On a recent rainy Thursday morning in the Willamette Valley, fishing might not have been a priority for most folk, but if you approached the upper east side of Detroit Lake, it was speckled with children and police officers crowding the shore, and they only had fishing on their minds.
The mix of young and old anglers was a collaborative effort of the Stayton Police Department. Along with officers from Marion County, Salem, Aumsville, Stayton, Turner, Linn County, and Oregon State police agencies, the men and women of these departments made time for area youths by hosting the 31st annual Junior Police Fishing Derby.
The fishing derby is an opportunity for law enforcement personnel to give needy children in Marion County, Silverton, and the Santiam Valley the opportunity to gain some fishing skills as well as interact with officers in a non-confrontation way.
As the children gathered together to learn rules, fishing tips, and safety procedures, Sgt. Michael Meeks of the Stayton Police Department raised a question for the group.
“Why are we here?” Meeks asked.
“To fish!” yelled the children collectively.
“Why else?” urged Meeks.
“To show that cops aren’t mean!” yelled one child from the group.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife showed up around 10 a.m. to dump more than 5,000 trout into the upper east side of the lake. The truckload of fish is equal to the amount that would normally be added to the lake this time of the year. The ODFW coordinates with the police departments and other agencies to determine when exactly to add the fish so that the children have a maximized chance of a catch on their fishing trip.
The group of children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, had a catching limit of five fish each. Within a few minutes of the first line being cast, many of the children were reeling in a catch. Thirty minutes later, the majority of the children had three or more fish to call their own, and they eagerly held their strung-up dead fish with pride.
There were 39 children and 20 police officers at this year’s event as well as several volunteers. Materials including the fishing poles, bait, cleaning materials and the fish themselves were donated by various agencies and organizations and the event was free to youths. Each of the children also each received a shirt to take home along with their freshly caught fish.
“We try our best to keep with the traditions of the event, since this is something we’ve done for more than 30 years,” said Meeks. “It’s a pretty unique activity and the cooperation with all the different parts is important to keep it going.”
Many of the children were personally invited by police officers and members of the community who know the families of the children and their situations.. The event is also promoted in schools and on the police departments’ websites.
“Because a lot of the officers know their communities so well, they often know which families and children could benefit most from an event like this,” Meeks said.
The youths were not discouraged by the steady rain. Many of them continued to cast their lines far out into the water and shivered, as the police officers aided them in taking the fish off of the lines, adding bait, and eventually cleaning their catch.
Many of the police officers, who have attended the event numerous times, were happy and excited to help the children.
Lt. Dave Okada of the Salem Police Department has been participating in the event since 1995 when he joined the Stayton Police Department. He has only missed the event once or twice during the years.
“It’s a great way to interact with the kids in a completely positive environment,” Okada said. “Many of these kids haven’t had the opportunity to fish before, and they really seem to enjoy it, and we love to help.”
The Marion County Search and Rescue Team was in charge of preparing and serving a hot-dog lunch. Following the food, awards were given out for three different categories: first fish caught, first child to reach the catching limit, and longest fish caught.
Brandon RatheLeGurche, a 21-year-old reserve officer for the Stayton Police Department, has been attending the event since he was a small child.
“I think I was four or five the first time I got to fishing with the police, and then came back a handful of times,” he said as he pulled a hook out of a squirming fish for one of the children. Now he is giving back to another generation of children.
While some of the youths were visibly excited about getting to handle the bait, poles, and fish, others were weary of the flip-flopping creatures. But the enthusiasm was unmistakable.
“Touching the fish is my favorite part!” said Maddie Fuson, a 10-year-old from Stayton Intermediate Middle School, as she re-casted her line into the lake for an attempt at her fourth catch of the day.
For more Silverton news, go to AppealTribune.com