Hey, kids! Let’s Go Fishing!
It’s time for the annual Lake Eaton Kids’ Fishing Derby at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp in the Ocala National Forest. The derby is Saturday, Oct. 8, from 8 a.m. until noon for children ages 6-12.
Advance registration is required, and space is limited to 90 children. To sign up, call the FWC’s Ocala office at 352-732-1225 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., weekdays. The Ocala Conservation Center is 8.5 miles north of State Road 40 off County Road 314 in the Ocala National Forest.
“Everything the kids need to fish, including cane poles, bait, instruction and help, will be provided,” said Eric Thomas, freshwater fisheries biologist for the FWC’s Northeast Region. “We’ll be stocking channel catfish raised at the FWC’s Florida Bass Conservation Center state hatchery, so there’s a pretty good chance the fish will be biting.
“The kids will fish from the pier. For safety and to avoid tangled lines, please leave rods and reels home,” he added.
In addition to fishing, there is a casting contest, an arts and crafts activity, and an all-time favorite of derby-goers called “Bugs and Critters.” In this creepy-crawly activity, the kids get to wade into the lake with dip nets and scoop up fish, bugs and other aquatic critters. An FWC biologist uses the experience to teach kids about the aquatic ecosystem. The kids will get wet, so they should bring a change of clothes.
Each registered child who participates will receive the famous Lake Eaton Kids’ Fishing Derby T-shirt and a brand new rod and reel to take home absolutely free. The rods and reels are courtesy of Fish Florida!, a nonprofit organization that supports activities to teach children about fishing and aquatic habitats. Fish Florida! funding comes from the Fish Florida! specialty license tag featuring Florida’s official saltwater fish, the sailfish. Purchasing one of these tags helps ensure that children will have an opportunity to participate in the wonderful world of fishing. To buy one, go to BuyaPlate.com and click on Fish Florida! under the list of plates.
“Fishing is truly a family pursuit, and these derbies provide a great opportunity to introduce kids to this fun and wholesome activity,” Thomas said. “And who knows? After the adults see what fun it is, they too may decide to start fishing again.”
This is the 21st year the FWC and its partners have offered this derby for children. Without the support of the U.S. Forest Service, Marion County Parks and Recreation Department, and other local sponsors, these derbies would not be possible.