NORTHFIELD — Addison Bard made it very clear he caught a prize-winning trout here on Golden Pond at Birch Grove Park all by himself Saturday morning.
“I set the hook by myself and my dad didn’t help me with it. I reeled it in,” said the 9-year old Egg Harbor Township third-grader.
Addison did give his dad, Adam Bard, credit for being ready with the net. The elder Bard is used to the role each year on the first day of trout season.
“I began this with my daughter Amanda when she was five. She’s in college now and Addison has taken over,” said Adam.
The 16-inch rainbow trout, and a second brook trout Addison landed later in the day, ended up totaling enough inches of fish for third prize in the ages 9 to12 category at the Birch Grove Park Fishing Tournament put on by the Association of Surf Angling Clubs.
Such scenes played out all over southern New Jersey on Saturday as anglers sought out 180,000 hatchery-raised trout stocked by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
The state stocked almost 200 rivers, streams and lakes, including many of the waterways dotting the old brick mining operation here at Birch Grove Park. Mining the clay to make bricks left the landscape full of fishing opportunities year-round but the arrival of the trout helped draw more than 100 anglers on Saturday.
Addison lists fishing as his favorite sport followed by baseball. He caught two trout in Pennsylvania last year along with two ling, a skate and a 24-inch striped bass in the ocean just days before Hurricane Sandy hit.
“I love going fishing. I like saltwater and freshwater,” he said.
He was one of the lucky ones. It was not a great day for fishing here as Thursday night’s heavy rainfall muddied the waters. John Williams, of Egg Harbor Township, still brought his son, 5-year-old Johnnie. The opening day of trout season is a family affair often featuring three generations of children, parents and grandparents.
“I was born and raised on fishing and hunting. It keeps you out of trouble. Outdoors is the way of life,” said John Williams just as his son called for help.
“Daddy, something took my worm,” Johnnie said.
“We’ll get a big one on there,” replied his dad.
The morning included some interesting competition in a tournament that bases its prizes, including fishing gear and trophies, on total inches landed instead of the largest overall fish.
“It’s longer than the last one,” said Jessie Bellopede, 15, of Egg Harbor Township, as he pulled in a 63/4-inch sunfish or sunny out of Lily Lake.
Normally, such a fish would go back in the drink but Bellopede had already caught a six-inch sunny. That’s almost 13 inches of fish.
“I’ve got to get another one,” Bellopede said.
“One more and you’ll get past that trout,” said angling association volunteer Bill Watson, speaking about a trout that was leading the category at that time.
He did and his 19.5 inches of sunny ended up winning the age 13-15 category. Bellopede won a tackle box, fishing rod and trophy.
Most fishing the first day of trout season aren’t in a tournament. The association puts on seven tournaments a year, according to organizer George Foreman, including annual events in Atlantic City and Brigantine and on Long Beach Island. Prizes are donated by fishing tackle companies. The association of 48 New Jersey and Pennsylvania fishing clubs even supplies loaner fishing rods and bait.
“We want to get kids fishing,” said Foreman.
“And keep them off drugs,” added his wife, Dot Foreman.
The association has also taken a stand against gun violence, and pushes fishing as a positive alternative to hanging out on the streets. Hooked on fishing, not on drugs, is one of their mottos.
Park Supervisor Vicky Rutter pointed to wall mounts of several huge largemouth bass in the concession stand and said fishing is always good at the 21 lakes and ponds of Birch Grove Park. But Rutter said the annual opening of trout season and the tourney is something special.
“It’s a beautiful thing. It’s great to see the kids out with their families enjoying themselves,” Rutter said.
The state plans to stock the park four times this year, though she noted catfish and largemouth bass are lurking out there all the time.
George Foreman pointed to a man fishing with his son and his grandson.
“There’s three generations right there. You don’t get that with baseball,” Foreman said.
The first-place winners for the day included Blake Miller in the ages 5 to 8 category; Josiah Jacoby in the ages 9 to 12 category; and Bellopede in the ages 13 to 15 category. Other prize winners included Corey Renart, Addison Bard, Seth Davis and Caroline Winkel. Besides trout, other fish landed included crappie, bass, pickerel, sunfish and millroach. Dot Foreman had never heard of a millroach fish, but said it was all part of the fun.
“I think the kids had a good time, and that’s all we care about,” Foreman said.
Contact Richard Degener: