A father and daughter during the fishing derby Jim Franco/Spotlight News
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COLONIE — A parent teaching their children to fish is a tradition nearly as old as time.
By its very nature it’s more conductive to hanging out and bonding than a video game and it also teaches children about nature and patience and gets them outside and away from electronic, for even just a little while.
For the 44th year, the West Albany Rod and Gun Club hosted its annual Youth Fishing Derby on Saturday, June 2, at the Colonie Town Park off Route 9 along the Mohawk River.
“Just to get them out into nature, and have them learn about nature. It’s such a good thing for kids to do. It gets them away from their cell phone and their iPad,” said Dave Morrissey, a longtime angler who was hoping his granddaughter would land a fish. “It’s been in my blood forever, so as soon as someone is willing to go I am ready. We used to take our kids bowling and then the game places opened up in the shopping centers and all of a sudden there was no more of that.”
The tournament, sponsored in part by Pepsi, is open children up to 15 years old since in New York anyone 16 and older requires a license. Just shy of 50 children signed up, which has been about average for the last few years.
Outdoor sports like fishing, hunting and trapping are not as popular as they once were thanks, in part, to electronics but also to children today having a slew of other options with which to fill their schedule.
“There is always different commitment like softball and lacrosse and piano lessons that they think, or their parents think, are more important,” said Ronald Beauparlant, a club member and an organizer of the event for a number of years. “But I think it is important for them to learn about the outdoors and nature and just enjoy fishing.”
While outdoor sport activities like hunting has declined to 11.5 million in 2016 from 13.5 million in 2011, according to a study by the U.S. Department of the Interior, fishing has gained in popularity. The report indicates an 8 percent increase over the same time frame, from 33.1 million to 35.8 million.
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the sport.
“I put the worm on the hook, a fish bit at the worm and I reeled it in,” said Jackson Coburn, who was participating in the Pee Wee Division.
“It was a little bit heavy,” he said of the fish he landed.
“I get a worm out of the ground and a I wait a very long time,” said Kerrigan Wilson, who was also in the Pee Wee division. “I like big, fat fish but I don’t eat them because they taste gross.”
All the fish caught on that day were returned to the relative peace of the Mohawk River.
But, as with anything, fishing can get more complicated with high-tech gear and, in the case of fly fishing, a near an art form.
“It’s always a fun day watching kids catching fish,” said Richard Atkinson, a Niskayuna resident and member of Trout Unlimited who was sitting at a table tying flies. “Fly fishing brings you closer to nature, and makes you more aware of your surroundings and what the world is like.”
He and others do acknowledge less children are taking an interest in the sport. According to Angling Times, just 9 percent of fishermen are under the age of 30 and the average age of an angler is 49. Fifty-two percent are 50 and over.
To get more kids involved, rod and gun clubs hold derbies like the one on Saturday, and Trout Unlimited — a conservation organization that takes care of streams and other cold water bodies to give trout a livable habitat – hosts a fly fishing conservation camp for kids on the Delaware River.
Fishing too is big business. Total expenditures by anglers rose 2 percent from 45 billion in 2011 to 46.1 billion in 2016, according to the Department of the Interior.
The West Albany Rod and Gun Club handed out a slew of gear — good stuff too according to Beauparlant — to any kid who caught a fish, but that wasn’t the purpose of the day.
“It’s just important to get them outside. With the video games today, they need to be outside more. We were always outdoors,” said Colonie resident and club member Michael Coburn, who used to bring his children and now his grandson and granddaughter. “It’s just healthy to feel the sun and wind on your face and experience the outdoors. It just makes you feel better.”
“This is away from devices and all the inside stuff,” said Cohoes resident Sherry Roach, who brought her twin nieces. “This is outside and we enjoying the fresh air and doing something fun.”
Not a lot of fish were caught on Saturday but that is the nature of the sport. It was, though, a good time had by all.
You are standing here and watching the smiles on their faces and the looks in their eye and the expectations they have. It’s really unbelievable,” Beauparlant said. “Look at them. They are getting ready to go and they don’t know what they are going to catch, if anything. That little girl just brought up a 4-inch fish and look how happy she is. That’s why we love fishing.”
Every kid who caught a fish took home a prize but the trophy winners are:
PeeWee Division: Jase Delude, 9 years old, with a 21-inch, 2.8-pound Northern Pike
Junior Division: Shane Ratigan, 10 years old, with a 21-inch, 3-pound Walleye Pike.
Senior Division: Ashlyn Knapp, 13 years old, with a 16-inch, 1.9-pound Small Mouth Bass
Largest fish: Shane Ratigan with the 3-pound Walleye.
Check out our website for a photo gallery of the derby.