Hayden Belle Mazzola, 6, gasped as she watched the green speckled fish thrash in the water.
"That's a biggie!" she cried, covering her mouth with her hands. "I got a fish!"
The 10.25-inch rainbow trout was hooked to Belle's line, and with the help of her father, she pulled it out to be the first girl to catch a fish at Huck Finn Day.
Belle's father, Ray, asked if she wanted to throw the fish back, and Belle shouted, "No!"
He asked if she was going to eat the fish and Belle, still dancing with excitement, said, "No, you can. I'm catching all the fish for you."
Huck Finn Day took place Saturday at Hayden's Town Park.
More than 70 children, parents in tow, showed up on the sunny morning for the fishing contest, the Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher look-alike contest and the educational sessions offered by the Division of Wildlife.
The biggest draw was the chance to fish nearby Dry Creek, which had just been stocked with 200 rainbow trout by the Division of Wildlife.
At 10 a.m., a whistle blew and the kids headed for the creek.
They set up under the shade of trees, cast their lines and fell into a concentrated hush.
Within minutes, the first fish was caught by Bruce Holmslund. Belle Mazzola was the first for girls.
Prizes went to children who caught the first, the biggest and the smallest fish.
Even if they didn't catch a fish, many children left with a new rod and reel. Through their Angler Education Program, the Division of Wildlife supplied 50 basic fishing setups.
Most children ranged from 2 to 13 years old, and even the toddlers seemed to have fun.
Bizzy Weis, 3, caught a 14.25-inch rainbow trough with the help of her mom, Sacha.
Bizzy said she liked to fish, but when asked if she wanted to hold the fish, she scrunched up her nose and backed away.
"No, mommy, no, it's yucky," she said.
Every fish that was caught was gutted by volunteers and then stored on ice for the lucky catcher to bring home for dinner.
Trish Campagna, who recently moved to Hayden with her family, said her three children were excited to their first Huck Finn Day.
"They love to fish," she said before the fishing actually began. "They're hoping to catch the first fish, the biggest fish and the smallest and get all the prizes."
Event organizers, which included the town of Hayden, the DOW and the Hayden Community Action Network, said they were pleased with the turnout.
"The kids are happy, we're happy," said District Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins. "You know, the biggest thing we're trying to encourage is fishing. We think it's a good family activity."
Before any fishing lines were cast, the DOW workers also presented four educational stations that covered aquatic bugs, tying flies, casting for fly-fishing and catching and releasing fish.
The aquatic bugs station was one of the most popular. There, District Wildlife Manager Libbie Miller handed out small mesh nets that children could use to catch minnows, crawdads and other wriggly creatures that were swimming around in four buckets.
At the catch-and-release station, listeners learned the importance of only touching fish with wet hands. Picking up a fish with dry hands can remove its slimy coating and the fish may die from stress.
Julie Redmond, whose 4-year-old son Jack was eager to fish, said she thought the educational sessions were helpful.
"Respect for nature is what these kids need to know," she said. "Especially at this age."
She also said she had fun dressing up Jack in overalls and a bandanna for the look-alike contest. But she had shorts in hand for him to change into in case the Huck Finn attire got too hot.
Jack wasn't the only one dressed for the event. A handful of boys ran around barefoot wearing overalls and straw hats. Girls wore their hair in pigtails and painted freckles on their faces.
Lindsay Heer, Hayden's recreation coordinator, wore a pair of overalls as well.
"It's fun how often do you get to really dress like that," Heer said. "And the kids they're just adorable. It's really difficult to select the best look-alike."
As to why this day is named after the boisterous trouble-maker in Mark Twain's classic novel, no one seemed to know.
Haskins said he thought the focus on fishing was the reason for the name of the event, which has taken place for more than four decades.
"A lot of people just associate Huck Finn with fishing," he said. "It's the image of a kid out there barefoot with a fishing pole."
To reach Susan Bacon call 871-4206
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org