“I should have worn long pants,” was said more than once in the chilly pre-dawn darkness. It was just last weekend when people began gathering for the 34th annual Jim “Moose” Carden Kids Fishing Clinic Graduation Tournament. This special event was the culmination of two weeks of informative classes for 130 children between the ages of 6 to 15.
Although the air was crisp before the sun made its grand debut, the cool temperatures were no match for the warmth generated from the small army of caring volunteers who converged on the Kokomo Reservoir to set up for the annual function. To date, roughly 4,000 children between the ages of 6 to 15 have graduated from the program and last week another 130 were added to the list.
The smell of outboard motor exhaust hung heavy in the damp morning air as 60 boat captains loaded their precious cargo in hopes of providing them with a one of a kind memory. As usual this summer’s persistant rains stained the waters of our local lake, which in most cases makes fishing a harder proposition. Armed with their new found knowledge and an armful of equipment, these less than favorable conditions didn’t hinder the success of this year’s graduates.
Excitement rose as boats began pulling up to the bank at the conclusion of the three hour contest. After Jeff and Terri Rude, of the Hoosier Open Tournament Series, completed the professional style weigh-in it was learned the group of children brought in a total 243 fish, are you ready for this, weighing a combined 216 pounds.
In the six to eight age division it was Gracie Cosat who took first place with a catch totaling 10.28 pounds. Her boat captain was Jeff Fager and co-captain Ty Kendall. “There is nothing more rewarding than watching kids catching fish,” said Kendall after watching Cosat step out of the boat with her weigh-in bag full.
In the nine to 11 age group it was Braiden Wunderlich taking the top spot with a stringer of carp weighing 27.14 pounds. He was guided to success by boat captain and resident carp master Jim Baker and his first mate Kenny Gillam.
Baker, a long time boat captain, also led Wyatt Reynolds to a first place finish in the 12-15 age bracket with a handful of carp tipping the scales at 28 pounds. “It was a good day for the kids,” explained Baker. “They put nearly 60 pounds of fish in the boat,” he added with a confident smile.
But the single, biggest fish was pulled in by Kalli Smith. Her bugle-mouthed bass dropped the scales at 14.15 pounds. She was led to success by her grandfather Brian Wisher. His first mate was his brother Benny Wisher.
Instead of diplomas every child received a trophy in recognition of their graduation. Even though technically it can be considered a contest, every child is a winner. As mentioned several times throughout the day, the once a year event is not about catching fish but fishing.
Following the weighing over 500 people enjoyed a huge picnic lunch overlooking the rippling waters. Food was donated by Crossroads Church, Todd Merrick of Frito Lay, Coca Cola Bottling and many others. Frank Simpson provided the pulled pork while taking on the task of cooking hundreds of hotdog, hamburgers and other picnic pleasantries. The Kokomo Noontime Kiwanis organized the food lines making the chore of feeding this many people an efficient operation.
In reality it takes roughly 170 people to make the clinic what it is today. Logistics staff does a remarkable job making sure everything is set up and properly organized during the two week program. Although everyone’s effort that helps with this important aspect of the Kids Clinic are equally important, one man deserves special recognition for his tireless dedication to the program. He is always the first one to arrive and the last to leave. Gary Hinkle leads the operations staff and leaves nothing to chance. A disabled veteran, many of us believe the motto of “An army of one,” was coined after him.
All of the classroom instructors did a masterful job of presenting students with fishing knowledge they can cultivate for the rest of their lives. Enough can’t be said of the boat captains and their first mates that provide the children with a positive lifelong memory. They are the heart of the clinic, making the graduation tournament possible.
To mention everyone who has a part in making this unique youth program possible would be futile. These types of people do not do this for praise or recognition. They do it because of what’s in their heart in regards to fishing and children. And to be honest, what better match is there.
The Kids of Kokomo say “thanks” to the hundreds of businesses, individuals and volunteers who helped make the 34th annual Jim “Moose” Carden Kids Fishing Clinic a great success.
Thanks to those who volunteer
A special thanks go to the boat captains who unselfishly donate their time, equipment and boats in making the graduation tournament one of the most recognized youth events in the United States and it happens right here in Kokomo.
Graduation Tournament Boat Captains
Roger and Lane Eubank
Jeremy and Cassie Schultz
Greg and Parker Sullivan
Jim and Marci Young