LAKE O’ THE PINES — Jefferson moms Brandie Baldwin, Des Forbes and Charity Rouse sat in lawn chairs chatting and perusing magazines before a view of their combined nine children all tossing bait into Lake O’ the Pines.
For them, it was certainly not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning, especially at no cost.
“If moms can do it without the dads,” Rouse said, “it’s not too bad.”
Their youngsters, ages 6 to 11, were among at least 200 children plus parents and guests at the 20th annual Kids Free Fish Day at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Hurricane Creek Recreation Area on the lake.
Each year on the first Saturday in June, children ages 2 to 16 are invited to fish.
The Pine Cone Fishing Club, with help from Lake O’ The Pines Chamber of Commerce plus dozens of commercial and personal donors, provided the tackle, live bait, snacks, drinks, hot dogs, popcorn and snow cones, and the first 300 children who registered received a gift, organizer Marie Dunn said.
Children fished from the Hurricane Creek bank. When they caught a bass, bluegill, red ear, striper, catfish or turtle, they could bring them in for weighing. Trophies were awarded to the top three finishers in five age groups, while cash prizes of between $125 and $50 were given to the children with the heaviest weigh-ins.
After lunch, the club conducted an auction of donated items — fishing gear, recreation items and more — to raise funds for the following year’s Kids Free Fish Day and ensure that it remains a free event, Dunn said.
“We furnish everything,” she said. “It doesn’t cost them nothing – not a dime. We survive and maintain each year on donations from people and businesses that give us things.”
Dunn noted that there weren’t as many children Saturday as in past years, when the fishing club has welcomed as many as 450 young anglers. She also noticed that the fish weren’t biting quite as enthusiastically, either.
So did Shirley Smith, who brought her grandkids from Gladewater to the event for the second time.
“Usually, we’ve already had a stringer of fish. This year, we’ve caught nothing,” Smith said 90 minutes into the event. “I think it’s because the water is too high because it’s rained so much this year.”
Still, the event is worth the drive “because they have a good time. They learn to fish, they learn responsibility to know how to fish,” she said.
Eight-year-old Jackson Healy had already passed up on the fishing, so he and his mom, Rebecca Dorris, walked across the recreation area from attraction to attraction.
“He wants to go swimming,” Dorris said. “He wanted to make a splash where other people were trying to fish, and I said, ‘You’re scaring all of the fish away.’
“We come every year,” she said. “Our church (Lake O’ the Pines Baptist Church) helps with food, does the popcorn and the snow cones … I help a little bit if some of the kids need a little help.”
For parents like Baldwin, Forbes and Rouse, what mattered was that children had fun.
“They’re always really good about how everything is very organized, they have stuff for all of the kids and they just make sure that the kids are taken care of,” Baldwin said.
The event was about more than fishing, Dunn said, noting that there were vacation Bible school registrations, 4-H sign-ups, safety lessons taught by the Corps and other items meant to stir a sense of community among the children.
“We kind of pull the community in, and that’s what we want to do. We want our children to get involved with the whole community, not just us,” Dunn said, “and it works.”