Fishing, fun, sun...all ‘golden’ at sheriff department’s 50th annual fishing derby

Euryah Wright, 12, of Morrison, hands a fish to Rilee Garcia, 8, of Sterling, during the Whiteside County Sheriff Office and Mounted Patrol's annual fishing derby at Morrison-Rockwood State Park in Morrison on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

MORRISON – The weather was inviting and the fish were biting, the perfect combination for the golden anniversary of the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Office and Mounted Patrol’s Youth Fishing Derby.

Sheriff John Booker was all smiles Saturday, Sept. 9, as he presided over the popular event along the shore of Lake Carlton in Morrison-Rockwood State Park.

“We have around 100 kids here today,” Booker said of the morning event. “This is the 50th year that we’ve had the derby. Everyone gets to go home with a prize, whether they catch a fish or not. We’ve been doing this for 50 years for our youth. I didn’t see one kid not smiling today.

“It’s a great way to bring kids and their families together with us in an environment to have some fun.”

Deputies interacted with kids as they cast their lines, brought fish of all sizes to the judging table and even helped them pick out prizes.

Chief Deputy Jeff Venhuizen jokingly suggested a toddler’s toolbox to Tyler Houzenga, 11, of Fulton as he perused a table full of prizes.

“I’ve been trying to give that to all the older kids, and so far I’ve had no luck,” he said.

Tyler also was a hard no, opting instead for a football.

Participants selected a prize after their names were randomly drawn during the event.

On the bank next to the prize table, Donald Topp of Sterling used his “grandpa fishing prowess” as he stepped into Lake Carlton to snag a bass and perch caught by his grandsons Christopher and Avery Holcomb, ages 13 and 9.

Tanner Dean of Rock Falls held his daughter Blayke, 1, as she received a new set of fishing gear and a trophy for her catch. “We have now upgraded from the Barbie pole,” Tanner said, smiling, as he held Blyke’s new pole and tackle box as she tottered off with the shiny trophy.

Grand prizes also were awarded for largest fish (by length) in each category ,along with special prizes for individual efforts. At the end of the “competition,” names were drawn in each age group for the big prizes – new bicycles.

Easton Morine, 6, of Albany wasted no time taking his new wheels for a spin through the parking lot.

The derby was started in 1973 by then-Sheriff Butch Kimmel. “He had great desire to help the youth as well as every other sheriff since then for our county,” Booker said, as he presented a memorial plaque to Kimmel’s family.

“I’m not quite as vocal as my father,” Jeff Kimmel said, as he and his sister Patricia accepted the plaque for his late father. “Fifty years ... I am sure my father didn’t think this would still be going. Thank you very much.”

Kimmel said his dad was very “kid-oriented” and created the event as an activity for youth.

“It was to give them something to do,” said Kimmel, now a Marengo resident. “He said if you teach a kid to fish and hunt, they would always have something to do.”

Kimmel said his dad was an avid fisherman. “We fished and hunted together. We did a lot of things together.”

“Through all these sheriffs, we’ve had a dedicated mounted patrol who has worked closely with all of sheriffs,” Booker said as he also presented patrol members with a plaque.

“I also want to thank all our volunteers, many of them sheriff department employees and former sheriff department employees, who volunteer their time. And most importantly all the parents and grandparents who bring their kids here to fish with us. We enjoy this. ... this is the best time of year for us.”

Former Sheriff Roger “Skip” Schipper also was honored.

“I don’t know why I get this, because I missed one,” Schipper said jokingly. “This is a great tradition. Get the kids fishing instead of standing on a street corner and we’re going to have great kids. And we do have great kids in Whiteside County.”

Kelly Wilhemi, Booker’s immediate predecessor, echoed those sentiments. “It was a quite a great honor to keep the fishing derby going. I talked to a lot of kids today whose parents were in it. It’s kind of neat it is a generational thing.

“I actually had the pleasure of working about a year and half with Sheriff Kimmel back in 1988 and 1989,” Wilhemi said.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.