By John Martino
Tribune sports columnist
Kokomo — It was the making of a surreal day: kids, fishing and an army of volunteers. But there were some concerns.
Few things in life are guaranteed, especially when the weather is at hand. For nearly three decades, Kokomo Kids Fishing Clinic participants have dealt with heat, rain, wind and high, muddy water. Now, thanks to this year, add an unprecedented drought. This extremely dry weather dropped reservoir water levels to half what it should be, making it nearly impossible to launch the 65 boats as in past years. This forced the 130 participants to fish from shore for the first time.
As carefree and resilient as children are, it didn’t matter. Armed with their tools of the trade and newfound knowledge, they spread across the shoreline giddy with excitement in hopes of landing the big one — or even just a bunch of little ones. And land they did, to the tune of 225 assorted fish of nearly every species.
“Someone just caught a 10-pound, 2-ounce catfish,” said Gary Hinkle, one of the clinic’s directors, as information about the catch crackled over his two-way radio. It was easy to notice the smile that stretched across his weathered face as reports of other catches began coming in.
People stood and clapped as the huge caravan of more than 70 vehicles, led by police escort, returned to the Main Reservoir Park. Those cars, trucks and SUVs were filled with precious cargo and stories waiting to be told.
Melaina Harrell had the biggest catch in the 6- to 9-year-old age group with a 1-pound, 12-ounce catfish. She was guided by Jerry Rose. She beamed with pride when receiving her first-place trophy.
Eli Jones hauled in the biggest fish in the 10-12 division and the biggest catch of the entire tourney with a channel cat topping out at 10 pounds, 2 ounces. “My arms got so tired trying to reel it in,” he said. He was guided to success by Jim Baker.
In the 13-15 age bracket, C-Airah Worley claimed first place with a carp dropping the scales at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. She was led to success by guide Bing Taylor.
Without question, the secret to success of this long-tenured program lies with the army of volunteers and it takes every single one to make what the clinic has become today. Dozens of instructors did a magnificent job passing on a wealth of knowledge. Featured guest speakers traveled across the Midwest providing kids with captivating presentations. Special thanks go to the 70 guides who donated their time on graduation day.
But there are several who lie at the core. People like Craig Carter, Rick Kughen, Jeff Fager and Don Hinkle, along with Bart Alexander and his daughters, Kyla, Kelsey and Amanda.
Then there is one individual deserving of special mention. That man is Gary Hinkle. Always the first to arrive and the last to leave, he is a continual whirlwind of activity ensuring everything is as it should be. The man never stops!
“I wait all year for this,” he said, his eyes constantly surveying the surroundings making sure everything is in order.
For this special group, the Kids Clinic is much more than a two-week proposition; it is a yearlong event with their planning, preparing and organization.
I am sure some question why such a huge group of men and women would come together just to teach kids to fish. It is a fair question, but one not easily or quickly defined.
It’s been said the true essence of fishing is much more than casting, retrieving or playing your catch. It’s about the wind in your face, a beautiful sunrise over calm waters and the joy of passing it on to children. In every place that holds fish there is magic and mystery to be discovered. Just ask any of the 130 kids who took part in this year’s tourney.
To every business, contributor and volunteer who had a part in this year’s program, rest assured you did a magnificent job in showing this year’s crop of students the true meaning of helping others. Because of your efforts you provided these children with knowledge, experiences and memories not soon forgotten.
Looking back in quiet reflection it becomes easy to see. In the end it was more than just fishing. It was about great people doing great things for great kids!
Freedom Hunt Fundraiser
A trap shoot and hog roast benefiting the upcoming Freedom Hunt will be held at the Cass County Izaak Walton League on Aug. 18. The event will begin at 2 p.m.
The Freedom Hunt is a special opportunity for handicapped children to experience the excitement of deer hunting during Indiana’s special youth deer hunting season. For details on the fundraiser or the upcoming Freedom Hunt, contact Brad Rozzi at 574-722-4560.
• Greentown resident Scott Dieterman earned a top-place finish in the recent Indiana Bass Federation State Finals held on the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg. Diterman put together more than 12 pounds of fish during the two-day event. A machine repairman for General Motors in Kokomo, Dieterman earned the opportunity to compete in the Northern Division finals held next year on Lake Erie.
“This was a huge honor,” said Dieterman. “I was very fortunate to win given the number of quality fishermen taking part in the event.”
Phil Reel, another local angler, finished in ninth place and also earned a berth in the Northern Division Finals.
• Larrell Norris and Dave Robertson came away double winners, taking first place and “big fish” honors after weighing in four largemouth and one smallmouth bass totaling 9 pounds. Their biggest dropped the scales at 2 pounds, 7 ounces. Fishing solo, Terry Thor grabbed second place with three fish weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces. Third place went to Mike and Shane Harrison with three fish weighing 5 pounds.
• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.