More than 200 kids participated in the 23rd annual Merwin Special Kids Day as children with disabilities were given an opportunity to fish the Merwin Fish Hatchery on Saturday, July 8.
“Fish outnumbered kids with disabilities at the Merwin Fish Hatchery when the day began, but as the special day of fishing went on, the balance started to shift,” a news release by Pacific Power stated. “More than 200 kids took home as many as five fish each, aided by volunteers from Pacific Power, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and many recreational fishing organizations and corporate vendors. For some kids, it was their first chance ever to catch a fish.”
Pacific Power sponsors the annual event and provides volunteers and support. The event takes place at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery near the Merwin Dam, which Pacific Power operates.
“I was just talking to people as they’re coming in and we have kids that have been coming here since they were small,” said Kevin Young, who manages the hatchery for Washington Fish and Wildlife. “They’re a little more grown up now, but you build these relationships with these kids and you see them come in and they’re like, ‘Hey Kevin how are you doing?’ You know, they’re calling you by name. They know who you are. That’s the cool part about this is that these kids look forward to this day every single year and to be able to provide that to them is pretty cool.”
The fishing event brings together young patients, including those with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, cancer or other conditions, from Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Kids and other facilities, the release stated.
Along with their family members, children are paired with volunteer fishing coaches who help them reel in and net trout that have been cultivated specially for the event. The kids are able to collect prizes for fish that can weigh up to 9 pounds.
“Last year, I met the gal that started this, and it was really fun to hear how she got it all started,” Megan Marble, a parent of a disabled angler, said in a statement provided to The Reflector. “A place that kids who might be looked at differently in our community can come here and feel normal and feel cared for and loved.”
The kids arrive at the hatchery and are given T-shirts, fishing rods, tackle and more to prepare them for their day of fishing. The kids and their coaches work together to reach their limit of five fish. The fish are cleaned and put on ice to take home for future meals while the families enjoy a barbecue, the release states.
“It’s tough to go fishing. The expense for kids, finding a river, the accessibility,” Todd Dinehart, Pacific Power’s vice president of employee experience, said in the release. “There is nothing better than seeing the joy and surprise when kids realize how big their fish are — we’re not talking little 1-pounders, we’re talking 9-to-12-inch catches. Some of these fish are as big as 8 or 9 pounds.”
Pacific Power volunteers were joined by volunteers from Fire District 1, Fish First, Southwest Washington Anglers, Swift Community Action Team, Vancouver Wildlife League and Klineline Kids Fishing Nonprofit. Vendors at the event included Arctic Glacier, Bob’s Sporting Goods, Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear, Corwin Beverage, Edge Rods, Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor, North Fork Lures and Wilbur-Ellis Nutrition.
Young believes the event is not only a gift to the kids, but the event is also a gift to all involved who make the memorable day happen each year. He added that the experience of watching a kid land their first fish is “absolutely humbling.”