Fishing can be a fun and relaxing way to spend a Saturday morning.

Especially if you don’t have to touch the bait or get the fish off the hook, said 8-year-old Aaliyah Phillips of Seymour.

She left that part — which caused her to crinkle her nose, squeal and back away — to her dad, Tom Phillips.

But every time he cast the line, she was more than happy to sit right next to him and reel in the next one.

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Thanks to a free fishing weekend at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, people of all ages took time Saturday to enjoy the simple pleasures of being outdoors fishing.

The Phillipses were part of a group of Jackson County Girl Scouts on a father/daughter outing.

“This is the first time they’ve done anything like this,” said Aaliyah’s mother and troop leader, Jennifer Phillips. “We’ve had father daughter dances, but the dads wanted to try something different.”

The girls, in most cases, were out-fishing their dads, she added.

“But that’s because the dads are spending most of their time putting the bait on, throwing it out there and then taking the fish off,” she said. “But I don’t think they mind.”

Aaliyah said she’s been going fishing with her dad since she was 3 years old, but she still leaves most of the dirty work to him.

“I want to hold it, but I’m scared,” she said of the fish. “They feel gross.”

“It won’t bite you, silly, it doesn’t have any teeth,” Tom said, offering her one of several bluegill they caught.

The free fishing weekend, sponsored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, allowed anyone the opportunity to fish at the refuge or other public waters, even if they didn’t have a fishing license.

The refuge even provided equipment for the day, including fishing poles and nightcrawlers, to those who didn’t have their own.

Ava Blomenberg, 7, and her dad, Justin Blomenberg, of Seymour, came prepared, bringing their own poles and tackle boxes.

Fishing and squirrel hunting are activities the two enjoy doing together.

“The first time I ever went fishing I caught a bass about this big,” Ava said spreading her hands several inches apart.

Not only had she caught more fish than her dad Saturday, but she knew why.

“He reels it in too fast, and they get away,” she said.

If they were unsure what type of fish they had hooked, Ava would pull out their fish identification book provided by the refuge and look it up.

“Fishing is a lot of fun, because I get to spend time with my dad,” she said.

Before making their way to the rocky shores of Richart Lake at Muscatatuck, the Scouts first stopped at the refuge’s visitor center to learn some of the basics of fishing in a family fishing workshop.

Longtime park ranger Donna Stanley led the hands-on session, teaching kids and adults how to tie knots, hold their fishing poles and cast their lines. The workshop, sponsored by the friends of the refuge volunteer group, was available to anyone who wanted to participate.

One of the activities included casting a fishing line out into a grassy area to try to hook a big, colorful plastic fish.

Stanley said the refuge first held the workshop last year, and it turned out to be a good way to introduce people to fishing.

“It’s a great sport that nearly everyone can enjoy by themselves or with others,” she said.

Although fishing is not difficult, there are some things you can learn to make it easier, she added.

“The trick is to get the bait where the fish are,” she said. “But even when they aren’t biting, it’s still fun to be outside doing something.”

After a morning of fishing, the friends group provided a free hot dog lunch to all those stopping by.

Nathan and Jerusha Fulk of Hope brought their young children, Zachary, 6, and Mikaela, 4, to the event.

Both kids had a blast learning how to cast and catch the big plastic fish, which weren’t too gross to touch, they said.

“But I think I’m ready for the real fish now,” Zachary said.

Jerusha Fulk said she is thankful the refuge is so close and offers free, fun activities for them to do.

“We just like being outdoors together,” she said. “It’s a great way to make family memories.”

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Upcoming events at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge

Saturday – Earth Day Cleanup, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

May 9 – Wings Over Muscatatuck birding festival, all day

June 6 – Take A Kid Fishing Day, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information: Call 812-522-4352 or email [email protected].