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Reeling In Some Fun in the Sun : Recreation: Sheriff’s Department arranges for deputies to take about 50 Santa Ana students fishing in Newport Harbor.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most 10-year-olds like Andres Agulara do not go fishing with a police escort.

But Friday, Andres was among about 50 fifth-graders from Pio Pico Elementary School in Santa Ana who got to skip classes to motor around Newport Harbor with off-duty sheriff’s deputies for a day of angling, sun and soda pop.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Andres, who had never been on a fishing boat but by the end of the day was manning one. “I could stay out all night.”

The first-time event, coordinated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Santa Ana school officials, enabled boys and girls from a gang-infested neighborhood to share relaxing moments with the deputies.

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After arriving at the Boy Scouts Sea Base, each student was outfitted with a new fishing pole, tackle box and life jacket. Deputies then took the excited youngsters out on boats and taught them to bait a hook and cast the line.

“Most have never been on a boat before,” Sheriff’s Lt. David Milewski said. “And it is unbelievable to them that they are actually going fishing with the police.

“But if we can prevent one kid from joining a gang, then this whole thing is worth it.”

Twenty-five boats, each manned by two students and two sheriff’s personnel, filled the harbor for a three-hour tour. Although waters were clear and calm--not the best fishing conditions--almost everybody came back to land talking like ancient mariners.

“I caught a big fish,” Gustavo Bravo, 10, said of the foot-long bass he reeled in near the mouth of the harbor. “He put up a big fight for 10 minutes. . . . He was swimming back and forth; I liked it a lot.”

Likewise, Jaime Orendain, 10, also came back with tall fish stories to tell.

“I caught a 15-inch halibut,” he said. “He had two eyes on one side of his head and looked like a leaf.”

That was not all.

Jaime yanked a fish out of the water so fast that it sailed over the boat and back into the water. He said he also managed to nearly fall out of the boat twice.

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Despite the minor mishaps, Jaime said he thinks he might have a career in fishing.

“I want to go again next week,” he said. “It was fun.”

Capt. Harry Gage, who helped organize the day, said he hopes it will become an annual event.

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