For the next two weeks children throughout Southern Illinois will have the opportunity to participate in free fishing derbies sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Many of the events are held in connection with Free Fishing Days in Illinois. The requirement for a fishing license is suspended from June 5-8.
One of the biggest such events is the Kids Free Fishing Derby at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. This year’s event will be held June 13 at the Prairie Creek Recreation Area, located 1.5 miles west of John A. Logan College on Route 13.
“We average anywhere from 150-200 kids,” said Neil Vincent, a park ranger at Crab Orchard. “The way the program operates, kids start showing up about 8 a.m. We provide a quick breakfast. We’ll fish from like 9 a.m. to about 11:30 a.m.
“Usually, they’ll catch everything. Last year I think we caught like a six-pound channel cat. We’ll have kids catch about 30 fish. Usually everyone has a good time.”
The event is for kids 12 and under.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. The first 100 kids to register will receive a goodie bag and t-shirt.
The low-key competition is broken up into five age categories. Prizes are awarded in each age group for smallest, largest and most fish.
A free lunch is served to participants and parents at about noon.
Participants are welcome to bring their own equipment and bait, but equipment and bait will also be available at no charge. In addition, there will be volunteers on hand to assist with baiting hooks, removing fish and providing other expertise.
“It’s an excellent way to introduce a kid to the sport, and it’s a family outing too,” Vincent said. “We encourage the families to come out. It may be the first time some of these individuals go fishing.
“Fishing is the No. 2 activity on the refuge. We have over 180,000 fishing visits here every year. The earlier we can get them started, the more they’ll come back out.”
Following the fishing derby Chris Bickers of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will provide a fish sampling demonstration.
“He’ll show them the fish they didn’t catch,” Vincent said.
In activities this weekend, the U.S. Forest Service will have fishing derbies at Oakwood Bottoms and Lake Glendale June 6.
The U.S. Forest Service events are open to youngsters 5-10.
Pre-registration is required. To register, call 618-833-8576 for the Oakwood Bottoms event and 618-658-2111 for the Lake Glendale derby.
Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. Lunch will be served to participants at 11:30 a.m.
Casting contests and other activities will continue until about noon. Participants are required to provide their own equipment and bait.
In addition, the Forest Service will be offering Arborwild programs at Carbondale and Harrisburg next week. The Carbondale event is at Evergreen Park at 9 a.m., June 10. At Harrisburg, the event will held at Paul Emery Park the following day beginning at 9:30 a.m.
There will be a variety of activities including fishing, casting, animal activities and crafts. For for information on Arborwild, call 618-253-7114.
And, there will also be a fishing derby at Glen O. Jones Lake near Equality June 6.
Fishing begins at 8 a.m. and continues until noon. Lunch is served to participants at noon.
Youngsters are required to provide their own equipment and bait. There will be prizes and giveaways.