By Logan Lawson
A fishing tradition in Neligh has become a family tradition for one local family.
Each Fourth of July for the past 35 years, Bruce Pitzer has hosted the Youth Fishing Derby at Fred Penn Lake as part of Neligh's Old Mill Days.
Many times, his son, Wade, joined him, usually as a participant but later to help run the derby. This year, the Pitzers added a third generation to the mix when Wade's oldest daughter, Shelby, came out to help her father and grandfather with the event.
"If you can hand something down through the family, it's always a good deal," Bruce said.
The eldest Pitzer began helping with the derby 35 years ago when he was working with the Nebraska Game and Parks. It had already been running for a few years, but Bruce eventually took it over full time. The derby, Bruce explained, originally started as a fishing school, where they taught kids the basics of fishing, such as baiting a hook and casting a line, before they fished. The event later was shortened to only include the hour long derby.
The derby starts every Fourth of July with the blow of a whistle at 9 a.m. and kids up to 13 years old have one hour to catch as many fish as possible. At the end of the hour, another whistle is blown to let the participants know the time limit is up. The Pitzers and other volunteers then weigh each child's catches for the day. Prizes are awarded for the three participants in each age group who the catch the most fish by weight. The prizes are usually donated by the Neligh Young Men's Club.
Wade enjoys the event because it is a great family event during Old Mill Days.
"I think it's really neat for the community to have something that, as a family, everyone can go out and do," he said. "It means a lot for the community to be able to do that."
The Pitzers estimated that they average between 50 and 75 kids each year, including one year that saw approximately 100 children show up for the event.
One former participant that the Bruce and Wade Pitzer are proud to have brought back to help run the event is 14-year-old Shelby Pitzer. She participated in the derby almost every year as a child, placing multiple times. Now that she is too old to participate, she wanted to stay involved and help with the event.
"My grandpa runs it and my dad's always helped," Shelby said. "Kids have fun at it, so that's the reason to keep it going."
She helped weigh the catches and put together the prize packets this year. She enjoyed working at the event and plans to continue to help keep it successful in the future. She also sees it as a bonding opportunity with her dad and grandpa.
"I like doing it because it's a family thing," Shelby explained. "It especially means a lot to do it with my grandpa because the things and tricks I know about fishing, I learned from my grandpa."