Saturday was no ordinary Huck Finn Day, nor was it the usual Cops and Kids Fishing Day.
But, combined into one event for the first time, the free fishing programs drew more than 100 children and their families to Loudy-Simpson Park.
“Our focus is to show the kids a good time,” said Mark Wick, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 commander. “The long and short of it is that we can combine efforts and put on a good program for the kids.”
The VFW and the Ladies Auxiliary teamed up with local law enforcement agencies and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to host the 57th annual Huck Finn event alongside Cops and Kids Fishing Day.
The day coincided with Colorado’s annual free fishing day, allowing children and parents alike to cast away without a license.
The DOW provided fishing poles, bait and safety instruction.
Event chairman and VFW member Don Offut said he normally likes to fish by himself. But Saturday, he was there to watch children bubble over with excitement for being outdoors.
“I just like watching the kids have fun,” he said. “I think that’s what makes it. Some of the kids get so wrapped up in it and really go all out.”
Keeping with the day’s themes, some young boys came dressed in overalls and straw hats, with wooden fishing poles and bait cans hanging from their belts, emulating Huck Finn, the famed Mark Twain character.
A few girls were dressed as Finn’s friend, Becky Thatcher, in cotton dresses, bonnets and aprons.
Pinned to many children’s costumes were “Junior Sheriff’s Deputy” badges they had gotten from uniformed officers on hand.
But, costumed or not, the children had one focus: catching fish.
Mike Anthony was off duty Saturday from his position with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, and although he wasn’t there as a uniformed deputy, he brought his grandchildren down to the park.
One of his grandsons, 11-year-old Zach Soron, caught one of the first blue gills of the morning, but threw it back because it was too small.
“No one else ever takes me fishing,” Zach said. “Only grandpa does.”
Zach said one year he caught a 17-inch fish.
“It’s great,” Anthony said of the free event. “It’s great exposure for the kids, and it’s a good time. We don’t get to go fishing near enough.”
Ten-year-old Trenton Hillewaert caught a small trout and brought it to DOW officers to have it measured.
The DOW also cleaned and gutted the fish so families could take them home to eat.
Hillewaert said his favorite part of fishing wasn’t necessarily catching the fish.
“I like the worms,” he said. “I like to play with them.”
Wick said this year’s event offered more prizes than past years for the costume and biggest fish contests.
He said combining Huck Finn and Cops and Kids eased the pressure on local businesses to donate prizes during a difficult economy.
Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said the event also helped take pressure off the Little Rascals Pond, where the Cops and Kids Day is traditionally hosted.
Last year, the DOW had to remove fish from the pond because of mercury levels, and Jantz said the children might not catch as many fish there.
Still, Jantz called the day a success.
“It went really well,” he said. “I’m really pleased we can share in the prizes, and combining efforts has been really nice.”