EAST LONGMEADOW â€“ Brock Welch, 3, held his momâ€™s hand while smiling at the large trout in her other hand. The catch he had brought in was almost half his size. East Longmeadow Lion, Paul Cunningham, held a measuring stick next to him. It was official. Standing at just 2 feet, 10 inches, Welch was named the 2019 East Longmeadow Fishing Derbyâ€™s â€śLittlest Fisherman.â€ť
The derby on April 13 brought more than 250 people to Heritage Park over the course of three and a half hours. Families stood in small groups near the waterâ€™s edge, all around the pond, with many parents teaching their children how to cast a line for the first time.
Last held in 2013, the Fishing Derby is a tradition that stretches back 61 years.Â Originally, the Jaycees organization sponsored the derby, but they disbanded six years ago. This year, in conjunction with the 125th Anniversary of East Longmeadowâ€™s founding, the Lionâ€™s Club has taken up the mantle and brought back the derby.
â€ś[The derby is] really well-received and deeply missed,â€ť said Cunningham, a derby official.
â€śItâ€™s good for the kids,â€ť said Lion Scott Grabowski, saying they had a great turnout.
Tony Kusnierz brought his two daughters, Abby, 7, and Ella, 5. The girls said they were enjoying their first time fishing.
â€śItâ€™s good,â€ť Kusnierz said of the derbyâ€™s return. â€śFun for the kids, get to see some of their friends.â€ť
Amy Kloss and her father, Don Kloss, brought her 8-year-old daughter, Isabella, to fish in the derby.
â€śI was coming when I was her age,â€ť Don said, gesturing to his granddaughter. The Klosses had gone to a preâ€“derby registration event and raffle on April 10 at the 99 Restaurant in East Longmeadow, where Isabella won fishing gear.
â€ś[Isabella] was excited. She got a fishing box and she definitely wanted to use it,â€ť her mom said, joking, â€śI think she won the award for the smallest fish.â€ś Isabellaâ€™s catch weighed in at 0.07 pounds.
There were 50 rods and reels available to borrow, with a $5 deposit for any children that didnâ€™t have their own gear. Rent-A-Tent donated the worms used for bait.
The derby featured four age groups, and each age group received first, second, and third place awards. In the 3 to 5 age group, Hunter Johnson placed first, Natalie and Jason Zalewski came in second, and Oliver and Bianca Syriac were in third place. For ages 6 to 8, Seamus Manley won first place, John Asher took second, and Brooke Pelizik, who also won a week of summer camp in a raffle, placed third.
For the 9 to 11-year-olds, Ely Christenson came in first, Colton Tryba placed second, and Reid Keller won third place. Keller also won the award for the Biggest Fish Award, which was a 10â€“foot fishing kayak and a family portrait package from Robert Charles Photography. The package included a private clothing consultation, photo session, and an 11 x 16-inch hand-stretched canvas. Christenson took home an eight-foot fishing kayak for the Most Fish by Weight Award.
The 12 to 14 age group saw Dylan Mitchell win first place, Sam Wycrowski took second, and Bruice Terrian came in third.
First place winners received a bike from Family Bike in East Longmeadow, as did the Littlest Fisherman. Second place winners took home a fishing gear package. And those in third place each received a four-pack of passes, redeemable at any of the Springfield Museums and age-appropriate toys for outside play. All winners also received a trophy.
There were over two dozen raffle prizes given out, including gift cards, games and sports gear, back yard decor, East Longmeadow Spartans shirts, and a year of chocolate. Lion Scott Grabowski won the raffle prize for a half-day deep-sea fishing trip for four with Capt. Eric Newhouse from Bhookend Fishing Charters on Cape Cod. Newhouse was on hand to pull the winning raffle ticket.
The 125th Anniversary Committee was set up under a tent, selling commemorative coins, ornaments, and mugs to celebrate the townâ€™s anniversary.
The Lions Club stocked the pond with 780 fish, with the help of donations by the state. Cunningham said Massachusetts had agreed to reclassify the pond, in order to stock it with fish once a year for the derby.
While this the first was derby for Stephanie Wawrzaszek, her sons, River, 9, and Weston, 7, were already good fishermen.
â€ś[Riverâ€™s] very experienced for his age,â€ť Wawrzaszek said as her son cast his line far out into the pond. She said they were having fun and would definitely be returning next year.
Long after the derby had ended, a handful of people stood around the pond and continued to fish, just for the fun of it.