Lily Nichols, 11, went fishing with her uncle when she was 5, but she hasn’t been since and she never caught a fish.
Until Thursday morning.
“Hoping today’s my day, since I’ve never caught anything,” Lily said before climbing into a boat with three other fifth-grade students from Eastwood Elementary School during Kids’ Day at Cooper Creek Reservoir.
About 20 guides broke the 70 students into small groups and took them out in their boats and helped them bait and cast their lines. The event’s director, Chris Baumgartner, said the day is meant to reward the students for their work with the Rock Creek Fish Hatchery on the school campus.
“Everybody from the community has kind of pitched in,” Baumgartner said. “A lot of these kids have either never been in a boat or never been fishing. Kids’ Day is really one of the special days we have for the fishing derby.”
The event is hosted as part of the Umpqua Fishery Enhancement Derby, which raises money for enhancement projects for the local rivers. In the past 26 years, the derby has raised more than $1.5 million for fish habitat restoration projects.
“The results are yes, it is making a difference,” Baumgartner said.
The derby started with student day on Wednesday, where seniors from local high schools got more targeted education about collecting, spawning and tracking steelhead.
“This day is all about the kids, the next two days are for the adults,” said Dave Loomis, who was a previous director.
Loomis said Kids’ Day has been held for about 20 years, almost as long as the derby, which is in its 27th year.
Before the students even got off the two buses, Oregon State Troopers, including Aaron Baimbridge, got on the buses and gave the students a quick course in safety. Straight from the bus doors, the students lined up for lifejackets donated by North River Boats.
“We do inspections for the guides,” Baimbridge said. “Also, we enjoy being able to spend time with the kids and make a good impression on them. Hopefully we’ll help them have a good day.”
The students shouted at each other from their boats, all within about a 30-foot radius of the end of the dock. Some caught three or more fish and returned them to the water while others, like Isaac Madison, 11, watched and willed the fish to stop nibbling and start biting.
“The biggest fish I ever caught was 25 pounds,” Isaac said. “Now I can’t catch anything.”
Isaac’s guide, Gary Lewis, knew that the students who were catching fish had a serious advantage over most other anglers since he watched with the students as two trucks from Willamette Valley fisheries shot thousands of fish into the water.
“It’s just fun to come out with the derby and help these kids fish,” Lewis said.
After about an hour on the water in the drift boats, Baumgartner got the kids to line up against the fence, still in their life jackets, as five jet boats raced up from around the bend. The kids loaded up in the boats in groups of three to five and rode up the creek. For some, it was their first time in a jet boat.
Fifth-grade teacher Camron Pope convinced his students J’leigh Thacker and Litia Thompson to sit in the back of the boat and told the driver, “The wetter the better.”
J’leigh’s jaw dropped when the first big wave came. She held on to the metal railing whenever she wasn’t holding her hood down to the keep the water out of her eyes. By the end, both girls were laughing at how wet their clothes were and trusted Pope’s promise they would warm up quickly.
“I’ve flown in a freaking plane before and this is scarier,” Keagan Applegarth, 11, said after a few bumps in the water. “Never again.”
He gripped his seat with two hands and moved for a better hold whenever he was given advice while Isaac and another student laughed through the water that came pouring over the sides on big turns and quick stops.
When Keagan saw the dock that signaled the end of the trip he looked to the driver and asked, “Can we go again?”