Once every year, the lake at the center of Cerritos Regional Park is stocked with catfish, drawing droves of kids to compete for the biggest catch during the annual Cerritos Kids Fishing Derby.
The free event always draws a huge crowd, and this year was no different. Early last Saturday morning, the lake was surrounded by dozens of eager children dressed in green commemorative t-shirts given to all derby participants.
It all began at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast put together by the Cerritos Rod and Gun Club. Volunteers manned huge griddles where they cooked up steaming piles of pancakes, sausages, and eggs. Though the pancake breakfast was open to all families, the fishing contest was restricted to kids between the ages of 5 and 15.
“I've been here before but they haven't,” said Jerry Sanchez of his son and daughter who came from Los Angeles for the event. “It's good, they gave the kids shirts and gave them breakfast, actually that was great. Cerritos always puts on good events.”
At 8 a.m. the Los Angeles County Supervisor and sponsor of the event, Don Knabe, launched the start of the three-hour derby, which commenced with trophies being handed out to the three kids who caught the largest fish in each of four age categories, and one for whoever caught the largest fish overall.
As soon as the siren sounded, the kids began fishing with a furious frenzy. Within the first few minutes, dozens of fish could be seen getting reeled in all over the lake.
"Did I get on the board?," echoed the question of numerous children after they waited anxiously to get their fish weighed by the judges. As the day wore on, the leader board was constantly changing, prompting a regular throng of fascinated kids checking to see if their name had been knocked off or to see the scores they had to beat.
Along with the Rod and Gun Club, there were also many employees and volunteers from the California Department of Fish and Game. The DFG brought a large number of fishing poles for kids to use if they didn't have their own. However, before they could get their poles, the kids had to visit three booths where they learned the basics of fishing.
“I teach them biology,” said Aaron Prochazka, a DFG employee “I just go over the life cycle, the anatomy, their fins, and how they breath. There's an ethics booth, which is pretty much what to do, what not to do, be courteous, all that good stuff. Then there's casting, where they practice with the reels and rods we rent out. But instead of a sinker, they have corks. I got hit in the head once, learned the hard way.”
Supervisor Knabe expressed his appreciation for the Fish and Game volunteers who donate their services to help the kids, many of whom include foster kids and children from the inner city.
"These guys are really patient with the kids, it's amazing," Knabe said. "For many of the kids, it's the first time they ever had a pole in their hands.”
With the hundreds of kids fishing around the lake, there were almost as many parents helping them. Some families came in large groups, like the Vongs, who had thirteen kids fishing at the lake and altogether, caught between 40 and 50 catfish.
"I don't know how many we caught, I stopped counting," said Steve Lou who came to fish with the Vongs.
The judging station where the fish were weighed was always bustling with eager children hoping to make it onto the leader board. Though some kids were a bit squeamish around the fish, others held up their catch proudly with beaming smiles.
“I caught four,” said 8-year-old Jared Mora, “The biggest was 1 lb. 4 oz. , but we're gonna get some more.”
Krystal Hoang, 8, was another participant proud of her first catch, “I'm not afraid to hold it,” said Krystal as she showed off her 2 lb. catfish.
Not long after Krystal weighed her catfish, she returned with her father carrying a massive carp. A large group of curious kids and parents followed them to the weighing station. Though the volunteers had some trouble weighing the colossal fish, it finally came in at 14 lbs., far and away the largest catch of the day.
"My dad helped me catch it," Krystal proudly announced with a smile.
At 11 a.m., the competition ended and the awards were given out on stage by Supervisor Knabe. Each of the winners received a trophy, with the largest going to Krystal Hoang for her impressive catch.
“This might be a record breaker,” Knabe said as he handed her the award.
Though the derby was over, many people continued fishing, and others began cooking the fish they caught on the park's barbecues.
People of all ages are welcomed to try their hand at catching any of the remaining catfish in the lake at Cerritos Regional Park, which is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the week.