FORT SILL, Okla.-- It was another great day in Southwest Oklahoma June 1 as the 26th Annual Fort Sill Kids' Fishing Derby went off with very few flaws.

This one was unusual as, much like last year, the morning started off very cool after the arrival of a cold front. It was cool enough Saturday that a few folks had on light jackets or sweatshirts to ward off the early morning chill.

Kids caught fish as soon as the signal to start sounded although it was a little slow compared to some years. The main thing was that most had caught a fish in the first 30 minutes and some had several on the stringer.

Getting the kids out to learn a little more about nature and how to catch a fish is what it is really all about, but we do have some competition.

For the second year in a row we held it at Medicine Creek near our offices. One reason is to aid us with our reduced manpower since we don't have to move equipment all the way over to Minor Ponds, but it also provided increased shoreline access for anglers with lots of hot spots to fish.

Even better than that was the increased amount of shade as big oak and pecan trees gave folks a place to get out of the sun. Our educational exhibits by Lawton, Fort Sill Bass Club, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and the National Guard, found shady places to park themselves, too.

As volunteers cooked and served hot dogs, sodas and bottled water, some people welcomed a bit of warmth in the sun for their light lunch while other folks ducked under the cover of abundant shade trees to enjoy their meal.

Once again the fish cleaning table was a big hit. One of our folks and some great volunteers filleted fish for anyone who brought them by. It was a great help to many of the parents who weren't too sure about cleaning all those wet and slimy trophies caught by their kids.

Each fishing family member ended up with a zip lock bag with fillets ready for the skillet. I believe our fish cleaners about wore out their electric knives as several hundred kids with stringers of fish. It made for a lot of cleaning, but also many tasty fillets.

During the derby we used volunteers for a variety of jobs, and they came through with flying colors as they always do. If you were there, you may have noticed that many of them were handing out sodas or measuring fish.

Maybe you saw the judges who were helping keep order along the banks. They also identified kids who showed great sportsmanship and effort, and awarded them prizes. Other volunteers were taking photos or just adding words of encouragement for all the young anglers. We want to give, a special thanks to all of those great volunteers and contributors who helped put on this year's big event.

Without their help of these dedicated volunteers, the derby wouldn't be possible.

It wouldn't be near the big affair it was without our many sponsors that helped with prizes, food, exhibits and additional manpower. This year we were sponsored by Fort Sill Thrift Shop, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (J.A. Manning fish hatchery), Lawton, Fort Sill Bass Club, Military Officers Association of America, Lawton Masonic Lodge No. 83, and the Military Order of Purple Heart Chapter 602.

Soon we will receive almost 20,000 small (3-4 inch) catfish to place in our raceway near the office. Due to the drought most of these will be quickly stocked into ponds that went dry over the past couple years. It will be about three years before most of these ponds are ready to fish again. We will also stock some catchable-sized catfish into the ponds designated as open for fishing. There is a list of the ones you can fish on the back of your range pass that you pickup before going out for recreation. Also to help keep those kids fishing we have stocked both of the kids-only ponds recently with some good size catfish.

Our next Fort Sill Sportsmen Safety Class is June 10 at 6 p.m. in Bldg. 1465's Natural Resources classroom. The class lasts about two hours. Call 580-442-3553 for more information on the safety class.

Everyone age 10 and up who wants to fish, pick berries, hike or do any other recreation on the range must be able to show proof of taking this class. You are also required to have this class before buying your Fort Sill hunting or fishing permits.