"This is the Granddaddy of them all,” said Tom Oldham in talking about this weekend’s annual Bowden Fishing Derby.
Several hundred children are expected to take part in the annual event now into its 18th year at the Bowden Trout Hatchery in Randolph County. The event is held on the Saturday culminating National Fishing and Boating Week in West Virginia.
"It first began at Spruce Knob Lake," explained Oldham. "Just not being a real easy place for kids to get to and our agency wanted to become more involved we got together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service who owned the hatchery at the time and the National Forest and they decided they would host it at the ponds at the hatchery."
The event begins at 8:00am and registration starts at 7:00am. Generally, there will be a line of kids eager to get into the gates well before 7:00.
"I’m expecting at least 600 and maybe as many as 700,” said Oldham.
Over 18-years the event has grown exponentially. Oldham says now second generation anglers are enjoying the fishing derby each summer.
A volunteer from Trout Unlimited helps a youngster learn the art of casting a flyrod at one of the past Bowden events
"We have lot of repeat customers and a lot of parents who participated in it themselves as youngsters,” laughs Oldham. "It’s a real good experience for a youngster who perhaps can’t maneuver on a stream and this is a pond situation."
Two of the rearing ponds on site are designated for children to catch a fish they can take home for summer. Volunteers fillet the catch and put it into a plastic bag for youngsters to take home. A third pond is added for catch and release anglers and is limited to artificial bait and single barbed hooks.
Oldham says the community support is the engine that drives this major event. Dozens of business owners along with community and sportsmen’s organizations donate countless dollars and hours volunteering to help with the event. Each child will be offered assistance in learning to cast, bait their hooks, and remove fish after they are caught.
The derby is structured to give the young and old an equal chance. Pre-school and Kindergarten children begin fishing at 8:00am. First and second graders start fishing at 9:30 to 10:30 and each hour, older children are added to the mix.
"There’s just a whole lot of smiling faces out there,” said Oldham. "Everybody wants to see the first fish a kid catches."