BY ANGIE JACKSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Screeches, squeals and screams of excitement could be heard from Northwestern Michigan College's Great Lakes Campus as kids reeled in rainbow trout.
Jacey Klumb, 9, concentrated on preparing to cast his bait as he sat among the crowd Saturday at the eighth annual Kids Free Fishing Day, organized by Traverse City Rotary Camps and Services. It didn't him long to pull a fish from a harbor stocked with 600 rainbow trout.
“Lately I've been catching trout and bass," said Jacey, who fishes almost every weekend at Veronica Valley Park.
His father, Rick Klumb, may have had to drag him away from the event -- which provided free rods, reels and bait -- if the limit wasn't capped at two fish per angler.
"It’s something he really likes to do. From the time the sun comes up to the time the sun goes down, he could be out at the lake," Klumb said.
First-time fishermen had plenty of expertise on the line. Traverse City Rotary Club volunteers and state Department of Natural Resources staff offered advice and assistance.
Becky Ewing, program officer at Rotary Charities of Traverse City, said more than 4,000 kids fished for free over the years. Parents don't have to worry about bringing gear, so it's an easy way to expose kids to the activity.
"We live on 20 percent of the world’s fresh water," Ewing said. "So really getting them at this age to understand natural resources, their relationship to the lake, to build those lifelong stewards -- that's what we’re all about."
Madison Smith, 3, waited patiently for her turn with a tiny pink and purple rod. Her dad, Colin Smith, asked how she'd react when she caught a fish. Give it a big kiss? Pet it? Madison shook her head and let out a giggle.
"She’s usually smiling and laughing. She’s usually pretty happy about it," Smith said. "She caught a brown trout on Mitchell Creek and she told everybody she caught a polka dot fish."
There were some muskies in the contained fishing area, Ewing said, and a 40-inch muskie waited for one lucky fisherman. But kids who didn't want to touch a fish could still take one home: the Great Lakes Children's Museum offered a fish painting activity.
Alaina Mitchell, 6, and her brother, Ian, 4, caught dinner to share with their parents and grandparents. The siblings usually fish at a "secret spot" in Kingsley with their dad, Lars Mitchell.
"It’s a good way to get people involved in the outdoors," Mitchell said.