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News / Sports / Outdoors

Fish were biting for return of Merwin kids event

COVID restrictions lifted enough to have event for first time in 2 years

By TERRY OTTO, For The Columbian
Published: July 14, 2022, 6:05am
4 Photos
Volunteers, special kids, and parents line up to fish at the Merwin State Fish Hatchery. They were taking part in the Merwin Special Kids Fishing Event, which was held for the first time in two years.
Volunteers, special kids, and parents line up to fish at the Merwin State Fish Hatchery. They were taking part in the Merwin Special Kids Fishing Event, which was held for the first time in two years. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Power) Photo Gallery

Almost 200 kids participated in the Merwin Special Kids Fishing Event on Saturday — the first held following a two-year pandemic hiatus.

The event is held through a partnership between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Pacific Power, and takes place at the Merwin State Fish Hatchery near Ariel.

The derby is for local youth from Oregon and Washington with disabilities including patients of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Kids, as well as local rehabilitation facilities.

Many of the kids are in wheelchairs, and have been diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cerebral palsy, cancer, or spina bifida.

However, any child with a disability is allowed to attend.

Participants are provided with everything they need — fishing gear, baits, and landing nets. They are assisted by local volunteers that help the kids fish.

“It went really nice, real smooth, a good day,” said Kevin Young, the manager of the Merwin State Fish Hatchery. “It wasn’t super-hot, and both ponds were absolutely packed.”

Prior to the event, two ponds located at the hatchery that are easily accessed were stocked with more than 3,000 trout each, and some of the fish were big. The largest trout landed during the derby was 5.5 pounds.

Both ponds were stocked with 1,200 two-year old large trout, about 1,000 1-pound trout, and the rest were big fish in the 5-pound range.

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“It was a lot of fun,” continued Young. “We had plenty of volunteers. There were a lot of people who came out and helped, and there was no family that did not have someone to assist them with fishing.

“That’s our goal — to pair each family with a volunteer that will assist them throughout the day helping them fish, and get their fish weighed and cleaned and make sure they get the VIP treatment.”

Many of the volunteers were members of the Vancouver Wildlife League, the Southwest Washington Anglers, and others, including about 80 volunteers from Pacific Power. Other volunteers came from the Cowlitz County Fire District I, Fish First, Klineline Kids Fishing Nonprofit, Edge Rods, and the Swift Community Action Team.

Vendors present included Bob’s Sporting Goods, Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor, Corwin Beverages, Koldkist, and Sportsman’s Warehouse.

“The volunteers were not just helping out,” said Young, “they made donations of fishing tackle and volunteered to help the kids fish, and if the rods needed repair they helped out.”

He said feedback from the kids and families was all positive.

“They were just so happy to hear that this will be put on, and we heard lots of comments from people happy to be able to get back to this derby,” Young said.

Holding the event was not a foregone conclusion.

The COVID pandemic had kept the event from happening the last two years, leaving former participants, parents, and volunteers frustrated. But, the safety of the kids was foremost, and the derbies were cancelled.

This year Washington State COVID guidelines finally allowed the event to happen, according to Young.

“It was based on state protocols and state policies on COVID to determine whether it could go on or not,” he said.

Once it was decided that the event could come back, Pacific Power and the WDFW worked hand in hand to make it happen.

The participants enjoyed themselves, and caught plenty of trout. The parents also had a good time, and were thankful to be able to attend after the two-year hiatus.

Some had been coming for years. Young explained that age is a consideration, but there are no hard lines for that.

“It’s for kids 4 years up to 18 years old and there may be some even older than that. This is an event that has been put on for some time and it grows every year. We don’t necessarily turn anyone back just because of age. They may have been coming here for 10 years, and may be, say, 22 years old, but we are happy to have them come to the event.”

The event planners will now go into brainstorming mode. They will review how the event came off, and figure out ways to make it better as part of a process they have followed for years. After the success of this year’s event, everyone is excited about preparing for next year.

However, Young was very happy with the way things worked out this year, especially after not being able to hold it for two years.

“Everyone went home happy,” he said.

Volunteering opportunities

Volunteers are not registered until the day of the event. For individuals interested in volunteering for 2023, keep an eye on the Pacific Power news releases.

For more information call WDFW Region 5 headquarters at 360-696-6211