On Saturday, June 1, 2-year-old Alivia Simpson toddled toward the shore of Lake Lawrence with a “Frozen”-themed kids fishing pole. She brandished it around like, well, a toddler.
Her father, Kody Simpson, gently guided her feet to the water’s edge and, with his steadying arms, showed her how to cast.
It’s this scene, and those like it, that have kept the Annual Girls Only Fishing Derby running for five years at Lake Lawrence’s public boat launch.
“We wanted to find a way to get more of our girlfriends involved in outdoorsy stuff, like fishing, and we were talking about fishing derbies and how we should get all of our friends together,” said event founder Kristen Michaelis. “We thought that women are sometimes intimidated to join fishing derbies that are open to everybody because it tends to be mostly men. So we had the great idea to make a fishing derby for all girls. None of our friends really showed up, but a bunch of random people did, and it’s been great.”
With an event that only women — young or old — can participate in, all pressure gets left off the table. Though, the derby isn’t designed for exclusion.
“It’s not to exclude men at all,” Michaelis said. “You see a lot of men out here taking their ladies out. It’s really just to give women a comfortable atmosphere to maybe to step into an outdoor activity that they never have before, or to come out here and have a good day and meet like-minded women.”
As was the case for Alivia, the derby can especially be beneficial to young girls, said participant Reilly Hovda.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for all the little kids in the area, all the little girls, to come out here and fish,” she said.
Participant Rachael Youse’s enthusiasm matched Hovda’s.
“It’s super fun to get all the girls in the community together and do some outdoorsy events,” she said. “I hope I catch a fish. I haven’t caught a fish in Washington yet, so hopefully today is the day.”
In other derbies, it is common for all participants to contribute toward a pot of money that the winner will get to claim.
Michaelis had another idea.
“I thought, ‘We are going to have all these people together so we should do it for a cause,’” she said, adding that she decided all the $15 donations from the participants would contribute to Youth Outdoors Unlimited, which is a nonprofit organization based here in Washington. It’s like the outdoors version of the Make a Wish Foundation, identifying terminally ill youth and taking them on their dream hunting or fishing trips.
Youth Outdoors Unlimited outfits the entire trip for the kids and even makes sure they are able to shoot the elk or catch the salmon they have always dreamed of, Michaelis said.
In addition, the winner of this year’s derby was Layla Clark, who landed a nearly 16-inch largemouth bass. Second place was a 13-inch rainbow trout and third-place was a nearly 13-inch rainbow trout.
Also, the community came together to donate prizes for the derby.
Sheer Design Construction donated 15 breakfast sandwiches from Dylan’s Corner to the first 15 girls that showed up to the derby. Sport Co. donated gloves, a $25 gift card and hat. Busy Bee Crafts created the fishing derby tank tops and donated $5 from each shirt to Youth Outdoors Unlimited. One of Michaelis’ close friends donated a pink fishing pole and a loaded tackle box for the first place winner, and Michaelis herself supplied snacks and the rest of the prizes for the first, second and third-place finishers.
In all, 33 girls and women made it out to the derby this year.
“I want to make sure that this derby keeps going for years to come, so if anybody is interested in helping organize it next year they are more than welcome to let me know,” Michaelis said.
All it takes to get involved is joining the Women of the Woods Facebook page and commenting on one of Michaelis’ derby posts.