HARLINGEN — “It’s as big as she is,” someone declared as Harmony Gonzalez walked with her catfish toward the weigh station.
“It’s big so I could weigh it,” Harmony, 7, said at yesterday’s Hooked for Life Kid Fish at the Harlingen Sports Complex.
This was Harmony’s first fishing trip, but such beginner’s luck — her catfish was 22 inches long — was a good incentive for her to come back for more. And that’s exactly what Hooked for Life Kids Gone Fish’n is all about.
“The purpose of Hooked for Life is to introduce kids to the outdoors, get them away from the Xboxes, the Play Stations, introduce them to the joy of fishing,” said Doroteo Gonzalez, vice-president of the nonprofit organization.
“It is going great,” he said. “We had about 600 kids pre-register and we have prepared approximately 640 rods. We have given all 640 rods away. Luckily we brought an extra 120 rods because we wanted to make sure we didn’t turn any kids away.”
Kids, parents and even grandparents lined the shore of the lake at the complex. They leaned back and made long casts into the water where white geese kept a safe distance. A girl with a green bow in her hair struggled with a restless dog, A boy meticulously put bait on his hook.
“It looks like a very successful event,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t look like there’s an inch of space for the kids to fish anymore, so it looks like it’s pretty much to capacity.”
The event was free to the public. Everything was free, including the rods and reels. The kids also received free T-shirts, stink bait for the catfish, and goody bags with snacks.
“We have somebody here who will fillet the fish for them if they want to take them home,” he said.
Harmony’s mother, April Ortiz, definitely planned to get her fish filleted so they could make a meal out of it.
“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “I had the day off and it was something fun to do with her. I had to wake up early but it was something different.”
Her daughter did pretty well, considering it was a new experience for her.
“It was a little rough at first,” she said. “She didn’t know exactly what to do, but she got the hang of it.”
Reeling in such a large fish was a bit scary for Harmony, but she handled it well.
“She was excited,” April said. “She didn’t know if it was on her reel or somebody else’s.”
While Hooked for Life Kid Fish has been held in Brownsville for nine years and off and on in Port Isabel, this was the first year for Harlingen. That’s why Diana Gonzalez talked her sister Linda Salinas into bringing the kids out to the event, even more so once her son Daniel Cedillo caught a fish.
“I am glad he had a chance to experience this,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s important for the kids to get away from the electronics and get back in touch with nature.”
Daniel, 10, described the whole event as “good, fun, enjoyable.”
And catching a fish?
“I felt excited and a little bit nervous because I didn’t know what to do but then I realized it was a fish and I just reeled it in,” he said.
Gonzalez’s niece, Liana Salinas, seemed really caught up in the spirit of the event.
“It’s very wonderful,” said the 10-year-old, throwing her arms out wide. She’s been fishing before and enjoys the sport.
“It’s outdoors, which is exciting,” she said. “You can catch wonderful things.”
Her mother, Linda Salinas, felt it was a great experience for all of them.
“I think it’s great to bring kids outdoors and expose them to things like fishing and nature and giving them experience with the outdoors,” she said.
At that moment, a man in an orange shirt walked by with a large catfish dangling from his tight fist, two children walking quickly beside him.