They came with smiles on their faces, young and old alike, eager to take part in a much- anticipated rite of fall - the Ducks Unlimited Greenwings kids' fishing event, held every year in September at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.
This year, the popular fishing event was renamed "The Dave Varnedoe Greenwings Fishing Adventure" in memory of one of the event's first coordinators and biggest supporters. An avid outdoorsman until the end, Varnedoe died of a heart attack in September 2004 while deer hunting on the opening day of bow season.
"This fishing event for kids was what he lived for," said John Dalton, an event organizer and good friend of Varnedoe. "He helped get this event started, and we thought that it would be a fitting tribute to name it after him."
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Chairman John Pechmann kicked off the fishing adventure with a few words of welcome to more than 500 young anglers and their families.
Soon after, everyone lined up side by side to cast their lines into five ponds teeming with a variety of popular game fish.
A quick trip around the ponds provided a good snapshot of some of the fish being caught - bluegill and largemouth bass were common sights, but channel catfish appeared most frequently on the banks.
A whopper channel cat wriggled in the hands of 5-year-old Joshua Oldham, while Dak Grob, 10, enjoyed some good luck and good fishing, reeling in several cats, including an estimated two-pounder that was the envy of several nearby anglers.
Also biting fast and hard were the panfish - Kylie Taylor, 6, along with her 10-year-old sister Courtney, took turns reeling in one bluegill after another, keeping their dad, Mike, busy all afternoon, releasing fish and baiting hooks.
To help everyone - even novice anglers - have a good time and a good chance at reeling in an impressive fish, Wildlife Commission personnel stocked more than 2,000 catchable-sized channel catfish in the ponds the day before the event, bringing the total number of stocked fish to around 7,500.
The Division of Inland Fisheries rolled out its Mobile Aquarium for participants wanting a closer look at some of the fish they could expect to catch that day, and even some fish they may never have seen before, including the longnose gar, a fish rarely caught on hook-and-line because of its bony snout.
Since 1986, the Cumberland County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited and the Wildlife Commission have hosted the Greenwings fishing event for young anglers and their families.
Greenwings is the youth program started by Ducks Unlimited that educates aspiring outdoors enthusiasts 17 and younger about wildlife and wetland conservation.
"Ducks Unlimited and the Wildlife Commission host this fishing event to introduce the youth of our state to the great outdoors," said Commissioner Pechmann.
"We want to get them started on conservation at an early age, whether it be hunting or fishing."
To find out more about fishing in public inland waters in North Carolina, visit the fishing section.