First Saturday in May: Wixom Fishing Derby

Kelsey Cowan Flyfishing in the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming

Lindsay Brown fishing in the Bear Paw Mountains, Montana

In the late 1960s, the first Saturday in May was an important date in North Baltimore: the annual fishing derby at Wixom Quarry.  At that juncture, the quarry was a club called Wixom Sports Incorporated and was managed by volunteers.  Each spring, the club would purchase a truckload of trout to stock the quarry and the southern banks of the quarry would be lined with eager, bright-eyed children on the first Saturday in May, each dreaming of catching that prized trout.

At noon, a horn blew and the fishing frenzy began!  There was a prize for the first fish.  I remember the excitement of that first fish being caught and the lucky fisherman racing to the prize table to claim the reward.  Some of the trout were tagged before they were released.  The number on the fish tag identified the prize the fortunate angler won.

Cheryl Vaughn Piatt (’78) was always a great fisherwoman.  I can distinctly remember Cheryl reeling in trout after trout at the derby.  Cheryl recently shared, “I remember fishing there each derby. Dad (Hack Vaughn) would get me so excited about it. We caught lots of trout that they stocked for those derbies. As for the prizes, I believe there were items for kids but I remember my Dad being most proud of me winning things like engine oil!”

I also remember Julie Stephens Cowan (’78) at the fishing derbies.  Julie recently recounted how exciting the fishing derby was for her, “I so looked forward to it, and the competitive me wanted to get the biggest fish.”  Julie recalled one year when we both were in the NB News with our fish photos.  She said that hers was more humorous than mine: “I had a stringer full of trout. The photographer from the NB News, wanting to get a great photo of a little kid with the big haul, knew what he was doing when he asked me to ‘turn the fish’ so he could ‘get a better picture.’ I did, and as soon as I touched those slimy things, I said, ‘Ick,’ and he got just the reaction he was suspecting he’d get from a girl–and the photo to go with it. That’s about what the caption in the newspaper said, too—‘EEEK!’”

As Cheryl, Julie and I rekindled our memories of the Wixom fishing derbies, each of us remember fishing with our dads.  For each of us there is a strong intergenerational link in fishing or as Herbert Hoover said, “Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”

Cheryl and Julie still are avid fisherwomen.   Cheryl said, “I sure would like to fish at the Wixom Quarry again. I still fish every chance I get.”  Julie shared beautiful pictures of successful fishing trips in her home state of Montana.   Julie said, “My brother Jim attempted to teach me to fly fish at the quarry when I was about 8 or 9. It came in handy though as I married a Wyoming boy who is a fly fishing aficionado, and we fish the waters of western Montana regularly in the summer.”

On our trip down memory lane, reminisced about how we learned to fish with our dads, sharing great pleasure in the fact that we both have daughters who also love to fish.  It was important to Julie to pass on her love of the outdoors to her girls, “Seriously, in this day and age, the best gift we can give our kids is the appreciation and love of the outdoors because if they don’t learn to love the outdoors, who will be the stewards of the land for the next generation?”

My original intent for this essay was to reminisce about an annual event that North Baltimore residents enjoyed in the 1960s. After talking with two of my classmates, it turned into something much different: a realization that even the simplest childhood activities, like fishing at the Wixom Quarry with our dad or brother, turned into lifetime passions for Julie and Cheryl that have now spanned into the next generation as our children include fishing as part of their adventures.  Who could have imagined that a truckload of tagged trout could have had such impact?

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