For the 18th consecutive year, kids from around the county got the summer fishing season off to a rousing start by taking part in the Fisherman’s Choice youth fishing tournament.

“It went very well. We saw lots of happy children and lots of happy parents,” said Rex Pennycuff, owner of the Eastpoint bait and tackle shop that has staged the tournament annually since 1999.

He said about 175 kids signed up for the June 10 tourney, but about 30 or 40 of them didn’t conclude the day-long affair by lining up to receive a prize.

Among those who took part, among the two dozen or so kids who came in from other states, was Newton, Kansas sixth grader Jordyn Eckert, who came down for the third consecutive year with her parents, Scott and Jaclyn Eckert, younger sister third grader Isobele, and grandparents Jack and Darlene McGuire, all enjoying an extended vacation on St. George Island.

Back home, Jordyn, a budding musician, has just moved up to playing a ¾ violin, but it wasn’t music that was on her mind as she sat holding the new rod and reel she got for earning a second place finish for landing a 1.66-pound hard head.

Her sister also won a prize, as did the other kids, for their efforts. “I was the first one of us who caught a fish,” boasted Isobele.

The family of Scott Eckert, Kansas State University extension agent for Harvey County, had driven 1,200 miles to vacation in Franklin County, and especially to enjoy its premier youth fishing event, held each year the second weekend in June in conjunction with “Take A Kid Fishing Week.”

Because school ends earlier than in past years, and All-Star summer baseball and softball action begins earlier, Pennycuff is pondering whether to move the tourney up a weekend, or even into May. “I don’t know,” he said. “It makes sense to have it this weekend.”

The tourney this year awarded prizes for black drum, croaker, sail cat, hard heads, redfish, trout and pinfish, but there were no entries submitted for Spanish mackerel and sheepshead. In addition, the rest of the field, all the way up to 16-year-olds, each received prizes, everything from a rod-and-reel to tackle boxes, provided courtesy of Fisherman’s Choice and 50 local sponsors.

“For them (the children) it’s as competitive as you find, while for us, it’s about everybody fishing,” he said. “We just really want the family time. Some parents are real active all weekend. You have to give these special occasions their due.”

Among the items given out was a 650 Gold Penn reel, won in a drawing by Emma Shiver, and provided by sponsors in memory of Wayne Manning.

Another drawing winner was Franklin County first grader Andrew Ham, who won an eight-foot cast net that looked like it would take a little while for him to handle well.

“We’ll be waiting for him when he’s ready to throw it,” said dad, Allan Ham. “We’ll save it for him.”

Pennycuff said the county’s park and recreation department was of immense help in clearing the area near the pavilion and other spots where the tourney is held. “Fonda (Davis) did a tremendous job,” he said. “They all worked together.”

Electronic signs from the sheriff’s office promoted the event, and there were scores of volunteers handling the joyful chaos at weigh-in when food and giveaways are enjoyed. Among those helping out were Sheriff A.J. Smith, District 1 County Commissioner Ricky Jones and Pinki Jackel, former county commissioner for the district.