When it comes to catching trout, it’s hard to beat the bite at Whiskey Creek Hatchery.

It is Oregon’s only “all volunteer” hatchery on a special day for special needs kids who rarely get a chance to catch a fish.

Volunteer Tony Cham had his hands full of a rod, reel and bait – helping a youngster catch a trout. He chuckled as he said, “See any smiles around here? This day really is special – just look at it – special!”

It’s the annual capstone event for the Tillamook Anglers Association which provides all the gear and all the bait and help more than 300 kids catch fish from the hatchery’s raceways.

Photos: Whiskey Creek Hatchery

The 1,200 rainbow trout were donated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The volunteers even clean and bag the fish with ice.

Volunteer Paula Bear said the payback was easy to see. “Oh it’s the kids and the laughter and the fun – they have so much fun,” she said.

Longtime TAA member, Tom Satterlee, added, “Take a look at the smiles on the kid’s faces and you’ll understand. This event makes me feel so warm in my heart.”

2016 marks the 24th year of "A Special Day for Special Kids," but this is only part of the Tillamook Anglers Association story.

The 800-member group is all about community service.

For example, each October, scores of members cut up surplus hatchery salmon, bag the filets, seal them for the freezer and deliver thousands of pounds to the local Oregon Food Bank

Jerry Dove, TAA President, explained that the group’s most rewarding job is to make certain that the bounty of surplus “food quality” salmon isn’t wasted either.

“There are thousands of really fine salmon here that would just die at the hatchery! The hatchery crew doesn’t have time or energy to deal with them, so we step in and do that for them and for the county’s neediest citizens," said Dove.

The best fish that are not needed for the hatchery’s production goals are transported to Dove’s mini-processing plant in Tillamook. Dove also saved the carcasses that are sold through local vendors as crab bait. They also cured and packed the salmon eggs in jars to sell to fishermen.

“We were just throwing the eggs away and I thought there must be value here, so we sought permission from the state to sell the eggs – and all of the money goes back into our programs,” said Dove.

Last year, the effort delivered more than 5,000 pounds of filets to the local food bank.

Longtime member, Tom Stumpf, said that the salmon make a difference to people in need. “The salmon – that we prepare and deliver to the Tillamook Food Bank is basically the only source of protein for many families.”

In Tillamook County, more than 60 percent of school-aged children are eligible for food assistance, so the TAA members know their efforts help in a uniquely Oregon spirit of neighbors helping neighbors.

“Every time one of those packages goes into the Food Bank’s cooler that’s another meal – another meal – another meal,” said Kevin Englund, a retired local school administrator. “Every Oregon community has huge needs but we figured the solution to hunger is simple: We provide for others who would otherwise go without."

Back at Whiskey Creek Hatchery, located on the banks of Netarts Bay, the kids were having a ball!

Kimmy Knox says she and her son, Andrew, look forward to the event each year. ”It gives the kids a sense of accomplishment! They throw a line in and pull fish out and that’s very exciting for them. There are a lot of kids here like them so it’s very relatable for them.”

The event is more than fish – it’s also a big day for barbeque. The TAA members man stations and cook and serve chicken, burgers and hot dogs.

TAA member, Joe Van Meter, called their effort a privilege. “You just have to give something back! You can’t just take, take, take. We enjoy that part!”

“We try to contact as many hospitals, group homes and individuals as we can to invite the youngsters,” added Dove. “This might be the only time some of these kids, ever, ever catch a fish. It’s the squeals of joy, the laughter and the hugs you get – it really is an unreal event!”

Oh, it’s real alright – a gift from fishermen who know it isn’t the size of the catch that matters most – but the memories you make along the way!