Gaston & Catawba

Annual catfish tournament reels in kid contestants

Children shouted with joy as their fishing lines sunk below the water’s surface. A catfish was hooked.

The children were competing in the annual Kids Catfish Tournament at Dallas Park on July 9.

Cheers of “I got one!” could be heard around the park’s two lakes. The kids raced up the bank, catfish trailing in the wind, to have their catch measured so they could claim a prize.

Five-year-old Emma Mace, of Vale, learned how to fish before she could walk.

She, along with 40 other kids ages 3-15, participated in the tournament sponsored by the Gaston County Parks and Recreation Department.

Emma sat on a stool next to her grandfather, David, while they fished. Throughout the day and with his guidance, she caught, and then released, at least seven catfish.

By 9:15 a.m., Emma held the record for the largest catch. After it was measured, she proudly held up the 19-inch catfish.

“Can I kiss it?” she asked her grandmother, Charlene Groves.

This was at least the sixth year the tournament has taken place. The N.C. Fish and Wildlife Commission donated fishing rods and reels and stocked each of the two lakes at Dallas Park with about 750 catfish, said Josh Henderson, the marketing and special event coordinator for Gaston County Parks and Recreation.

Usually the department places a limit on the number of fish that can be taken, he said, but on this day, the kids could take whatever they caught.

“The purpose really is just to introduce them to fishing, to introduce them to being outside, you know, and get them off video games,” Henderson said.

Henderson said businesses, such as outdoors stores, McDonald’s, Sweet Frog and Dairy Queen, donated prizes. Kids earned them if they caught the first fish or the biggest fish. About every five minutes, they also gave a prize for the next fish caught.

Kids of all experience levels participated in the tournament. They were there to have fun.

It took only 10 minutes for Jessie Hill, 13, of Dallas, to catch and reel in a catfish.

“I love fishing,” she said. “(I’ve fished) too many times to count.”

When the tournament ended, four kids took home a prize for the biggest fish caught – $50 worth of “pelican bucks” to use at Pelican’s SnoBalls, a shaved ice store in Gastonia.

Emma took home the girls’ prize. Three boys, Rylan Beaty, 6, and twins Christian and Cameron Meek, 13, tied for the boys’ prize after also catching 18-inch catfish.

Jane Little: 704-358-5336; @janelittle26