On their final day off from school as their Christmas holiday break came to a close, four Fort Hood kids from two military families enjoyed both good weather and good fishing, provided to them free of charge by the Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (SKIFF) program earlier this week.
The Fort Hood Area Events Facebook page administrator, Denise Igo, the wife of a retired U.S. Army member and past recipient of a SKIFF fishing trip for her own children, helped make the Fort Hood community aware of several free fishing opportunities offered by SKIFF, available over the Killeen Independent School District’s Christmas break.
Among those responding to this offer were Jonelle Diaz and Theresa Peet, both wives of U.S. Army non-commissioned officers residing on Fort Hood.
Diaz’s husband, Sgt. John Diaz, serves as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and has been in the military for 11 years. He is currently deployed.
Peet’s husband, Staff Sgt. Matthew Peet, is a field artilleryman and has been in the military for 13 years. He, too, is currently deployed.
Mrs. Peet and Mrs. Diaz originally requested the afternoon of Dec. 28 for their children’s trip, but both families experienced illness and the trip was rescheduled for Jan. 3.
On this trip, Mrs. Peet and Mrs. Diaz chose not to attend with their kids and thus had roughly 3½ hours of solace before returning to pick up their children.
The participants on this trip were Jack and Rowan Peet, age 12 and 8, respectively, and Alexander and Violet Diaz, age 13 and 10, respectively.
As long-time SKIFF trip coordinator, I set up the times and meeting points for these families.
We met at Belton Lake around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, equipped the kids with life jackets, provided them with basic instructions on how to hold and operate the rods and reels they would be using, and then showed them the technique they would use to catch fish.
With that, we headed out to the first of three areas we would fish that morning. Each child was armed with an identical rod and reel. The braided line on those reels was all of the same strength, and the lures — white, 3/8-oz. Bladed Hazy Eye Slabs with stinger hooks, were also identical.
In this way, each child’s bait would fall at the same rate and behave in the same way, thus avoiding tangles.
Using well-tuned side-imaging sonar, I located a sizeable school of white bass just minutes after leaving the boat launching area. With the aid of a Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor, we used that motor’s Spot Lock feature to essentially hover atop this school of fish we had found.
The kids simply dropped their lures to the bottom and then reeled them upward slowly at a set cadence and, thankfully, the fish responded well.
Violet was our first lucky angler, hooking a white bass on one of her first few retrieves. Soon, everyone had landed their first fish and was eager for more.
The light winds, balmy temperatures and partly cloudy skies made it enjoyable to be outdoors andposed no interference to us traveling to any of the areas I suspected would hold fish.
As it turned out, the kids did quite well and amassed a catch of 51 fish that morning, including a legal hybrid striper, a short hybrid striper, two freshwater drum, a largemouth bass and 46 white bass, of which three were short (under the 10-inch minimum).
For readers who may be interested in taking advantage of such an opportunity, or know of friends or neighbors who may benefit, SKIFF fishing trips are provided at no charge to the children of military members separated from their children by short-term or long-term duty assignments and deployments.
Such trips are also provided to the children of Gold Star families wherein the military parent lost their life on active duty, as well as to children of disabled veterans whose disability prevents them from taking their own children fishing.
In addition to helping ease the strain of frequent absences among young military families, the SKIFF program also offers a respite to the homefront parents, many of whom care for multiple young children single-handedly for as much as 9- to 12-month spans.
This provision of respite is, perhaps, one of the most overlooked benefits of the SKIFF program. When it comes to chaperones for the participating children, parents are optional, meaning homefront parents have the option of attending with their children or leaving their children in SKIFF’s care and being able to enjoy some down time without their own children, even if only for a few hours.
Since May 2009, SKIFF has served over 475 children, mainly from Fort Hood. These children have caught and released more than 11,900 fish, an average of over 25 fish per child.
Trips may be arranged by calling 254-368-7411.