Edward Johnson, 2, stared seriously at the small panfish he had just caught and marveled at something he had never seen before.
Participating in the Urban Kids Fishing Derby on June 20, he caught his first fish, and he was clearly fascinated by the creature dangling from a stringer.
Edward tentatively reached out with one finger and barely touched the fish. But when it flopped, the boy recoiled with a look of terror on his face.
Then Edward and brother, Anthony, 4, went back to exploring this strange new creature in their lives.
Such scenes weren’t uncommon when Urban American Outdoors, an award-winning television show based in Kansas City, teamed with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department to bring fishing to the inner city.
Hundreds of kids and their parents showed up for the annual event at Spring Valley Park, inspired to catch one of the fish the Missouri Department of Conservation stocked. And by the loud cheers carrying from the banks, it was obvious they were finding success.
They started holding inner-city fishing derbies 10 years ago in an effort to provide children with neighborhood fishing opportunities.
“It’s a lot of work,” Price said. “But it’s worth it when you see these kids having so much fun. For lot of these kids, this is the first time they’ve tried anything like this. They just don’t have the opportunity.
“But I can see that we have some future fishermen out there.”
“This is what we’re after,” Hubbard said. “Years ago, we had someone tell us, ‘You’ll never get the black community to connect with something like fishing. They have to travel too far to do it, and they can’t afford that.’
“But we are bringing the fishing to them; to their neighborhoods. Look at this turnout. Tell me these kids and their parents aren’t excited about fishing.”
The efforts of Hubbard, Price and Mark Bowland of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, along with dozens of volunteers, have definitely paid off.
And they are attracting national attention. Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flew into Kansas City from New York City to take in the inner-city fishing derby.
“As a country, we need to have a lot more events like this,” Ashe said as he watched the kids fish. “It’s all about connecting kids with the outdoors.
“America is changing. The African-American and the Hispanic people are two of the fastest-growing populations we have. We have to do things to make them outdoors people.
“Whether it be fishing, hunting, hiking or camping, we have to show them how much fun the outdoors can be.”
Bob Ziehmer, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, also was an impressed observer.
“This is a great event, with lots of kids and families enjoying the Missouri outdoors,” Ziehmer said. “Although it’s hot, it hasn’t taken away from the excitement of them spending time outdoors together and, for many, to have the experience and excitement of their first-ever catch. I got a lot of hugs from excited kids with fish hanging on their line.”
Nevin Stewart, 13, was among the most excited. He caught his first fish ever — a 7-pound channel catfish.
“I had been fishing before, but I had never caught anything,” he said as he posed for pictures. “Then I go out and catch a fish like this.”
Stewart’s grandpa, Donald Stewart, was certainly impressed.
“I’ve fished for a long time and I’ve never caught anything that big,” he said.
Many of the estimated 350 kids who showed up also caught fish, though not as big as Stewart’s. And many were already talking about next year’s derby.
“We even had kids who came here on the bus, taking their fishing equipment with them,” Hubbard said. “I think this derby is getting to be a tradition for a lot of these families.
“They look forward to being able to come out and fish.”