Volunteers for the 2022 Harrison Township Kids Fishing Derby gather around for a photo. The 18th edition of the derby will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on June 10 at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Volunteers for the 2022 Harrison Township Kids Fishing Derby gather around for a photo. The 18th edition of the derby will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on June 10 at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Photo provided by Brian Batkins

Harrison fishing derby returns for 18th year

By: Dean Vaglia | Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal | Published June 1, 2023


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Nothing says summer quite like going down to the lake to fish, and what’s more fun than seeing who can catch the best hauls of the day?

Coming back for its 18th edition, the Harrison Township Kids Fishing Derby gives children a chance to test their fishing mettle. Taking place at Lake St. Clair Metropark on June 10 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., anglers ages 3-16 can come to compete for fishing glory.

“Every year Harrison Township Parks and Rec sponsors a fishing derby for young boys and girls to fish,” said Brian Batkins, Harrison Township Trustee. “We plan it on the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) free fishing weekend, so you can always set your calendars to that. All it is, is we give you the area to fish, we feed them hot dogs and snacks and everything and then we give away prizes for the most fish caught and the largest fish caught in three different age groups.”

Competitors are divided into three age-based groups — 3-6, 7-10, 11-16 — and gather around the park’s marina.

“We try to restrict the kids there for a couple of reasons,” Batkins said. “Our judges are going back and forth looking for people that catch fish, and it is easier for us to keep our eye on and assist their parents if they’ve got a couple kids fishing. We don’t want them running throughout the park. We limit it to that specific area.”

Once around and ready to fish, competitors have three hours to see who catches the most and/or largest fish per age group. According to Joe Hall, park operations manager of Lake St. Clair Metropark, the park’s waters give competitors plenty of fish to pick from.

“Lake St. Clair itself is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the world,” Hall said. “People come from all over to fish the lake. On top of the bass out there, we get a lot of people for walleye and muskie and always people along the shoreline for perch and panfish, too. It’s a very good fishing area … just about any game fish people target in Michigan they can find out here.”

Prizes are handed out by the time noon rolls around, which have ranged in prior years from lures for participants to new rods for winners.

“Our grand-prize winner last year received an almost $200 fishing rod and reel,” Batkins said. “A lot of that was donated by the Cabela’s off of Hall Road in Chesterfield Township. We had a really good relationship with the manager over there. They were very good with us, sponsoring that event.”

Sponsorship has become an important part of the event since Harrison Township Parks and Recreation has gone from a taxpayer-funded part of the township government to a volunteer-run and supporter-funded committee. Sponsors provide the funding for prizes with anything not spent on the fishing derby going toward the rest of the committee’s events.

“We set records this year with how much money was donated to us … We’ve received over $11,000 in donations,” Batkins said. “Prior to that, it was right around $9,000. It just helps us out when we’re out buying prizes or if we want to add something special to one of the other events.”

The derby got its start through what was then the taxpayer-funded committee and has been running ever since. In his seven years of being a part of the event, Batkins has seen the number of participants increase every year. The provided grilled refreshments is a recent addition to the event.

“Due to the time of the day, a lot of people are dragging their families around, so we just really thought that would be a thing to do,” Batkins said.

While much goes into making the event happen from the efforts of Metropark workers to the support of the sponsors, Batkins sees the volunteers as the reason this township tradition has been able to go on.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think the volunteers will ever let it go away,” Batkins said. “The volunteers probably enjoy it more than the participants, so I think it is between all of the volunteers just loving the event and the thoughtful people that donate to the parks and rec.”

To register for the fishing derby, call (586) 466-1497 or visit harrisontownshipmi.gov/residents/parks_and_recreation.

All children must be accompanied by an adult and a park pass will be required for vehicle entry into the park. Residency in Harrison Township is not required to participate.