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By Ed Zieralski
September 26, 2004

Kids fished free.


Adults didn't need state licenses because it was National Hunting and Fishing Day.

The result was Lake Cuyamaca drew its biggest crowd yesterday since the Cedar fire burned the surrounding state park last October. And at Lake Murray, the area's only organized event for National Hunting and Fishing Day attracted a smaller but just as active crowd.

"This is the biggest crowd I've seen in the Cuyamacas since the fire," said Evan Edwards, a Cuyamaca resident who checked in his kids – twins Harry and Hope, 9, and Julian, 2 – at the fishing derby registration.

Despite a nearly year-long promotion that the lake and its facilities weren't burned in last year's wildfires, lake officials were amazed by some of the comments from yesterday's visitors.

"I had people say they didn't come up because they thought we burned to the ground," ranger Earl Voogd said.

Former sport boat captain Billy Stephens of Point Loma brought his daughter, Sophia, 9; son, L.B., 12; and friend Emmet Bartlett, 10.

"I thought it would be all charcoal black up here, but it's amazing how well it looks right now," Stephens said.

By 8 a.m., rangers Arlene Vargo and Rose Gess had sold 168 adult fishing permits. The more than 350 youngsters registered grabbed goody bags loaded with such items as Shimano reels and lures. Zachery Peterson took the grand prize with a 2.90-pound trout.

"We fed over 800 hot dogs, 225 pounds of albacore and gave away a lot of prizes," supervising ranger Willard Lepley said. "For every kid we get, maybe that's one more returning fisherman."

Blake Jackson, 5, of Murrieta fooled one of the trout with rainbow glitter Power Bait scented with night crawler Smelly Jelly. He fished from the fishing float with his father, Elias, and sister, Alexis, 9.

At Lake Murray, Sean Crisman, 4, fishing with his father, Robert, caught his first fish, a bluegill. And Kraig Fahrer won the Wal-Mart "I Caught A Fish" contest with a 15-inch largemouth bass and earned a $500 Wal-Mart shopping spree. Steve Barnett won a $250 gift certificate for second. And Ely Klemm won a $100 gift certificate for third.

In the Bassmaster Casting Kids Contest, Christopher Sodergren, 13, Santee, took the 11-14 age bracket. Kathleen Croke, 9, El Cajon, won the 7-10 age division.

Allen Wetter of the Ramona Bass Anglers said Ai Nguyen of Aim Marine rescued the day by providing 100 rods and reels for the event.

In addition to the San Diego Council of Bass Clubs and the San Diego Fly Fishers, several of the area's more dedicated hunting organizations had demonstration and information booths to celebrate America's traditions of hunting and fishing. Falconer Tom Stephan of Ramona showed off his peregrine falcon and European eagle owl.

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