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Children's Fishing Derby Program

by Craig Lemon, Superintendent
Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery
Originally published August, 2003

The Derby Program has suspended due to a lack of staffing.

Each spring the Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery gears up fish production as children's fishing derby sponsors statewide make plans for another season of memorable fishing events.

2007 Derby Schedule (pdf, 32kb)

2007 Fishing Derby Action Photos
2006 Fishing Derby Action Photos
2005 Fishing Derby Action Photos
2004 Fishing Derby Action Photos

The derby program began in the 1970s with Hackettstown Fish Hatchery personnel stocking about 10 ponds each year. It continued through the '80s with 100-200 catchable size sunfish stocked during the week for 10 to 20 derbies. The children would then have the opportunity to catch the fish at the derbies which took place on the weekend.

In the '90s, channel catfish and black crappies were added to the stocking mix. Additionally, hatchery staff along with Office of Information and Education personnel began stocking the fish the day of the derby and conducting a brief informational presentation.

Derby action
A great family fishing day at Shepherd Lake in Ringwood State Park.

By 2003 the division was participating in approximately 80-90 derbies each year. Since 2004, Division staff have stocked fish and given presentations at over 300 events and the program has reached out to over 60,000 Garden State anglers of all ages. Over this same three year span, 30,000 sunfish, 8,000 channel catfish, 3,000 largemouth bass and a mix of hundreds of brown bullhead and black crappie have been stocked in neighborhood fishing holes around the state. These fishing events are sponsored by such groups as the NJ Division of Parks & Forestry, county park commissions, municipal groups, police organizations and others.

Fish aquarium Derby fish Ron with channel cat
Ron Jacobsen displays a channel catfish
The presentation begins with a brief introduction where six species of fish common to ponds in New Jersey are placed in an aquarium which is set up on the side of the stocking truck for the young anglers to view.
Each species is removed from the aquarium and young anglers are shown the proper way to handle these fish for their both their own and the fish's safety. Each fish species has different teeth, fins and spines that everyone needs to be aware of.

Information about the Division of Fish and Wildlife is given, followed by an explanation of where the fish being stocked were raised. The Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery, located in Warren County along the Musconetcong River, is one of two state hatcheries in New Jersey (the other being the Pequest Trout Hatchery). Participants are made aware of the fact that the fish and presentation are made possible, free of charge, by the license-buying public through the Division. Most Division programs are funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and taxes paid by manufacturers of sporting equipment.

Showing a black crappie
There is a brief informative presentation about each species.
The presentation also includes a brief discussion about the area's watershed and how to keep it clean and healthy.
Stocking derby fish

By this time in the program the young anglers are ready to start fishing. Fish are netted out of the tanker and placed into buckets for the participants to stock.

With smiles from ear to ear and water splashing everywhere the fish make it to their new home. After a minute of scrambling to their own hot spot or honey hole, the horn sounds and fishing begins!

Division Conservation Officers are also on hand to speak to the children about fishing ethics, rules and regulations, as well as licensing information.

The officers also offer assistance to children during the couple of hours of fishing. They walk around the pond and provide answers to many questions about various fish and wildlife issues in the state.
Officer giving out bobber Officer giving out bobber Officer giving out bobber
Division staff also provide literature, bobbers and fish magnets to participants during the event.
The derby season is generally during the months of May through September. Division-assisted derbies can take place anywhere as long as the event is open to the general public. County, state and municipal park ponds are the usual venues. Many of these small ponds offer some great fishing opportunities for youngsters. And of course, not all fish will be caught during the derby and will be in the pond waiting for the young anglers' next visit!
Boy with bass
Girl with bass
Boy with crappie
Girl with catfish
Girl with pickerel
Boy with catfish
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Last Updated: November 27, 2007