The 104 teams fishing in the third-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship here last weekend may have had the spotlight under the big tent during the weigh-ins but kids hooked on fishing had their share of the glory, too.
The second-annual Kids’ Paddle Boat Tournament, a catch-and-release event sponsored by the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation, attracted more than 100 youngsters aged three and up last Saturday and Sunday at the Sorting Gap Marina.
And by the time it was all over, 12.08 pounds of fish, including bass, walleye, sauger and northern pike, were reeled in—with organizers, entrants and parents alike touting it a resounding success.
“Oh yeah, I had lots of fun,” enthused first-time participant Ricky Ricard, who entered with partner, Matt Basaraba, in one of two 45-minute flights held Saturday morning.
Ricard landed a one-pound bass not long after they ventured out onto the upper river and placed first in Flight One—a success he attributed to his fishing tackle and a “hands-on” lesson.
“I used a jig and some power bait [but] I learned that you never pick up a fish with your line, you grab the fish instead,” he said, adding a bigger fish had got away because he had tried to lift it in the boat by pulling on the line.
Larry Patrick, who co-chaired the kids’ paddle boat tourney with fellow teacher Bill James, called it a win-win event both in terms of education and public support.
The spill-over of enthusiasm from the real competition, coupled with some solid fishing ethics, made the kids’ tourney a hit.
“We had a blast! The bass tournament draws so much attention to the sport [of fishing] that the [paddle boat] tournament seemed a natural outflow of it,” reasoned Patrick.
“It was a roaring success," echoed fellow teacher and volunteer Paul Fraser. "The bass tournament adds to the excitement of the [paddle boat one], and the kids’ tourney brings families down and adds to the success of the bass tournament.”
“And the catch-and-release aspect was paramount," stressed Patrick. ”Protecting fish resources is the only reason Rainy Lake came back.
“Conservation of natural resources is a valuable lesson, and it’s a really big part of this tournament,” he said.
Patrick felt most of the youngsters understood the conservation concept by the way they handled the fish, and co-operated with adults to get the fish back into their natural environment after they were weighed in.
Fraser also stressed the success of the tournament rested largely on the goodwill shown by the community and its volunteers.
“There are many private citizens and businesses who should be [commended] for their [contributions],” he said, referring to the volunteers and the donations of the paddle boats and pontoon boat for the event.
“And Berkeley donated in excess of $2,000 in prizes," enthused Patrick. "That’s unbelievable. Every kid got something.”
Dianne Lipinski took part in the tournament with her three-year-old daughter, Rachel, one of the youngest participants, and said she was delighted with the way the whole thing went off without a hitch.
“I was very impressed with the way it ran. It was really organized well," she said. "I enjoyed being in it with my daughter [and] I think she would definitely [enter] again.”
Meanwhile, Benjamin Degroot, 14, entered in the paddle boat tourney for the second year running, landed a 1.02-pound bass to place third in Flight Two on Saturday—down two spots from last year when a 2.9-pound bass earned him first-place honours.
“Yes, I enjoyed myself a lot. My favourite fish is bass because they bite and fight and have more action,” he enthused.
And Degroot intends to follow in the fishing footsteps of his father, Theo, who placed 24th in this year’s FFCBC with partner, Greg Stahn.
“I think about [the tournament] all the time. As soon as I am old enough, [I’ll enter],” he stressed.
Patrick said the only downside to the kids’ event was the fact that its popularity caused spaces to be filled quicker than expected, leaving some parents a bit perturbed that their children were not able to participate.
But he also said it’s highly unlikely the paddle boat tournament will grow any bigger in the future to accommodate more than 100 kids.
“We have just about reached the max," echoed Fraser. ”The only way it can get any bigger is with a lot more help. We are limited by the number of boats.
“I think it’s at a nice workable size right now,” he concluded.
Tournament prizes included rod/reel combos, fillet knives, rod racks, flashlights, and tackle boxes. Prizes also were awarded to the youngest participants.
In addition, the first-place winners in each of the four flights were given a ride in the OPP helicopter which was on hand for the FFCBC this year.