MONROE, CT — Families wore raincoats while fishing along the edge of Great Hollow Lake Saturday. The rain started and stopped, before steadily falling throughout the morning, but that did not deter the 30 participants of American Legion District 3’s Annual Fishing Derby.
Victor Yanosy, commander of Sippin-Winspur Post 176 in Monroe, chuckled while recalling an exchange between event co-chair, Mike Kellett, and the children during a safety briefing earlier that morning.
“If the weather isn’t good, we don’t want you kids to get sick,” Kellett told them. “Maybe we’ll call it off at 10:30.”
“Nooo!” the children called out in protest.
Among the anglers was Michael Aversa, 11, of Monroe, who won a trophy in his age group for three years running, including a 14-inch catfish last fall. He fished with his mother Patricia, who proudly showed past derby photos on her phone.
Max Burdo, 11, cast his line nearby, while fishing beside his little sister, Desi Lu, 6. Max caught a pickerel earlier in the morning.
“We came upon the fishing derby by chance,” said Tom Franzago, who brought his grandson, Vinny Franzago and Evan Huber, both nine.
Vinny walked up to him. “We’re not catching anything. Not a bite,” the boy said.
“You just have to try harder and find a better spot,” Franzago encouraged him.
Prizes for all
Ernie Foito, commander of American Legion Post 141 in Trumbull, brought his grandson, Cole DiDonato of Monroe. “He’s fished before,” Foito said. “This is his first derby. I’m glad to see so many people show up, because the rain isn’t as bad as it was supposed to be.”
In past years, and during sunnier weather, the fishing derby has attracted over 70 participants.
“There’s a lot of prizes,” said Foito. “Everyone will have a prize today. There are more prizes than kids. If they’re here, they’re going to win something.”
Each child received a yellow ticket while registering, good for a raffle prize.
Under the roof of the Great Hollow Lake Pavilian, veterans and volunteers stayed dry while keeping track of the day’s catches after fish were measured, and had arranged tables with trophies, fishing poles, tackle boxes and other raffle prizes.
Yanosy said Bounty Hunters, 129 S. Main St. in Newtown, donated $200 worth of equipment, including worms for live bait, and North Atlantic Sportsman, 600 Main St. in Monroe, donated another $70 worth of fishing gear.
Trophies and other prizes were purchased through the generous donations of American Legion posts 16, 42, 60, 78, 86, 176, 177, 141, 143 and 202. The event is also sponsored by Russ and Audrey Martin. Yanosy said each donated $600 for the derby.
“One of the pillars the American Legion is founded on is children and youths, so we try to do family friendly events, where it’s not just veterans involved, but spouses, kids and grandkids,” said Tom Moore, commander of the American Legion Department of Connecticut.
“It’s general awareness of who we are and what we do,” he added. “It’s not just sitting at a bar having a beer, it’s being out there having fun affairs with families and children, because that’s what we’re about.”
During these events, Moore said parents and grandparents who served can talk to Legion members with the possibility of becoming members themselves.
Garrett Kruger, 10, hooked the biggest fish of the day, a 15.5 inch largemouth bass.
When the awards ceremony at the pavilion began, Kellett of Post 16, who is sergeant-at-arms for the American Legion Department of Connecticut, spoke to the children in the crowd.
“You’re proof that even when things are tough, you’re willing to work hard,” Kellett said of fishing under wet conditions. “You’re a winner.”