Volunteers keep kids' fishing derby going

KENNEWICK -- Leonard Northrop makes short work of cleaning fish.

Good thing, too, because the 66-year-old Finley man will have his hands full Friday evening and Saturday when hundreds of children bring him their catches from the 11th Kids' Fishing Derby at Kennewick's Family Fishing Pond.

Northrop is one of a few volunteers who chop, slice and gut almost nonstop the trout hooked by children ages 5 to 14.

"I can't thank these guys enough," said Ken Johanning, a Kennewick businessman who started the derby and continues to be its chief worker.

The derby, which requires advance registration and already is sold out, gives children a chance to catch a fish using a rod and reel provided as a gift, Johanning said.

"We have 1,250 rods and reels and lots of T-shirts," he said.

The event is supported by many businesses, the state Department of Fish and Game, which donates the 8,000 fish used to stock the pond, C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation and many sportsmen's groups, including fly-tying clubs and the Richland Rod and Gun Club.

Johanning said this year will have the first Friday evening fishing event for about 80 special needs people of all ages who registered through The ARC of Tri-Cities.

Northrop said he'll be there, too, with his favorite fish knife and a metal glove used for protection when he has to work fast.

"I have fun with it. I make four cuts and I'm done," said Northrop, who typically guts about 200 to 300 fish during the derby.

"You should see the kid's face when I say, wow, it's so big. When it's a big one I leave the head on. I tell them it's a show-er," he said.

But Northrop nearly missed the derby last year when his doctor advised him to have some work done on his heart.

"Four days before the event he calls from Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane to say he will not be able to help with fish cleaning," Johanning said.

But the doctors there decided Northrop didn't need to go under their knife. That freed him up just in time to do his own style of cutting on the kids' catches.

"Is that dedication or what?" Johanning said.

"And I did it with glee because nothing was wrong with my heart," said the retired Hanford worker who claims to have caught and cleaned his first fish when he was 10.

* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com