Richard Lokken (right) watches his grandson Richard Lokken, 15, of Clovis, reel in a catfish at the 19th annual Clovis Fishing Derby on Saturday at Ned Houk Park. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
The 2,000 catfish recently transported to Ned Houk Park must have thought it a little Shangri-la the last few days.
Fishing had been prohibited since Wednesday in preparation for the 19th annual Clovis Fishing Derby, sponsored by the Clovis Noonday Optimist club.
With run of the small lake, the inhabitants — transported from the Dexter fish hatchery in southern New Mexico — had little to worry about.
But 94 entrants, children ages 16 and under, came ready on Saturday with tackle and bait. And the little fishermen were catching some big fish, too.
Five-year-old Jessa Reid reeled in a large catfish only 20 minutes after showing up.
“One hundred percent by herself. When she (the fish) got right up close I grabbed the line,” said Brandon Reid, Jessa’s father.
“When we first started the event, our theme was ‘Get hooked on fishing, not drugs,’” said Jeff Baum, organizer of the event. “That was the whole theme at the beginning. Now we’re trying to promote the family wholesomeness of it.”
Baum said of the 2,000 catfish moved up to Ned Houk around 10 were in the 10-to-12 pound category.
Like Jessa Reid, two 11-year-old girls — Ashley Garland and Melaya Flores — snagged fish that at least approached the biggest lurking in the lake.
Garland and Flores, however, also said they had hooked bigger fish earlier but were unable to hang on.
“It was hard. It pulled me out of my chair a little bit,” said Garland of the one she did catch.
“We had one bigger than this, but it did pull her out of the chair,” said Gerald Garland, Ashley’s father.
Flores said her big catch was memorable, but likewise it was the one that almost happened that left her excited.
“It was huge. He (her father, Juan Cordova) said. ‘Don’t pull it.’ I said okay, but then it (the line) broke,” she said.
Not everyone was as lucky on Saturday. A pair of friends, Sam Eaton, 22, and Skeeter Byrd, 34, brought their children but saw the deadline for the three-hour contest pass without a single fish caught.
Eaton said his family did get one tantalizing bite, however, the fish swam away with the hook.
“That was it. It was a big fish too, but I should’ve brought a better pole,” Eaton said.
Baum said it would be virtually impossible for all the contestants to clean out the lake of its catfish, not in one morning anyway.
Despite a tough-luck day for his group, Byrd took heart at the implication of that statement.
“I’m gonna stick around and try some more,” he said.