Bob Maindelle Guide Lines Dec. 18

Nine-year-old Ryan Howell Jr. of Killeen displays two of the 91 fish he landed on a recent Soldiers' Kids Involved in Fishing Fun trip provided to his family at no charge. Ryan’s dad, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Howell Sr., has served in the military for 16-plus years. He is currently deployed to Iraq as a military policeman.

First founded in 2009, the Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (SKIFF) organization exists to provide outdoor experiences to the children of U.S. military members while those military personnel are separated from their families due to military duty obligations.

SKIFF provides fishing trips, free of charge, year round on Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes.

These trips typically run for approximately 3½ hours and can include up to four children, depending on their age.

Over its 13-year history, SKIFF has provided 546 military dependents with such trips. Those kids caught 14,564 fish, or an average of just over 26 per child.

Although SKIFF trips are offered to children as young as five years of age, children attending wintertime trips must be age 9 or older due to the more technical nature of the fishing tactics employed at that time.

SKIFF seeks to offer such free trips during most major holidays and during the summer months when local kids are out of school.

As such, SKIFF will be offering free trips between Dec. 19 and Jan. 2 in conjunction with our local school districts’ Christmas break.

To qualify, children must 1) be age nine or older, and 2) be separated from his or her military parent due to that parent’s military duty. Children from Gold Star families also qualify, as do children of disabled veterans whose disabilities prevent them from taking their own children fishing.

Although deployments make up the majority of the separations between military members and their children, other qualifying events include National Training Center rotations, Joint Readiness Training Center rotations, temporary duty assignments, gunnery, field training exercises, attendance at military schools, etc.

SKIFF is primarily sponsored by the Austin Fly Fishers, a private fishing club based in Austin. Since its founding by AFF, other organizations have come alongside AFF to support the effort. Such supporters include the McBride Foundation, the Sun City chapter of Women Helping Others, and the Sun City Rod and Gun Club. Other individuals have contributed as well in order that the organization is able to provide its services at no charge to those served.

A typical SKIFF trip begins either right at sunrise or about 3½ hours prior to sunset. The home front parent is welcome to either leave their child in SKIFF’s care for the duration of the trip, or to participate right along with their child.

Parents arrive with their children at one of the area boat ramps selected by SKIFF based on forecast wind speed and direction so as to launch from a protected area.

SKIFF provides all needed fishing equipment, as well as required safety gear. Those under the age of 17 are not required to possess fishing licenses. Children need only bring snacks, appropriate clothing and sun protection.

During the winter months, SKIFF trips target white bass using vertical tactics with spinning gear, which is easily learned even by those with no prior experience. The fishing is all catch-photograph-release, with the children’s fishing guide retaining at least one fish per child onboard until the close of the trip so a group photo can be taken.

Following the trip, SKIFF provides a written summary of the trip, complete with photos and captions which, with permission of the family being served, may be posted to social media so that the separated service member and other family and friends can share in the child’s experience.

Many Americans do not associate fishing with the colder months of the year, but, in the temperate climate of Central Texas, the winter months produce more consistent results and more enjoyable temperatures than do the summer months.

Those qualified families interested in a Christmas break fishing trip may contact SKIFF by phone or text at 254-368-7411.

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