Fishing for a Good Time

Rob Capriccioso
June 2, 2003
Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

Like the one that got away, the Kids All-American Fishing Derby seems to get bigger every year. This summer, it’s expected that over 300,000 children will take part in this nationwide summer series of local fishing events.

“What I enjoy most is seeing families spending time together outdoors,” says Noel Fletcher, a dedicated Arizona coordinator.

Organizers of the derby believe it is now the largest nationally sponsored special event for youngsters and families in the United States. The more than 1,800 local events that make up the national derby will take place throughout the summer, in all 50 states as well as at six overseas U.S. Air Force bases.

The derby began in 1986, as an idea from the Fishing Tackle Industry Association to stimulate children’s interest in fishing. The Association approached Gordon Holland, the current Executive Director of Hooked on Fishing International (HOFI), with the idea. Holland and the Association developed the concept of a grassroots fishing derby event that could be carried out by local community organizations, even those with little or no fishing experience. The idea was to provide local groups with a fishing derby kit that contained everything they would need to conduct a fishing event for children. The kit includes rods and reels for casting contests, bobbers, souvenir decals, award certificates, banners, prizes and much more.

Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

“I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the sponsors the first time I opened the derby kit boxes,” remembers Fletcher. The kit is sent to qualified organizations and agencies free of charge compliments of the derby’s national sponsors and partners. For an organization to register, it should be a recognizable agency with a positive background and should be willing to provide liability insurance for the event.

“We often used the saying that all [the organizers] need to provide is the kids, the water and the fish...everything else is included in the derby kit,” explains Holland.

The derby began in 1987 with 65 derbies in 21 states. “The program’s growth has been overwhelming and is certainly a tribute to our over 26,000 local volunteers,” says Holland.

Many organizers have continued to host events for a number of years. Theresa Evans, a thirteen-year veteran coordinator of the Parsons, WV derby, says, “It is a fun day with lots of activities for the whole family.” She recalls one boy, named Jeremy, whom she saw at the event year after year. Then, one year she didn’t see him and she wondered what had happened to the youngster. She asked his mom, “Where’s Jeremy?” only to receive an odd look. “Jeremy is eighteen, he can’t come anymore,” replied his mom with a laugh.

Funding for the program comes entirely from the private sector in the form of corporate sponsorships. Three years ago, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. signed on as the title sponsor of the program, which Holland says has encouraged many more corporations to support the derby.
This increased funding has led to exciting developments that allow kids to not only have fun, but also to learn about the importance of conservation.

Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

Since 2000, the derby has incorporated the Fujifilm Fish, Photograph and Release program. The goal of the program is to teach children that catching and releasing their fish is an ethical and enjoyable way to angle. Its developers hope to instill a strong message about preserving our natural environment. Says Holland, “It encourages the youngster and his or her parents to take a photo of the youngster with the fish that they caught, and then return the fish to the water.” Children then enter these photographs along with short essays about why conservation matters to them for a chance to win many prizes, including a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond.

This year, another corporate sponsor—EverStart Batteries—is launching what it calls a “Fish & Pitch” campaign as an additional conservation teaching tool. According to the website, EverStart is providing trash receptacles for the derby events countrywide. “I cannot say that there was a problem with trash at the derbies around the country. However, many of our fishing derbies are held in extremely rural areas, where trash pick-up and removal could be a problem,” explains Holland. The program is expected to collect over thirty tons of litter.

To find a Kids All-American Fishing Derby event to attend with your children this summer, enter your ZIP code in the derby locator.


Rob Capriccioso is a staff writer for Connect for Kids.