MOUNT ARLINGTON - The borough pond was home to heartwarming summer fun this Saturday when the Knee Deep Club, a local fishing club, hosted their 54th annual Junior Derby and Handicapped Outing.
Throughout the morning, the KDC saw over 30 kids come out to fish the small pond for pre-stocked trout, crappie, and large-mouthed bass. Participants competed for a number of prizes, from rods and reels to trophies, and each child left with a gift bag filled with fishing gear.
“The real prize though is that the kids get to have a good time,” said KDC member Jim Moloney of Lake Hopatcong.
KDC members fired up the grills and passed out burgers and hot dogs as boys and girls alike attempted to catch the largest fish. Jadah Sanchez, just 3, of Landing showed off her whopping 13.5oz catfish and Lindsey Knapik, 7, from Lake Hopatcong said she was trying her hardest to beat the boys (although she assured everyone that she was just fishing for fun).
One 4-year-old boy was even determined to catch a “spooky lake monster.”
“The best thing though is seeing the kids’ faces when they run to the scale with their fish,” KDC President Ed Mackin said.
“It’s a great thing for kids,” KDC Treasurer John O’Neill later agreed, “and it’s a great thing for the handicapped. They catch that fish, their eyes get like saucers, you know?”
The afternoon held a second fishing event specifically for the special needs and handicapped participants, and while it’s typically funded by grants and donations, the KDC supported this year’s outing on their own, which included supplying rods, bait, and other fishing equipment for anyone who needed them.
According to long-time KDC member Joe Tekula, the club reached out to numerous group homes and programs in the area, such as The Department for Persons with Disabilities, YMCA Kaleidoscope, and ARC of Morris County, and invited them to participate.
Throughout the afternoon, club members wandered around the pond and gave assistance when needed. After a few pointers from one member, Connor Frick, 17, of Boonton threw an impressively perfect cast, which grew cheers from the crowd surrounding him.
“I love fishing,” Frick said. “I like the fact that it’s a quiet game.”
Another participant, Jaime Bombard, 33, of Denville said she shared a love for the sport. The outing was her first time giving it a try, and while nothing had yet latched onto her hook, she remained positive that catching a fish was going to be the best part.
When asked what his favorite part of fishing was, William Moralez, 40, of Hopatcong excited exclaimed, “I like everything!”
“We come to this every year,” his mother, Tomasa Moralez, pitched in. “The Knee Deep guys are all really nice and helpful. From June to June, we wait for the next one.”
At the end of the day, Lou Marcucci, a member of the KDC for over 30 years, summed up what the day was all about.
“It’s this afternoon,” he said. “It’s helping kids, seeing kids who love to fish, giving back. It’s helping someone who couldn’t do something before. That’s a good feeling.”