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Fish were biting at annual Fishing for Smiles event

DON MARTIN/Special to the Miner
Brad Kash, left, and his 4-year old son Kayden Ballard show the limit of catfish that Kayden caught at Fishing For Smiles.

It was a perfect day for fishing. The wind wasn't blowing, the fish were very cooperative and for the more than 120 kids and their parents/guardians, many lifelong memories were made.

It was the Kingman community's largest free fishing event that is held every year due to the cooperation of the Mohave Sportsman Club, Kingman Elk's Lodge No. 468, Arizona Game and Fish Department - and, of course, the Dunton family.

The Dunton family allows the use of a private pond on their Fort Rock Ranch that they constantly upgrade for the enjoyment of the kids. And it is free for participants.

It is called Fishing For Smiles, and it is a labor of love for all the organizations and volunteers who work to make this event happen every summer.

The event starts with a grant from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Mohave Sportsman Club writes a proposal and submits it to the department, seeking funds to put on this one-day event, which is held in conjunction with Arizona's free fishing day.

The proposal funds fish, food and equipment.

This results in local families having the opportunity to enjoy a day with their kids doing something that has been an American tradition for many years.

Fishing provides quality time for parents and their kids to bond and enjoy time together.

And while there were over 120 kids out there (180 had signed up!), at the Dunton Pond, there were easily two to three times that number of family members, friends and volunteers on hand to make sure that the event was successful.

The Kingman Elk's Lodge No. 468 probably had 35 or more members out there, doing everything from registration and checking in anglers to feeding the hungry participants.

Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan has been a huge supporter of this event since its inception.

Sheahan has members of his organization set up large tents where families can rest and eat. His posse volunteers are always on site to make sure that traffic flows smoothly in and around the event.

Representatives of the Bureau of Land Management were also on hand.

Rebecca Peck is a wildlife biologist and she always brings her display of native wild animals that citizens of Mohave County can expect to find in the great outdoors.

From a desert tortoise named Regina, the Queen of the Desert, to several species of rattlesnakes, young and old alike were treated to a wonderful conservation experience.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department had staff on hand to pass out loaner fishing rods/reels and bait.

Local cable channel 57 had a TV crew on site and plans to air a couple of shows on the event.

Volunteers from the Mohave County Hunter Education team, led by chief instructor Jim Rich, who lives in Mohave Valley, were on hand to assist the young anglers. The team's youth volunteer, 16-year-old Ryan Borden, assisted those who needed help with fixing and untangling lines.

Instructor Johnnie Hoeft and Rich cleaned catfish for hours, making sure that all the fish caught were ready to put on the table. They were also assisted in this chore by a couple of volunteers.

Page McDonald, who is also a hunter education instructor, worked in a booth and passed out Frisbees to the kids as part of a program for the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society.

She also let the young anglers hear the sounds of wild turkeys, coyotes and bull elk. McDonald also had a set of horns from a desert bighorn sheep and a set of mule deer antlers on display.

Bob Kay, Bill Shilling and Jerry Grimes represent the Kingman Elks Lodge No. 468 on the Fishing For Smiles steering committee.

Working with the board of directors from the Mohave Sportsman Club, and especially MSC secretary/treasurer Bill Schleeter, the group plans and organizes this annual event. As usual, it went off without a hitch.

This year, Kay estimated that young anglers caught more than 400 pounds of catfish, and 900 pounds of fish were stocked in the pond as part of the grant.

Each angler was allowed to keep three channel catfish, and this year some very large fish were brought to the scales.

Lucas Ladendecker, 7, caught the first channel catfish of the event. A very proud mom, dad and grandparents were all smiling when the young angler pulled the big cat out of the water.

Hoeft said the top stringer weighed 11 pounds and was caught by 14-year old Ethan Knutson.

Rich noted that the largest catfish brought in during the event was a lunker that weighed 5.3 pounds.

The second-largest stringer was caught by 9-year-old Billy Chmiel. His three-fish stringer weighed 10.35 pounds, with a big fish of 4.95 pounds.

Almost everyone who spent time at the pond got to experience the thrill of catfish tugging on the lines of the young anglers.

Many of the young anglers had never been fishing before and were excited to show their catches to friends and relatives.

Kayden Ballard is just 4 years old and yet talked like a veteran angler.

The anglers and their families also got to partake in a lunch that was furnished by members of the Kingman Elks Lodge.

Ken Coombs is the Exalted Ruler of the Elks. He also was part of the cooking team. Coombs estimated they served more than 120 hamburgers and 120 hot dogs with all of the fixings during the event.

The Dunton family was well represented at the event. Roy Dunton Sr., along with Scott and Scotty Dunton, were on hand to watch the festivities.

All expressed satisfaction with the number of families who had turned out to enjoy a day of fishing. They pledged their continued support for future events.

In the end, there were a lot of tired kids, parents and volunteers, but ask any of them and they will probably tell you what a great day it was. If there has ever been a fishing event with the perfect name, it is this one.


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