Children and adults shared fellowship and caught fish Friday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Pine Bluff as part of a second annual fishing derby.
Hosted by the Disability Resource and Advocacy Center, the event attracted about 100 children and 25 volunteers. SeRonna Johnson, director of operations for Disability Resource and Advocacy Center, smiled and watched the children around the water.
“The purpose of the fishing derby is to allow individuals with disabilities to get out and do something fun recreationally and enjoy themselves fishing,” Johnson said. “We are a center for independent living. One of our core services is to transition youth with disabilities into post-secondary life. We have been working with local schools as well as with Jenkins, teaching children how to look past their disability and reach for the stars and do whatever it is they want in life. Recreation is a very important part of anybody’s life and being able to do things that people who do not have disabilities take for granted.”
The outing was also made possible by the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff fishing team, Tyson Foods, Jenkins Industries, the Delta River Nature Center, the Pine Bluff Police Department, the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services, the Arkansas Statewide Independent Living Council, the Spa Area Independent Living Services, the Center for Exceptional Families, and State Farm Insurance.
White Hall High School senior Cortez Bunton, 18, caught four catfish Friday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Pine Bluff. He smiled while spending time with his friends and explained that his key to success was being patient.
“I started out not catching anything, moved over to where [my classmates] were, and started catching them,” Bunton said. “It turned out to be a good day.”
“If you do not have patience, you are not going to get anything,” Bunton said.
White Hall High School sophomores Dalton Ratliff and Nick Ames were also reeling in fish. Ratliff kept the larger fish and asked Ames to release the smaller fish.
“I love fishing and being outdoors,” Ratliff, 16, said. “I have caught two catfish and a crappie. The fish are hitting today.”
Michele Thompson is a research associate at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries. She earned a master’s degree in aquaculture from UAPB.
She was baiting the hooks, helping the children remove fish from the hooks, and weighing the fish.
“We provide all the fishing equipment,” Thompson said. “I usually have a good time doing this. I like to scare the little kids with the worms. It’s fun to watch them learn that it’s okay to touch the worms and touch the fish.”
She explained that the Extension Service exists to serve through community outreach events.
“This gives us a chance to be more involved with the young people of the community,” Thompson said. “We do derbies for different age groups.”
Scott Jones, small impoundment extension specialist at the UAPB fishing team, was also teaching the children. His colleagues and he take part in many fishing derbies in multiple locations in Arkansas.
“It is a good thing to help out with these fishing events,” Jones, who founded the fishing team in 2011, said. “We help out anytime we can.”
The Extension service will allow its fishing equipment to be used as long as an Extension agent is supervising the event, he said. The agents teach how to cast a line.
After a morning low temperature in the middle 40s, Friday featured ample sunshine and a high temperature in the upper 60s.
Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department director April Layher welcomed the children to learn how to fish. She deemed it a success and credited the Disability Resource and Advocacy Center.
“We have donated use of the building and our guys came down to clean up so [the participants] would have a nice area,” Layher said. “We coordinated together with Game and Fish to put on a nice event. We are really happy to support it because this is a great group and they do a lot of good work for these kids and they have been really supportive of us.”
Robert Jackson, a bus driver for Jenkins Industries, helped put the bait on the hooks.
“Some of them have smiles on their faces you ain’t seen in a long time,” Jackson said. “I figure I would come out today and enjoy it with them.”