An annual free fishing event Saturday gave kids an opportunity to try their angling skills, and for some, it was an opportunity to make memories with dad as well.

Event organizer Barry Brandt said the Christian fishing event is normally held the first weekend in June in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Free Fishing Days. This year it fell on Father’s Day.

Brandt and his wife, Diane, host the event on their property across from Percival Springs Airport, south of Effingham.

“We originally had the event on Lake Sara and started having it here on our property 10 years ago.” Brandt said.

“Every kid gets a gift, a free lunch. We filet their fish and we ice them, bag them and send the fish home with the kids.” Brandt said.

Brandt said he has a group of volunteers helping him during the event. They bring fishing bait and assist kids who have never fished before.

While Brandt said the event gives kids who don’t have access to a pond an opportunity to try fishing, it has another purpose.

“With Fishing for Kids, we don’t try to push Christ on anyone but we want them to know that we pray and this is a gift from God,” Brandt said.

There are two major awards given at the end of the event to the girl and boy who catch the largest fish. Each winner gets a brand new fishing pole.

“It’s exciting to see kids who haven’t fished before,” Brandt said. “To hear a kid screaming when they catch their first fish ever is something else.”

“We just want to get kids outdoors a little bit,” Brandt added.

Brandt grew up in St. Peter, a small community in Fayette County. He fished several farm ponds and made fishing trips to Gatch Lake.

“My dad and I would travel all over fishing,” Brandt said. “My dad was an avid bass fisherman.”

“He’s the one who hooked me on fishing,” Brandt added.

It was more than just a celebration of Father’s Day this weekend for 5-year-old Jase Pontious.

Jase’s grandfather, Ray Pontious, was also celebrating a birthday. His grandfather,and father, Jason Flack, both helped Jase sharpen his fishing skills on Saturday morning.

Jase had caught two rather large fish. One of Brandt’s volunteers, Ross Marshall, stopped by to weigh each fish with a scale. The first fish weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces. The second fish?

“One (pound), six (ounces). You are the leader so far!” Marshall shouted to Jase.

“I hope you can catch a bigger one.” Marshall said to Jase before leaving to weigh more fish around the pond.

This year was the first year Jase participated in the Fishing for Kids event.

“We never knew about this until his mom saw something on Facebook,” Jason Flack said. “She said you guys should take Jase.”

“We fish five or six days a week in the summertime.” Flack said. “And this kid is fishing crazy.”

“Since he was 2 years old. he has had a pole in his hand,” Flack added.

Jase loves to go fishing in Newton on a boat, Flack said.

Kurt Roberts, principal at Effingham High School, brought his 6-year-old daughter, Aubrey, fishing Saturday morning. Roberts has been bringing his kids to the annual event since it started.

“When this event started, my oldest daughter was about 2,” Roberts said. “Barry asked us to get involved in the beginning and we’ve been doing it every year.”

Roberts said coming to fish every year brings back old memories. Aubrey remembered fishing on another part of the pond a few years before.

“For us, we have memories from year to year,” Roberts said. “I remember one year having both daughters out here and we were catching so many fish I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

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