One of the best-attended family programs in the Illinois Valley returns Saturday morning for the 16th year.
The Kid’s Fishing Expo, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Baker Lake in Peru, often attracts 700 boys and girls ages 6 and older, and 700 parents or more, says Tom Wall, member and volunteer with Better Fishing Association of Northern Illinois.
Fellow event volunteer Mark Dudek, a member of Peru Sunrise Rotary, said almost 800 children attended one year to learn how to fish or just for fun.
“It is a really good program. It’s free,” Dudek said, and then rattled off several other reasons the program is so successful, ranging from the free hot dogs, free bait, free samples of fish cooked by volunteers and the BFA and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ fish identification lessons.
Expo visitors go from station to station and also learn how to cast, bait hooks, clean fish and even how to tie a fly. The lake is stocked before the event, making the fishing easier and more enjoyable.
Dudek said everybody seems to enjoy the fish identification booth, where they might get see a snapping turtle, live alligator gar or huge catfish.
Many children do not have a parent or grandparent who can teach them the basics of fishing. Boys, girls and adults can learn skills together.
“In knot tying, you really just have to learn how to tie one knot and then you can tie a knot for fishing for the rest of your life,” Dudek said.
Dudek’s family business, LKCS of Peru, prints out 20,000 fliers and distributes them to schools in a 30-mile radius of Peru to promote the Expo as well as the June 7 Kid’s Fishing Tournament, which will be at Lock 14 on the Illinois and Michigan Canal in La Salle.
In addition to the BFA, Peru Sunrise Rotary and the DNR, major sponsors contributing time and support to the Expo are La Salle Rotary Club, Peru Police Department, Boy Scouts, Peru Rescue Squad and the cities of Peru and La Salle, said Dudek and Wall. However, the sponsors list actually nears 100, as does the number of volunteers from all over the community.
“Approximately 100 volunteers it takes to put on the program,” Wall said.
A little background
Wall said the youth fishing tournament, which started 29 years ago, “had a little bit of a dark cloud over it because the only ones who caught fish and won were the ones who had parents who were fishermen.”
“Consistently at Lock 14, 80 percent of the kids did not catch fish and I determined that children did not necessarily know how to fish for catfish,” Wall said.
Wall said he helped convince Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Mike Conlin to start stocking hybrid sunfish as well as catfish just before the tournament. That led to more kids catching fish in the tournament, but still a lot of the children needed help or lessons from volunteers.
After a few “how-to” clinics were held prior to the tournament, the American Fisheries Society, the BFA and IDNR teamed up to put on the first expo.
Wall said the AFS pulled out after the first year, citing how labor-intensive the expo was. Peru Rescue Squad, BFA, Peru Sunrise Rotary, local volunteers and some DNR fisheries biologists stepped in to keep it going.
And now it’s a tradition.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most successful of its kind in the state of Illinois,” Wall said.