It was Lydia Juneau’s first time fishing Tuesday, and beginner’s luck was with her.
The girl, who is just under 3 years old, caught no fewer than six bluegill off the docks at the La Crosse Municipal Harbor on Isle La Plume. She was one of dozens of kids down at the new marina for the annual Brats and Bobbers event, which brought families together for fishing and food.
“She’s a lucky duck for the first time,” said her mom, Emily Juneau.
The tot didn’t want to actually touch the fish, but she was OK with taking a few celebratory pictures, saying “Hey, fishy, fishy,” as her grandma, Julie Mehren, held it steady.
She was quicker to tell a family down the dock that she caught a pretty large bluegill.
“It was this big,” Lydia said, stretching her arms as wide as they would go.
The declaration drew a few atta-girls from fishermen happy to see her carrying on the tradition of exaggerating the size of the “big one.”
Tuesday marked the fourth year of the Brats and Bobbers event, organized by harbor regulars, including Dennis and Joyce Smalley, to share some good food and good fishing with their friends and neighbors, as well as the next generation.
“It’s no different from any other kind of neighborhood,” Dennis Smalley said.
While the neighborhood sits on the water, the people make it a community, he said.
The marina has seen some major changes in the past year, as former operator Steve Mills declared bankruptcy and the city of La Crosse took over operations. The city replaced the old docks, which weren’t up to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulations, and is working on replacing other amenities, such as water and power. It also has plans to add bathroom facilities and is looking into options for development around the marina.
While the marina has changed, the people are still mostly the same. They look out for one another, Smalley said, and get together to joke and laugh and have a good time, giving each other’s kids and grandkids some pointers while they reel in the fish.
The event features a potluck dinner with brats and hot dogs, then the kids each get a pole for some fishing. Afterward, they get to choose from a variety of donated prizes, though there’s really no competition. The kids are pretty happy as long as the fish are biting, he said.
While Smalley was talking, a cry of “Yeah, I got one” came up from the dock.
“That’s why we do it,” he said.
Emily Juneau, her husband, Aaron, and Lydia joined her parents, Pat and Julie Mehren, who own a houseboat in the harbor. It was great to be around other families and kids and get to know their neighbors, Juneau said.
It was a first for Lydia, but she was pretty excited to drop her line into the water.
“Last year, when she was 2, she wouldn’t have done as well,” Juneau said.
Her family was pretty proud of her.
“She’s pretty young, but she’s learning,” said Pat Mehren. “What little kid doesn’t love to catch a fish?”
The family was happy to get the chance to share some quality time — away from distractions that come with battery power and bright screens — and pass along some traditions to the next generation.
“Some of my fondest memories were from fishing with my dad when I was a kid,” Mehren said.
“It sets the foundation for years to come,” he added.