By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
EVERETT _ When she was 5 years old, Analissa Merrill of Lynnwood went to the Kids’ Fish-in at Silver Lake and started handing out bait to the other participants.
Merrill has continued to volunteer at the fish-in every year since.
Now 18, she was at the Everett Parks Department event on Saturday, still handing out bait and helping kids hook and land their catch.
“It’s nice seeing all the faces light up when they catch a fish,” she said of the program, which helps kids from 5 to 15 learn about fishing.
Barry Martin, the city’s recreation coordinator, said the fish-in does more than just make faces light up.
“It’s something we can teach kids that they can have success with and carry on with as a sport,” he said. “It’s a great family activity.”
Martin said kids who spend time outdoors also become better stewards of the land.
Merrill agreed with Martin.
“It brings families together,” she added.
Merrill volunteers through the Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club, a major supporter of the activity. Fly fishers, a bass club, and the Silver Lake Kiwanis Club also provide volunteers for the event, which drew about people 300 people on Saturday.
“I think it helps kids to get outside and stop watching videos,” said Bill Merrill, Analissa’s father. He said his daughter Crystal also started volunteering at Silver Lake at a very young age.
Kate Braukus of Redmond was at Silver Lake with her son and other family members to celebrate her father’s birthday.
“It’s grandpa’s day. It’s a tradition,” she said, adding being in a place where the kids could catch a lot of fish was a good way to kick off the summer. The warm sunny day didn’t hurt.
The city uses the $7 fee for the event to pay for fish that it stocks along the beach where they’re corralled by a net pen to make them easy for youngsters to catch. In addition to those fish, the steelhead club spends $1,000 to buy some larger ones to boost the excitement.
Abel Biruk, 8, of Mountlake Terrace, caught one of the nicer ones, a rainbow trout of about four pounds. “At first, I thought it was a shark,” he said.
Chase Weber of Everett and Melanie McLaughlin of Stanwood also brought in some lunkers.
Weber’s big rainbow was the first fish he had ever caught. While he enjoyed bringing it in, he wasn’t particularly keen about touching it.
That was OK since there were plenty of volunteers who enjoyed helping the kids bait, their hook, cast their rods, and bag the fish so they could be taken home for dinner. Volunteers were also there to clean everybody’s catch for a fee also used to pay for fish.
Jim Brauch, youth coordinator for the steelhead club, said the events are a good way to get kids interested in fishing.
“What I see are a lot of kids asking their mommies and daddies, ‘When are we going to do this again?’ “ he said.
The club held a free fish-in a week ago for about 300 kids at Jennings Park in Marysville and will hold another on Saturday at Twin Lakes in Marysville. It expects another 300 to 500 people to sign up there.
The parks department’s Martin hopes that some of the participants will follow in Merrill’s footsteps.
“It’s nice to see people continue that cycle,” he said. “Someone helped them out when they were a kid and they continue giving back to the community. It’s an important thing to do.”
Because of her volunteer efforts, Merrill was named a kids fishing ambassador in 2005 by the Wal-Mart Corp. The next year, while teamed with a professional angler, she won the first Wal-Mart All America Fishing Challenge in Oklahoma, beating five other teams in casting and fishing and winning a $5,000 savings bond.
This year, she made teaching fishing skills to kids her senior project in high school.
“By doing that we’re creating a new generation of environmentally aware people,” said Merrill, who plans on studying environmental science in college.
Free kids’ fish-in on Saturday
The Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club will finish a series of kids’ fish-ins on Saturday at Twin Lakes park in Marysville. The event, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free. It’s at the northernmost of the Twin Lakes. The lakes are just west of I-5, south of exit 206 at Smokey Point. Kids should bring their own gear, but equipment is available for loan to children who don’t have any. Bait will be provided.