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`FREE FISHING DAY' GOT THE DESIRED RESULTS

There's nothing like the first fish hooked. Something like, maybe, the first car, or the first date, or the first time speaking before an audience of strangers. Somewhere on a scale between nervous and excited, fear and pleasure.

The tug on the line, the bend in the tip of the fishing rod, the first time the fish breaks water . . . All the things that make fishing what it is and why more than 450,000 people bought licenses in Utah last year.It's not easy these days for kids to fish, not like it was, remember longtime fishermen. There were streams and ponds within biking distance back then, and not nearly the concerns for safety. Which is why so many people these days try so hard to make it easier. Or, as easy as possible.

Key Bank held its "Gone Fishing" free day for kids last Saturday at Fairmont Park. Despite clouds, and at times rain, more than 700 kids showed up, some hauling fishing rigs and tackle boxes, but most came on the promise of free use of rods, reels and baited hooks.

The objective is simple: If the kids can't get to the fish, then bring the fish to the kids.

Which is why more than 1,200 fish were put in the pond at Fairmont.

Lynn Barney, senior vice president of Key Bank, points out that these fish were "large . . . Most were three-quarters of a pound or larger. We tried it last year and looks on the faces of the kids when they pulled out some of the large fish told the story. It was great, so we went with the larger fish again this year."

The bank buys the fish, last year and this year, with help, from Mark Leavitt and the Leavitt Hatcheries.

The pond at Fairmont Park was selected because of its location, especially for the easy access from most places within the city, and because of the cooperation from Salt Lake City Parks and Recreation and Mayor Deedee Coradini's office through Mike Andrews.

But it didn't end there. An event like this, says Byron Gunderson of Fish Tech Outfitters, organizer of the event, takes a lot of volunteer cooperation from a lot of people.

Each fisherman, under the age of 14, was able to catch and keep up to two fish. Equipment was furnished through Utah's "Go Fish" program and bait from the Salt Lake County Fish and Game Association. Members of the group, and others from Utah Bass Federation and Great Western Fly Fishers, then stationed themselves around the pond to help bait hooks, unhook fish and give casting lessons to kids through rain, wind and chilling temperatures.

Kids were then treated to free hot dogs, donated by Smith's, and drinks, donated by Coca-Cola.

Gastronomy, the company behind many of Utah's finest restaurants, donates use of the barbecue grills and chefs to man them for what one described as truly "gourmet" hot dogs.

To finish the experience, kids participate in a casting contest, this year overseen by Craig Hackett, senior vice president of Key Bank, and Mary Joines, with the marketing department for Key Bank.

The purpose of this part of the event, says Hackett, is to give kids the opportunity to practice casting and "win a prize. We wanted to make sure each child, besides the opportunity to catch fish, left with something special to remember the day. No one left without a prize."

Prizes are supplied by Key Bank, Fish Tech Outfitters and through several fishing manufacturers.

Also supporting the event was Domino's Pizza.

This isn't the only such event of its kind. On June 8, the Salt Lake County Fish and Game and the DWR will sponsor "Free Fishing Day" at the Park. Again, fish will be placed in the pond and equipment will be available to those kids without it.

Then on Sept. 14, the Stone Fly Society will help sponsor a free fishing day for kids at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

All of these events are held to give kids, especially those that may not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to go fishing and discover why so many people like to fish.