A capacity crowd of eager young anglers took part in the 21st annual Youth Fishing Event at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday.

A total of 185 anglers ages 4 to 12 gathered at the small fishing pond off Interstate 59 at the Pearl River Turnaround for the fun-filled day. But they were not alone, as many of their older siblings and parents also took time to wet a line.

The Youth Fishing Event is one of the most popular outreach events staged each year by the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges staff and the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuge group. The organizations offer quality time for the family during the rodeo, and participants receive a T-shirt, rod and reel combo, bait and lunch for a small entry fee.

“It fills up every year,” Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Supervisory Park Ranger David Stoughton said. “There’s not an inch of shoreline that’s not being used now.

“Some of the kids are catching their first fish, and some of them have been out here for many years. But this is one of our signature events each year, and it’s my favorite event we do each year.”

The fishing rodeo is held each year in conjunction with National Fishing Week.

“What we’re trying to do is connect kids with nature and to do it in a meaningful way,” Stoughton said. “We gear all of our visitor services of outreach to six major areas: environmental education, wildlife photography, interpretation, hunting, fishing and paddling. So this is right in that realm.”

Young anglers were grouped into three age brackets of competition: 4 to 6, 7 to 9, and 10 to 12. There were categories for longest catfish, longest bream and the shortest fish. There also was a grand prize going to the person who caught the longest fish.

That win went to Skylar Powell, who landed an alligator gar that measured 34¾ inches. She was received a loaded tackle box and a “Golden Shrimp Boot” trophy.

Other winners included:

Longest catfish:

AGE 4 TO 6: Aiden Knight, 21¼ inches

AGE 7 TO 9: Noah Deteige, 18¼ inches

AGE 10 TO 12: Blain Buras, 17½ inches

Longest bream:

AGE 4 TO 6: Landon Campagno, 9¼ inches

AGE 7 TO 9: Colby Gibbs, 12½ inches

AGE 10 TO 12: Aaron Mayer, 10¼ inches

Shortest fish:

AGE 4 TO 6: Cheyenne Burke, 3 inches

AGE 7 TO 9: Alex Clifton, 2 7?8 inches

AGE 10 TO 12: Gabriel Overly, 3 inches

Those winners and top competitors in each category, received flow trolls, lures, tackle boxes and more as prizes.

USFWS staff took the opportunity to have a grand opening of an extension of a boardwalk on the site. The boardwalk extension was paid for with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration and leads over a mix of cypress and tupelo swamp.

“The area floods annually, so the only way to get out there is with a raised walkway,” Stoughton said. “It gives people an opportunity to get to an area they wouldn’t see otherwise. It’s about an extra 600 feet of walkway, and the entire boardwalk is a little more than a half-mile.”

The grant was for approximately $10,000 and was matched locally, Stoughton said. The Friends group coordinated the effort and helped build the boardwalk, as did USFWS staff.

For more information on all happenings at Southeast Louisiana Refuges, visit www.fws.gov/southeastlouisiana or call (985) 882-2000.

Andrew Canulette covers recreation and leisure activities for the St. Tammany Advocate. To reach him, email acanulette@charter.net.