lures of Seymour and the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society cooked up a free hot dog lunch for everyone.
After getting their cane poles strung up, Lasaya Rockey, 8, Keira Rockey, 12, and Megan Lewis, 15, were ready to give it a go.
Together, they walked over to the refuge’s Discovery Pond, which is only open to the public on Take a Kid Fishing Day.
The girls decided to cast off of a newly built deck over the water, and within just a few minutes, one of the girls had hooked her first catch of the day on her cane pole.
Megan said her favorite part of the event was getting to enter the fishing contest, in which kids could win prizes for the biggest and smallest fish caught.
“Last year I won for smallest fish,” she said. “But I was the only one in my age group too.”
Keira said catching fish is fun but that she just enjoys being outdoors.
“Maybe I’ll catch some today; maybe I won’t,” she said.
Families were allowed to keep their fish if they wanted, but many returned their catches to the pond in hopes they would be bigger next year.
On his first cast, Evan Christopher, 9, of Seymour, caught a 10-inch bass, which his grandpa, Joe Deppen, helped unhook.
Christopher said he’s been fishing a couple of times, but it was his first time to participate in Take a Kid Fishing Day.
“You’d never know,” Deppen said. “He acts like a pro.”
Annie Abner, 8, of Seymour, said she couldn’t wait to catch her first fish and hoped she would reel in a bass at some point in the day.
“Bass are more of a challenge,” she said.
Allen Wooley of North Vernon, said he was getting a kick out of watching his 3-year-old grandson, Alexzander Wooley, fish for the first time.
The little fisherman already had caught himself three small bluegills.
“He’ll reel it in, get scared, drop his poll and take off running,” Allen Wooley said. “I love watching their antics because you just don’t know what they’ll do.”
Being able to go fishing together is something Allen Wooley said he will cherish, and hopes Alexzander does too, when he gets bigger.
“Oh, we’re having a big time,” Allen Wooley said. “I want it to be a good experience so he’ll want to go again.”