Huck Finn derby is a race to the fishing line

Hundreds of children and their families were elbow to elbow on the Huntington Beach Pier on Saturday, hoping to catch the largest — or smallest — fish of the day.

Kids ages 4 to 15 were looking to snag a prize catch and a shiny trophy when Surf City hosted its 51st annual Huck Finn Fishing Derby.

Nate Johnson, 11, said he dressed up as Huckleberry Finn last year but decided to take the fishing more seriously this time.

"I've never caught a fish off the pier," he said. "It's a tiny bit upsetting, but it's still fun to come out here and try."

Nate decided to take a few buddies to Saturday's event. Daniel McCray, 12, had gone deep-sea fishing before and Caden Ruddy, 11, had fished since he was 4 years old. But this was the first time both had fished off the pier.

"I like it because you get to spend time with your family and friends, having a good time and fishing together," Daniel said as he cut up a sardine to share with his friends as bait.

A few children wore tattered overalls and a straw hat in imitation of Huck Finn, including brothers Lucius, Dawson and Porter Wilde, who are from Michigan.

Anaheim Hills resident Sandra Brown, the boys' aunt, said her nephews had fished before but never off a pier or in an ocean.

"It's been a little harder to fish because everybody is packed together in one spot, but it's still fun," said Lucius, 11.

City staff said the event grows each year.

"Last year, I think we got about 350 people, and we're expecting probably about a hundred more this year, if not more than that," city recreation specialist Erin Burke said.

The city coordinates and organizes the event, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife supplies fishing rods free of charge.

"We bring about 70 rods out to loan to the public, but a lot of people bring their own equipment," Fish and Wildlife manager Brian Young said. "We get a lot of tourists that were just stopping by the pier, seeing the event happening and wanting to participate."

During previous events, people have caught thresher sharks, stingrays and shovelnose guitarfish, Young said.

Many of Saturday's catches were small smelts, lizard fish and a few surf perches, with the heaviest coming in at 0.37 pounds.

Having helped organize the event for the past nine years, Young said he hopes the event encourages children to enjoy fishing and other outdoor activities.

"We're helping the city promote its little gems, like its parks, beaches and the pier," he said. "We're also trying to get the kids away from their computers and handheld devices for a little bit."

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