SPRINGDALE -- Plenty of hot dogs were gobbled up during the Cast For Kids fishing derby at Murphy Park in Springdale. Not all were eaten by hungry young anglers.
A lot of those kids will testify hog dogs make a darned good catfish bait.
Around 40 special-needs youngsters and their adult helpers watched lines get tight and bobbers vanish underwater when a channel catfish chowed down on a frankfurter chunk or other bait.
"We've caught about five," said D.J. Simpson of Siloam Springs. He was the proud dad watching his son, Wyatt, 6, reel in a wiggling whiskered fish.
"We're pretty regular fishermen. We go to Lake Springdale. We've been to Swepco Lake and Siloam Springs Lake. We don't catch much, but we sure like to go," the elder Simpson said.
Cast For Kids is a national group that hosts fishing events in several states for special-needs kids, said Terry Grafton, regional director and organizer of the Murphy Park derby. The group's mission is "enriching the lives of children with special needs and rallying the community around the sport of fishing," Grafton said.
For several of the 40 youngsters on the shore of the park's fishing pond during the derby, held April 30, it was their first time to try fishing. That's part of the idea, to encourage the youngsters to try new things, Grafton noted.
Families register to take part in Cast For Kids events that are open to as many as 40 youngsters. One reason it's limited to 40 is so kids can talk about their fishing experiences at the awards ceremony held near the end of each event.
"We want the kids to tell us about their day," Grafton said. "Not all of them want to talk, but a lot of them do, and some even break into a dance while telling their stories."
Each young angler gets a free, new fishing rod and a tackle box with a bit of fishing tackle inside. Mitch Glenn with Pico Lures in Garfield gave each angler a starter tackle kit.
Kids fish for two to three hours in the morning, then those tasty hot dogs disappear quick at lunch. The awards ceremony follows.
Parents help their kids fish. Other youngsters get help from a platoon of willing volunteers eager to teach kids how to cast and, hopefully, catch a catfish. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocked Murphy Park pond with channel catfish for the event.
The reward is priceless for the mentors when they see an excited grin when youngsters catch their first fish.
Joey Breaux of Fayetteville helped Tabitha Short, 8, get her bait in front of a catfish.
"There's no better way to spend your day," he said.
On the opposite shore, pro bass angler Greg Bohannan of Bentonville coached Lorenzo Gozalez in the finer points of catfishing. Bohannan competes all over the nation on the Major League Fishing circuit.
"I got my start just like these kids here. My mom got me my first rod and reel. We started fishing at a pond," Bohannan said. Pretty soon mom and son were fishing in creeks around Elm Springs where Bohannan grew up.
His No. 1 tip for taking kids fishing is let them fish as long as they want, but when they say it's time to go, that's the time to stop.
"My son Brock always wanted to fish for an hour, then go catch crawdads," he said.
Grafton said small waterways like Murphy Park pond are the best places to take kids. City lakes that are part of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Family and Community Fishing program are ideal. Regionally they include Murphy Park, Lake Springdale, Lake Bentonville, Lake Atalanta in Rogers, and, in Fort Smith, Carol Ann Cross Pond, Torraine Lake and Wells Lake.