With just a few weeks before our local school districts go back in session for the 2021-2022 school year, the Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (SKIFF) program has at least seven free trips still available to military children ages 5 and older currently separated from their parents due to military duty.
This free program, sponsored by the Austin Fly Fishers and other donors, including The McBride Foundation, the Sun City Women Helping Others chapter and the Sun City Rod and Gun Club, is now in its 12th year of existence.
The individuals and entities which fund this program all desire that kids separated from a parent by that parent’s military duty be given an opportunity to experience the outdoors through fishing during that time of separation, free of charge. The program also offers a time of respite for the home-front parents who may need a short break from single-parenting.
The most recent SKIFF trip, the seventh of the 2021 season, was conducted by me on Thursday on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Around 6:30 a.m., I met Reva Farris, her son, Jairot, age 6, and her daughter, Oakley, age 10, at lakeside to start their 3½-hour adventure. SKIFF has a “parents optional” policy, meaning parents are just as welcome to come along as they are to leave their kids in SKIFF’s care for the duration of the adventure.
Often, middle school and high school-aged kids come unaccompanied, as do younger kids with siblings too young to participate.
The Farris children’s father, Sgt. 1st Class Jairod Farris, has served on active duty for 11 years as an infantryman. He is currently a platoon sergeant and has been called away from his family to train cadets at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for several months.
Reva Farris learned of the SKIFF program through a posting on the Fort Hood Area Events Facebook page. That page is administered by Denise Igo who, while stationed at Fort Hood several years ago as a military spouse, arranged for a SKIFF fishing trip for her own son and daughter.
Although the Igo family moved on to Fort Drum, then went into retirement, Igo has maintained the page by popular demand, updating it daily remotely.
After fitting the kids with life vests, I went over a safety briefing, made sure they were familiar with the fishing gear we would be using, then asked the Lord to look out for us. With that, we pushed away from the courtesy dock and headed out in search of fish.
The fish were really in a feeding mood that day after being negatively impacted by the unusual cold front which moved in earlier in the week, dropping both rain and temperatures.
I initially planned to put a pair of downriggers to work for us, each one equipped with a three-armed umbrella rig outfitted with silver Pet Spoons. The fish were so aggressive and so numerous, I could only get one downrigger set at a time for our first 20 minutes with lines in the water during which time we landed three single fish and two sets of doubles.
Eventually, I got both downriggers set and the fish just kept right on cooperating. By the time an hour had gone by, we had landed 19 healthy white bass. By this time, as kids his age often do, Jaiton showed some signs of losing interest, so that was my signal to change tactics.
Over the entire time we had been downrigging, I had witnessed numerous large schools of fish holding on or near the bottom out to both sides of our boat. These fish showed up quite clearly on my Humminbird sonar unit’s Side Imaging display.
I marked the next such school that showed up on sonar, programmed my trolling motor to take us to those fish and hold us over top of them. This allowed us to change over to a vertical presentation using spinning gear equipped with white MAL Heavy Lures.
Oakley worked independently while Reva assisted her son in letting the lures sink to the bottom, then reeling them up briskly through the feeding fish as we watched all of this taking place in real time on Garmin LiveScope.
When fishing and video games combine, kids stay interested for a good long time! Eventually, it was not the kids’ interest that waned, but their wrists, which got sore from reeling in fish after fish.
By about 9 a.m., both kids needed a break as it was hot and the winds were light. As they prepared to snack, I reset the boat for one more round of downrigging. Our fish count stood now at 48 white bass landed.
With snacks still in hand, the kids scrambled back to the rear of the boat as both downrigger rods went off simultaneously with what would turn out to be our 49th and 50th fish of the morning landed right around 9:15 a.m.
About this time, Jaiton made a request that we try to catch some smaller fish (yes, his wrist really was sore). To accommodate, I moved us up into shallow water where the kids used long poles, floats and worms as bait to land a final five panfish for the morning.
I have found that 3½ hours is just about right for most elementary school-aged kids, and Jaiton and Oakley were no exception.
One of the challenges the SKIFF program has faced is the “sounds to good to be true” factor. I can attest that there are truly no strings attached. Participants are never asked for donations; SKIFF is simply a group of good-hearted folks pooling their resources to support our military families by offering them outdoor adventure at a time of hardship, and doing so at no charge.
If you are a military parent, or if through church, sports, school or other activities, you know of military kids who would benefit from this program, do not hesitate to reach out and inquire about a trip.
Over the program’s history, 504 children have been given an opportunity to go fishing, and those kids have landed a combined 12,924 fish.
Setting a date for a fishing trip is as simple as calling me, the SKIFF trip coordinator, locally at 254-368-7411.