Becky Earls' chums could tell she was pleased with herself and the 10-inch trout she had just hooked.
The smiling, freckle-faced 10-year-old, who has been mute since birth, walked around with her catch for all 28 of her classmates from the R. H. Dana School for the Orthopedically Disabled to admire.
Then, she plopped the fish back into the lake, matter-of-factly picked up her new fishing rod and went at it again.
Except for Earls, and a few others, the morning's catch started slowly for the 300 or so other physically and mentally impaired children, many of whom were learning to cast their fishing lines for the first time Friday.
But after a few hours of practice, they started to reel them in.
The outing was organized by two disabled veterans, Ron Mincer and Lou Tyce, who three years ago formed the Junior Disabled Learn-to-Fish Program. The idea was to get handicapped children outdoors doing something both physically and mentally satisfying, Mincer said.
"If you get them out fishing, their whole outlook changes about themselves," Mincer said. "When they learn to fish, it motivates them to do other things . . . . It's a very positive way to reinforce each of their own special abilities.
"It's also a real good way to get the whole family involved instead of the usual environment where they're confined all the time."
Mincer, who became a paraplegic fighting in the Korean War, and his friend Tyce, who walks with crutches because of a Vietnam War injury, are active in the California Paralyzed Veterans Assn., which promotes physical activities geared for handicapped people.
With their combined energies, they have garnered sponsors and volunteers to help them coordinate fishing outings three times a year for disabled children living throughout Orange County. Usually the children fish at the private Mission Viejo lake, Mincer said.
On this particular day, the owners of the Santa Ana River Lakes in east Anaheim, Bill Andrews and Doug Eliott, let the children fish free (the normal charge is $6 per child). Each child also got a $30 fishing rod from the Mercury Marine Co. and feasted on hamburgers grilled at the lake's banks by Garden Grove Elks Club members. And the whole day's activities were sponsored by Dodge Division of Chrysler Corp. and the Adolph Coors Co.
Although some children were able to ready their gear, most needed some kind of assistance casting and reeling in their lines.
But Jennifer Wey, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, insisted she was no novice.
"I've been with my dad before and I caught 20 fish and he didn't catch any. . . . I felt guilty for him," said Wey, who suffers from spina bifida.
"Patience is the key," she said, with the authority of a pro. "A lot of patience."