Justin Smith, a rising third-grader at Lake Elementary, was so excited about the Catfish with Cops event July 25 that he did some advance reconnaissance.
“We came yesterday to check it out,” he said of Walborn Reservoir north of Alliance, which is part of the Stark County Park District.
Though he was looking to score a big channel or bullhead, Justin and his friend, Nathaniel Scott, seemed just as happy to hook bluegill and sunfish. At Justin’s side on the dock was his grandmother, Karen Smith, who served as “chief baiter and fish-taker-offer,” she explained.
With a $5 entry fee, Catfish with Cops raised $375 for the Stark Parks Ranger Cadet program, which involves working and ride-alongs with park rangers, and some training, said Chief Ranger Justin Laps.
On July 18, the Back the Blue bass tournament at Walborn raised $536 for the cadet program and yielded cash prizes for the winners.
Wyatt Slabaugh, 7, and his older sister, Olivia, also came prepared. Their father, Matthew Slabaugh of East Canton, had mixed up a special catfish bait consisting of “chicken, hot dogs, some Old Bay, soy sauce, garlic, Parmesan cheese and some cut-up fish, topped off with a fresh can of sardines,” he said.
This was the second year of catfishing for Wyatt, and Olivia decided she wanted to come too. Both were thrilled when Chief Laps gave them new fishing poles, blue for Wyatt and purple for Olivia.
Ranger Rick Ady did not come prepared. He had volunteered, “for two hot dogs and a bottle of water,” to be a stand-in suspect for Gunnar, the Stark Parks K-9 officer.
Sgt. Jonathan Crock, his handler, explained to the Smiths, the Slabaughs and others who came to watch that Gunnar was going to demonstrate “a pursuit bite, a handler protection bite, and a passive bite, where he doesn’t bite till I tell him to.”
Gunnar, a 7-year-old German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, is attracted to motion, so it’s natural for him to chase someone who is running away, said Sgt. Crock, who has been training Gunnar since he was a pup. Gunnar works full-time as patrol officer for Stark Parks and is certified in narcotics, tracking and apprehension, among other things.
Ranger Ady did a good job running away, considering the heavily-padded suit he was wearing. But he was no match for the 75-pound canine missile.
“I’m 220 pounds, and I couldn’t stay on my feet,” said Ady, who has been a police officer for 30 years.
The fishing started after the K-9 demonstration and lasted till 10 p.m. More than 40 catfish were caught by the 76 people registered. They could compete in teams or individually. Individual winners were judged on the length of their largest catfish.
In first place was Kaden Almasy, 21 inches; second place, Kendall Sommers, 17.25 inches; and third, Adam Gray, 17 inches.
Team winners were judged on the total length of their three biggest catfish. The first-place team consisted of Jackie Dotson, Christina Dotson, Skyler Wilson and Kassandra Wilson with 65.5 inches total. Second was the team of Gary Miller and Tim Miller, 53.75 inches and third was Beau Keller, Travis Keller, Bobby Bailey and Jason Hall, 49.5 inches.
All of the winning fish were channel catfish.
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