Colton Conrad has a shelf above the television in his bedroom on which he proudly displays his trophies. On the bottom shelf it's soccer and bowling trophies; on the top shelf, fishing trophies.
The 16-year-old has been fishing since he was a toddler using a Fisher-Price pole to catch catfish with his father and grandfather. Colton has attended the Anclote Kid's Fishing Tournament for several years now and this is his last year. The angling competition is only open to people 16 and younger.
"He looks forward to this every year," said Colton's mother, Catherine Conrad. "We mark it on the calendar and Google it about four times a year to make sure we don't miss it."
"It's really fun and challenging," Colton said. The shy Fivay High School sophomore quietly accepted a trophy for landing the most fish — he caught more than 40 — and walked back to his mom with a smile on his face. It was one more trophy to add to his collection and a great way to end his kid's fishing tournament career.
Nearly 100 youngsters, with the support of parents and grandparents, gathered on the Anclote Gulf Park Pier on Feb. 23. The tournament was presented by Pasco County Parks and Recreation and sponsored by VFW Post 10167 and several local businesses.
Youngsters from 5 to 16 had their own fishing gear, from tiny, pink, Barbie fishing rods to professional poles used weekly on family fishing trips. Parks and Rec provided most of the bait, all of which was donated by local bait shops.
Jordan Willis, 7, in a Tinkerbell shirt and camouflage hat, watched as her dad, Rick Willis, baited the hook for her so she wouldn't have to worry about pricking a finger on its sharp point. With a soothing, patient voice, he helped her cast a line into the murky water, ignoring the shouts of frustration from other parents.
The father-daughter duo tries to fish at least monthly, Willis said. This is their first time at the kid's fishing tournament. Jordan smiled at her dad, then went back to concentrating on the tugs on her line.
Austin Mackinson, 5, was thrilled to be fishing and would excitingly tell anyone who asked about it.
"This is my first fishing tournament," Austin said. "We already caught two. One was 7 ¼ and the other was 8. It was a pinfish and snapper."
The kid knows his fish, said his dad, Jason Mackinson. He fishes often in the pond behind his grandparent's house.
The tournament went from 10 a.m. to noon, when the families were called to the picnic area for beverages and hotdogs cooked and served by the VFW while the judges tallied up the winners.
Trophies were given away in two categories: "Most Fish" and "Longest Fish." First-, second- and third-place trophies were given away in each category to three different age groups: 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16.
They used to do a "Largest Weight" trophy, but weighing fish on the pier turned out to be both a hassle for the judges and a danger to the fish.
"This is a catch and release tournament," said park site supervisor Eric Pavlica. "It's more dangerous to the fish because by the time you finish weighing them, they're dead."
Everyone who registered for the tournament was entered into a drawing for 13 fishing poles, T-shirts, bait, tackle, snorkels, masks and more. The event was free for families.
"It's nice to have a family outing that doesn't cost anything," said park leader Don Keesler.
All of the department's events are free to families and largely funded by donations and sponsors.