Fishing for Smiles a Catch!

One man reeling in a catfish at this year’s Fishing for Smiles.

BILL SHILLING/Courtesy

One man reeling in a catfish at this year’s Fishing for Smiles.

KINGMAN – Almost everyone with a hook in the water at this year’s Fishing for Smiles event at the Dunton family’s Fort Rock Ranch got a bite at some point.

The educational and recreational day of angling for kids 5-15 years of age attracted nearly 200 kids and their families May 3. A week before the event, the ranch’s man-made one-acre lake was stocked with about a 1,000 pounds of catfish, and according to Fishing for Smiles co-organizer Bill Shilling, almost everyone caught at least one fish. 

Tuesday was fishing day for special needs individuals. 61 adults, teens and children along with supporting staff from SOLO of America, RISE Services and New Horizons Center of Kingman, three local day programs for people with developmental disabilities that brought individuals and staff out for a day of fishing.  

“This was the most rewarding day,” Shilling said. “They don’t take things for granted. They seem to appreciate the time outside with an activity like this. They get a bigger thrill out of catching of fish than anyone I’ve seen.”

Eleven adults from SOLO got a hook in the water.

“It does (build) a lot of self-esteem for them,” said Crystal Hamblin, adult day training program supervisor. “They find out they’re capable of doing things outside. Things they didn’t think they were capable of. It makes them feel independent. They have a blast out there.”

Most everybody participating in both days of fishing get to keep their catches. Not for SOLO folks.

“They can keep the fish if they want to, but they normally don’t,” said Hamblin.

“They feel bad so they’ll catch and release.”

The yearly event is co-sponsored by the Kingman Elks Lodge No. 468, Kingman Regional Medical Center, Mohave Sportsman Club, Arizona Game and Fish Department and with major funding by the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation.

Kids were provided with a pole and bait courtesy of AZGFD, and fished for free and kept what they caught. Parents just needed to arrange transportation.

The Kingman Kiwanis Club cooked burgers and dogs. The Elks Lodge had volunteers on hand helping with food and fishing.

Rebecca Peck, Bureau of Land Management wildlife specialist, made her annual trip to the lake with a reptile display.

“That’s a huge hit. All the kids got to hold a snake,” Shilling said. “We found out she’s retiring, so we’re really going to miss her.”

Shilling was extremely satisfied with the event.

“This year’s Fishing for Smiles was hands-down the best we’ve ever held,” he said. “We had more volunteers than ever, more cooperation and more smiles. We had an awesome time this year, and I’d like to let the community know how much we appreciate the support and let them know there are things to do if you look around.”

“The whole Dunton family were really gracious hosts,” he added.