This year's Milford Children’s Trout Derby, on Saturday, May 5 — the 50th — will be dedicated to the man who started it: Bob Mahoney.

Mahoney, who attended nearly every derby, even after he moved out of state, died on Saturday, April 28, just a week short of the 50th event.

“Fifty years ago Bob Mahoney had an idea to put together a little tournament downtown,” said Jim Pritchard, president of the Milford Striped Bass Club. “He got together with Pete Hebert from Hebert Jewelers. They each put in $50. They bought some trout and put them in, and put it in the Citizen, which was the newspaper back then, and they had about 300 kids show up. That was the beginning.”

Club members were saddened to hear about Mahoney’s death. They had already planned to hold this year’s special derby in his honor. They said they will miss him.

“He started the event,” Pritchard said. “It was his brain child. Every year he attended and he was so happy.”

As part of the 50th, and in honor of the man who started the event, in addition to hundreds of stocked trout, there will be 50 tagged trout, which will earn the youngster who catches one a special prize. And in the usual tradition, children will have a chance to hook one of hundreds of good-sized brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and golden trout from the North Street duck pond and the pond behind Milford City Hall.

“We don’t stock the ponds with general trout,” said Pritchard. “We stock them with what we consider trophy fish, even for an adult. We also put in golden trout, which the kids love because they can see them in the water. It’s a lot of quality fish, good quantity of fish. We try to make it so that when the kids show up they never know what they’re going to catch. Hopefully, they catch something. And in a lot of cases they can catch the biggest trout that they may ever catch and outmatch their dads or moms. It’s a lot of fun and they get really excited.”

Club members often hear stories from the mothers and fathers who fished the derby when they were children, and have now returned with their children. Jennifer Lalond, who chairs the derby with her husband, Shawn, even looks back at lists of participants from years ago when she fished the derby as a child with her friends.

As an adult, she likes seeing children enjoy the same outdoor fun.

She has a lot of respect for Mahoney and his efforts to start the event here, and she loves helping to keep his legacy alive through the derby.

“I just love seeing the kids’ faces when they catch a big fish,” Lalond said. “They don’t even have to catch a big one. They can catch a small one and they’re still happy. I just love watching them come out, trying to cast into the pond.”

Pritchard remembers a young boy about 4 or 5 years old, carrying a fish to the weigh-in table one year, and he can still picture the thrill on the boy’s face. “We have a perfect picture of him hugging the fish,” Pritchard said.

While only children age 15 and younger may fish at the derby, the parents and grandparents who accompany children enjoy the day just as much the kids.

“It’s almost a social event for the parents who fished it when they were younger,” said Pritchard. “They’ll show up with the coffee and donuts and they’ll all be talking while the kids are fishing. It’s like they are introducing their kids to what they did when they were little, which doesn’t happen too often.”
Creating memories
Many Milford residents have memories of the derby over the years. Karen Antonino, for example, recalled her grandfather’s involvement with the derby. Her grandfather, the late Edward Kozlowski, was the mayor of Milford around the time the derby started, and in that capacity he helped get the city involved in supporting it.

“My sweet grandpa did not brag much, so I know only a few details, but the take-home is he helped create a fun day of fishing for both young and old, allowing families and friends to build memories to last a lifetime and beyond,” Antonino said.

“I am proud to now share that experience with my own two children and our family to participate in this wonderful tradition in Milford.”

Andrew Spears grew up in Milford and remembers fishing in the annual Children’s Trout Derby as a child. Now a teacher, he fondly recalls getting up at 5:30 a.m. for the start of the derby, the throng of children fishing, and getting his line stuck in a tree.

Several years ago, Cathy Savoie was at the fishing event with her children and grandchildren. She also recalled earlier days of the derby, of bringing her children to cast their lines. It would be at least a two-day event, including a sleepover. The children and their friends would eat pizza and hunt for bait the night before, in preparation for getting up with the sun to head to the ponds. Savoie would bring sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate, a tradition she continued with her grandchildren.
Saturday derby
The derby will start at the upper and lower duck ponds — on North Street and behind Milford City Hall — Saturday at 6 a.m., with fishing from 6 to 9:30 a.m. A casting contest will begin at 9:45 a.m. and last about 45 minutes. Trophies will be awarded and a raffle drawn after the casting contest.

Members of the Milford Striped Bass Club will be on hand to help children tie lines and cast, and there will be bait for young anglers who don’t have their own worms.

And a banner with Mahoney’s name on it in big, bold letters will proclaim the event in his name.

“He did it all for the kids,” Pritchard said “He wanted to make kids happy, and he did.”