OCEAN CITY - Chris Sardy, 8, picked up a surf rod that was nearly twice as big as he was and wound up like a major-league pitcher to cast.
The boy twisted his whole body in a knot and hurled the heavy sinker and baited hook in a graceful arc that landed about 40 yards out into the water off Ocean City's north end beach.
Chris has been fishing with his grandfather since he was 5, but he really likes fishing in the surf, his father, Matt, of Ocean City, said.
"He enjoys it. He probably fishes three times a week off the beach," he said. "Whenever we'd see people surf fishing, he'd run up and ask them questions. He's pretty good."
Chris was one of 110 boys and girls who participated Saturday in the Ocean City Fishing Club's annual surf fishing tournament for children. It's the 38th year the club has sponsored the tournament, with prizes awarded for the biggest and most fish.
Children caught kingfish, spot and dogfish on Saturday, club spokesman George Ingram said.
Ingram said surf fishing is a popular activity in South Jersey because people can do it year round and practically any time of day or night, depending on the tides.
The tournament gives the club a chance to teach children the finer points of this specialized fishing, which is trickier in many ways than fishing off a boat or from a pier.
"I do it for the aesthetics, not to have food on the table," he said. "Most of the time you do it because you like the sun and sea air."
But the promise of landing a lunker helps. Ingram caught a 42-inch striper off Corsons Inlet last fall.
Marshall Corbin, of Williamsport, Pa., prepared bait for his sons, Hunter, 13, and Chase, 11.
The family spends a lot of time fishing with lighter tackle in lakes and rivers. The biggest adjustment to fishing in the surf is casting, Corbin said.
It takes much more effort to hurl light tackle into the middle of a pond. With surf fishing, the enormous rod does most of the work, he said.
"It takes a lot of practice. If you cast it too fast, the bait goes flying off the hook," he said. "It's a gliding motion. You watch the old-timers and it doesn't look like they're putting any effort into it at all. That comes with lots of experience."
His boys have caught sharks and stingrays off North Carolina's beaches.
"This year, I caught a 6-foot shark off a surf rod," Hunter Corbin said.
Jim Mancini, of Medford, said he loves to fish and often took his daughter, Isabella, 12, with him.
"You don't want to force your hobby on her, but you'd love her to take an interest," he said. "And now she's the one suggesting we go fishing. That's gratifying."
Gayle Cogan, of Linwood, taught her 8-year-old daughter, Cindy, how to cast a surf rod for the first time Saturday. The fish were being a little elusive, but her daughter remained enthusiastic.
"I like it when I almost catch a fish," Cindy said.
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