Epsom’s Youth Fishing Derby attracts lots of competitors, as well as lots of trout 

  • Epsom’s Youth Fishing Derby was held last Saturday morning. Ray Duckler photos / Monitor staff

  • Sadie Cushing approaches the pond where Epsom’s Youth Fishing Derby was held Saturday morning. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • Sadie Cushing reeled in a fish from the pond where Epsom’s Youth Fishing Derby was held Saturday morning.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/8/2022 5:23:36 PM

Molli Cushing left the dirty work for her father, Dan Cushing.

Then, once her hook had been baited with a curling, slippery worm, Molli got all the glory, catching a prize-winning trout at Epsom’s Youth Fishing Derby early Saturday morning.

Age limits for boys and girls ranged from a younger-than-8 division to one for kids 12 through 15. The derby was co-sponsored by Evergreen Lodge No. 53, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and American Legion Post 112.

“I don’t really like (baiting the hook) because all the guts squish out,” said Molli, 12, explaining her strategy at the annual event. “My dad does it.”

Fish tails emerged from this small, man-made, trout-stocked pond at a regular pace. There were fish tales as well, a staple when – with no visible evidence available – someone describes the size of their recent catch.

For example, Sierra Klepper remembered catching three fish at last year’s event, while her brother Hale Klepper, 5, reeled in two.

“I caught little baby fish like this big,” said Sierra, holding her thumb and index finger a few inches apart. “Hale caught a big one.”

Said Hale, pointing, “It was like that close to the shore and I saw it and tossed it right there and then I caught it.”

Then came the fish tale. The siblings held their hands far apart, perhaps a foot, maybe more, to illustrate the length of the beast that Hale hooked last year.

Once the music from “Jaws” subsided, their mother, Carol Klepper, released a subtle chuckle as she heard the story about the young man and the sea.

Overall, more than 50 juniors competed on Saturday. As many as 80 have participated in years past, said Gary Benner, who coordinates the event annually.

Some estimated that the derby began in 2006. A laminated notebook showed data from 2008 through Saturday’s event, documenting winners, numbers of participants, weather conditions, etc.

Two main ingredients fuel the activity.

First, the Family Service Organization – a branch of the New Hampshire Army National Guard – agreed to fund the derby for children of parents who served in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

The other element for success – the pond, the fish, the open shoreline for easy accessibility, the perfectly manicured lawn that spreads forever toward the main road – comes from Floyd and Lynne Graham, who have owned the farm for 21 years.

Derby officials needed a home base for their event. The Grahams’ property was made to order.

“It’s a small town, and everyone knows everyone,” said Floyd Graham, who said it takes 2½ hours to mow his lawn. “They looked at a different pond, but it did not have the greatest access. They reached out to me.”

The sponsors stock the pond with 150 trout no more than three days before the event because, Benner said, “If you put them in too early, they do not bite as good.”

The state adds its own 150 trout to benefit youth activities. The fishing derby is for kids 15 and younger only, but fishing at the pond, which has no name, is open to anyone year-round, as long as some of the stocked trout remain, which is the case every year.

“It’s been a hit,” Floyd Graham said, “and we compete with tee-ball and all the other activities kids have today.”

Sadie Cushing, in fact, competing in the under-8 category, had to leave the derby early because she had a tee-ball game. But, after several parents had fumbled their kids’ fish back into the water, Sadie posed for a photo with a good-sized trout she had caught, wiggling and twisting in her hands.

Meanwhile, her sister stayed longer.

It paid off.

Molli caught a fish 27 inches long, good for third place in the 12 to 15 age division. Her name was included on the official certification of results, and she’ll be added to the laminated record book that’s updated each year.

Asked the key to fishing well, Molli said, “Patience, and having a good pole.”

Asked if she’ll one day bait her own hook, Molli said, “Yes, but not for a while.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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