This one's for Dad

Young anglers on a mission at fishing derby

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It's slimy, covered with scales and smells like, well, dead fish. What better present could a father ask for on Father's Day? That was Hannah Winegarner's reasoning, at least.

The 7-year-old planned to give any fish she caught Saturday at the 22nd annual Huck Finn/Becky Thatcher Fishing Derby to her dad, Eric Lacasse, for Father's Day.

"I also have a shiny box to give him," she said, proudly casting her new SpongeBob SquarePants fishing pole into Walton Pond.

Almost 200 people, including 75 children ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years, gathered Saturday morning for free pancakes and fishing at the popular annual event, sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Optimist and Rotary clubs.

Around the pond, the smell of maple syrup and coffee mingled with the smells of rain and wet grass. Fishing lines whistled through the air as parents anxiously exhorted their children to look behind them before they cast, lest they hook a person rather than a fish.

"I can cast far, very far -- way over there," Hannah boasted while she patiently explained the art of fishing. "You get some of those fish things and get them on the

hook. Then look behind you and throw it. Then you roll it up, but not the wrong way, or you'll break it."

Hannah learned how to fish from her dad when she was 5 years old, and she said they fish "a lot, a lot."

Though she technically hasn't caught a fish, she's pretty sure catching them is her favorite part.

Joining Hannah at the derby were seven of her family members including her mom, Shannon Winegarner, her 7-year-old brother, Sam Lacasse, and her 7-year-old sister, Hannah Lacasse.

"We'll probably stick it out here until 10:30," Shannon Winegarner said as raindrops began to fall, although Sam insisted he wanted to stay all day.

The abundance of fish present matched Sam's enthusiasm.

One thousand rainbow trout, donated by Curt Weiss and Walton Pond Mini Storage, were released into the pond earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, the fish weren't biting for 8-year-old Casey Walter and his dad, Abe Walter.

"We've only seen one caught so far," Abe Walter said. The two didn't seem to mind, though.

"We're just out here for fun," he said.

The two planned to fish today in the Flat Tops for Father's Day and were using the derby as practice.

The fish, however, simply weren't cooperating, a story shared by many present.

"When you stock the pond, you gotta take the tape off the fishes' mouth before you release them," onlooker Rick Welsh joked.

Welsh said the cold weather contributed to the lower catch rate.

"Trout don't do well with barometric changes. The fish just stop eating in the cold weather," he said. But he pointed to one group that wasn't having any trouble at all.

Ten-year-old Zephyr Erickson hooked a 16-inch trout using night crawlers that he dug from his dad's garden the night before. With his earthworm edge, he had a bucket full of wiggling fish. He kept his success in perspective, though.

"I caught a 20-incher last year," he said.

Whether the children caught 20-inch fish or a 20-centimeter crawdad, as one child did, they all received prizes.

The most common prize was a blue fanny pack reading, "Casting smiles -- Fishing with kids," filled with Rice Krispy Treats, sunscreen and fishing boppers with smiley face on them.

Optimist Club President Sid Hopkins was happy with the turnout, which he said was up from last year.

"We do it all for the kids," Hopkins said.

The club funded the day's activities with donations from individuals and sponsors.

"The Egg & I insisted on buying all the food," derby organizer Paul Hands said. Hands has helped organize the derby for the past 15 years and said he simply was praying it didn't rain. He also worked hard this year to promote the event.

"The derby has to compete for attention with a lot of other events the day before Father's Day, and that's one of our challenges," he said.

The Optimist Club also sponsors the Pumpkin Festival every fall in which about 700 children paint pumpkins given away by the club, a $1,000 Teen-of-the-Year scholarship and the Wile E. Coyote cross country ski event in which children chase skiers wearing Wile E. Coyote tails.

The Optimist Club has about 35 members and meets at 7 a.m. Wednesdays for breakfast at The Egg & I.

"We're always looking for new members," Hopkins said.

For him, the derby has always been one of his favorite events, he said.

"These kids' faces when they catch a fish and then their look when they proudly present you with this slimy fish -- that's the best," he said.

--To reach Kristin Bjornsen, call 879-1502.

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