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Kids Anglin' to Have Fun at Simi's Annual Huck Finn Derby

Contestants, 15 and under, will compete for prizes at Rancho Simi Community Park lagoon.


It's a far cry from Huck Finn dropping a line in the Mississippi River, but on Saturday hundreds of kids will try their luck in Simi Valley's Huck Finn Fishing Derby.

Instead of the banks of the Mississippi, it will be the banks of a three-fourths-acre lagoon at Rancho Simi Community Park, near Royal Avenue and Erringer Road.

And, it's not likely many of the young anglers will be gripping anything as simple as a bamboo pole. Besides, there's no evidence even Huck used one of these during his adventures, although legend would have us believe otherwise.

But the thrill of catching a big one is probably still the same, and the chances of doing that Saturday are pretty good. About 1,800 catfish and 400 trout will be dumped into the lagoon prior to the derby.

"That's 25% more catfish this year," said Doug Gale, recreation supervisor for the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, sponsor of the event. Just when the dumping occurs is hush-hush to prevent poaching.

The park opens at 6 a.m., but the derby doesn't officially begin until 7 a.m. Even so, some anxious anglers line up by 5 a.m. to get a choice spot by the water.

Only youths 15 years and under are eligible to fish in the derby. Last year the contest, which is free, drew about 500 kids. But with parents nearby to cheer them on and untangle lines, the crowd was closer to 800, Gale said.

There are a couple of ways for kids to win. Prizes will be awarded in three age categories to those who catch their limit--three catfish or five trout--first. Winners will also collect for the heaviest fish and the smallest catfish.

The prizes, generally fishing equipment, have been donated by local businesses. The contest ends at 10 a.m.

Funding shortages during the past couple of years threatened to ax the derby, now in its 21st year. But each time private contributions saved the event. This year the Simi Sunrise Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Simi Valley and the Simi Valley Kiwanis Club chipped in to pay for the fish stocking.

By the way, these fish are not puny. The catfish average 1.5 pounds and some are three pounds. The trout are 6 inches to 8 inches long.

"They're a good size for kids catching their first fish," Gale said. Catch and release is recommended for the catfish.

There are a few rules young anglers should be aware of: No lures or spinners are allowed, and casting is discouraged because the fishermen are so close to each other; and the fishing should be done by the kids, not overly helpful parents.

"At times in the past we've done a chalk line to keep the parents back," Gale said.

Bait takes all forms, according to Gale, including "stinky cheese." For trout, power bait, salmon eggs, and worms are popular; and for the catfish, hot dogs and cheese.

Does it work?

"Some do very well," Gale said. "Quite a few don't catch anything."


If the derby hooks your kid on fishing, there are several spots where parents can take kids new to the sport.

First of all, Rancho Simi Community Park's lagoon is ideal. It was previously open only to kids and senior citizens, but last year the district began planting trout there three times a year and officials opened it to anyone.

The lagoon is home to bass too. "There have been some huge bass caught there--reports of nine pounds," Gale said. "But bass are trickier to catch."

Remember, kids under 16 don't need a fishing license. For adults, though, the cost runs $25.70 for fresh water, or $28.35 for both ocean and fresh water. (No license is required if you fish off the public piers in Ventura and Port Hueneme.)

Both Lake Piru, east of Fillmore, and Lake Casitas, near Ojai, stock their waters. There is a $6-per-car charge to use Lake Piru, and $5 at Lake Casitas. Both rent boats and Piru also rents fishing equipment.

If your child is the impatient type, try Troutdale near Agoura in the Santa Monica Mountains. You pay $3 per person to fish two man-made ponds stocked with hefty trout. A crude bamboo pole and bait are supplied. If you snag a fish, you pay an additional fee, depending on the size.


* WHAT: Huck Finn Fishing Derby.

* WHEN: 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Rancho Simi Community Park lagoon, 1765 Royal Ave., Simi Valley.

* CALL: 584-4400.

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