If the amount of "I got one" exchanges from the almost 200 kids who attended the annual Fishing For Smiles program at the Dunton Pond was any indication of the success of the event, then one can assume it was once again very successful.
On Saturday, the annual free fishing event for Kingman area kids, which is co-sponsored by the Mohave Sportsman Club and the Kingman Elks Lodge #468, was blessed with perfect weather and a lot of very hungry channel catfish.
According to MSC president Ron Hooper, who was attending his first Fishing For Smiles event, he was very pleased with how the event worked out and how much fun all of the kids and their parents/guardians had.
"It was fun," said Hooper. "I really like the way it all came together, and it was fun to watch."
Jerry Grimes, who is a past president of the Kingman Elks Lodge and has been involved with this program since its inception, was also very pleased with the turnout.
Grimes and his wife Linda were there from start to finish.
In the past the event, which costs over $6,000 to put on, was paid for with a grant from the Arizona Game & Fish Department.
But this year, the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, a consortium of many of Arizona's conservation groups, wrote a big check for this event after the MSC, which is a member of the group, applied for a grant. Jim Jett, the government liaison for the MSC, made a presentation to the AZSFWC for the grant. He was also very pleased with all the kids and parents who attended.
Jett said, "Weather was awesome, and it was good to see the amount of participation by Kingman residents."
The Kingman Elks Club assisted with the expenses for the event, as did Kingman Regional Medical Center. KRMC allows the Elks to do the registrations as part of the KRMC Kid's Day program. Bill Shilling, a member of the Elks Club fishing committee, said that he is pleased with the help from KRMC and hopes that they will be a long time partner in this community event.
For many of the kids, who were first time participants in the Fishing For Smiles program, it was the beginning of what will be a long involvement in fishing and seeing what the great outdoors is all about.
And that is one of the goals of this event by the organizers - to recruit kids and their parents into an outdoor program that is fun and builds ties that will last forever.
This event couldn't happen without the Dunton family, who each year open up their ranch and ponds to organizers so that the kids have a place to fish.
Roy Dunton is the patriarch of the Dunton family, and even at 93 years old he is out there every year to enjoy the kids, their parents and the fishing.
Dunton has his favorite spot under a juniper tree on the edge of the pond where he sits patiently and watches as the kids reeled in fish after fish.
"They're having fun," Dunton said with a big smile.
And it wasn't just the fishing that brought the kids out. The Elks handle an all-you-can-eat hamburger/hotdog lunch. It was well organized and ran very efficiently, and everyone who was hungry was fed.
This huge event came together as a result of some hard work and planning by the MSC and Elks Club.
Both groups have committees that work together to make sure that the fish, rods and reels, food, tables and chairs, porta potties are out there on site.
The Kingman office of the Bureau of Land Management had a wildlife display on site that was very popular with the kids. Becky Peck is a wildlife biologist with BLM, and each year she brings out a number of wildlife for the kids to see and touch. She has a desert tortoise named "Pokey" which the kids love, along with various non-venomous snakes and reptiles.
The Kingman Bass Club, with members Donnie Scroggins and Shane Moline, along with Scroggins' fully decked out bass boat, was there. Many kids had never seen a bass boat before.
Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe, just like his predecessor, Tom Sheahan is a huge supporter of the event and has his staff set up tents and shade.
Members of the Kingman Hunter Education team, including Cristi Cofer McReynolds, Mike Thompson, and Page McDonald, along with junior members Ryan and Laura Borden, were there to help the young anglers out. Thompson and MSC Lead Range officer Terry Kirkum, along with a local resident who assisted them, probably had the toughest job there. They cleaned the many, many catfish that were caught by the successful young anglers.
The Arizona Game & Fish Department had a booth at the site and passed out loaner fishing poles and bait. They were very busy all morning.
Today the MSC and Elks will be doing another event at the Dunton pond for Kingman's special needs groups. Over 45 people are expected to be there, according to Elks members Bill Shilling, who organizes this event with the Kingman special needs organizations.
Mohave County Supervisor Gary Watson is a long-time supporter of the special needs event, and each year he pays for medallions that are given to the participants.
Fishing For Smiles is a wonderful program and requires a lot of hard work. But in the end, it is worth it to all who help make this yearly community event such a success.