BERNARDS TWP., NJ - With 250 stocked trout of all sizes - and other fish left over from previous seasons - the kids who participate in Bernards Township's annual Fishing Derby at Southard Park never know what they might pull out of the park's pond.
"One year, someone brought up a catfish," said Sean O'Grady, assistant director of the township Parks & Recreation department. No one knew how that fish got there, he said at Saturday morning's derby. Sunfish, turtles and other aquatic creatures also live in the pond.
About 150 kids had showed up to try their luck with a pole, he said, as he measured the fish that children (some with parents' help) were catching.
The Fishing Derby, the final event of the parks department's Youth Week - timed to coincide with spring vacation in township schools - gives kids a pretty good shot of going home with something to show for their efforts. Along with providing the recently stocked trout, the parks department generously hands out prizes, with a special mention for those who catch the biggest fish.
As of shortly after 10 a.m., O'Grady said the biggest catch so far had been a 20.5-inch trout landed by a boy in the age 6 to 8 category. Winners were announced at 10:30 a.m., when the derby officially ended, although those with poles were able to stay afterward to keep fishing for the day.
O'Grady said that anyone who catches a fish has the choice of bringing it home to eat - or casting it back into the pond.
Soren, 8, and his sister Elsa, 5, Van Loo of Basking Ridge were still trying their luck in hooking a big (enough) one, but were enjoying themselves anyway, their mother said.
It was the Van Loo kids' first year taking part in the Fishing Derby, The Yu family, with Madison, 8, and Hudson, 11, were also first-timers this year.
Despite the sunny weather, O'Grady said the fish weren't really biting as much as many other years on this Saturday. Which means that they might live to grow for another season, perhaps.