Trees around Belmont Lake were barren from the harsh winter, but the waters early Saturday teemed with thousands of trout ready to be caught at this year's state Family Fishing Festival in West Babylon.
More than 100 people had rods cast within minutes of the 10 a.m. start at Belmont Lake State Park in hopes of catching one of the 4,000 brown, rainbow and brook trout recently stocked in the water by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
"Make sure everybody is always out of your way!" volunteer Thomas O'Keefe yelled to Daniel Casal of Plainview as he drew back his fishing rod.
Daniel, 10, who wanted to fish to celebrate his birthday Monday, watched as the line flew into the air and buoyed atop the choppy, wind-tossed waters. O'Keefe reminded him to be patient as he stood waiting for his first catch. "Just let that sit there, don't move nothing," he said. "Just enjoy yourself."
O'Keefe, 55, of Lindenhurst, one of dozens of volunteers from local fish clubs, is a member of the Memorare Council 3476 Knights of Columbus in Seaford, and said he's been fishing since age 8. Beyond fish population control, fishing unifies families, O'Keefe said.
"The biggest reason is just to keep the kids out of the streets. If they're on a fishing trip, they're not getting into trouble," O'Keefe said. "Instead of being on their phones texting, this is just something to bring them back to old school. You see the excitement and smiles on their faces here."
Four-hundred fishing rods were on loan at the fest, along with corn, night crawlers and artificial bait. About 6,000 people were expected to attend through the end at 4 p.m., a higher number than usual due to the sunny weather, coordinators said.
No fishing licenses were required and each fisher was allowed to catch and take home three fish. The farmed fish were trucked to Long Island from upstate fish farms. Twenty Long Island lakes have also been stocked by the DEC.
The free event, more than 20 years running at Belmont Lake, is sponsored by the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, along with many other similar events throughout the state in an effort to promote fishing, coordinators said.