Fish don't compete for blue ribbons at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show. Rather, fairgoers compete for them at the on-site, first-time fishing attraction, Lawton's Trout Farm.
At a spacious portable pool, anglers — mostly kids — are tossing lines among more than 300 schooling, seemingly voracious freshwater trout in the catch-and-release event.
Owner Jesse Lawton sometimes suggests where the kids should plunk their lures. His goal: a fish on every line. Participants are allotted five minutes or a catch, whichever comes first, for $3.
A determined Sarah Knighton, 11, of Odessa, last weekend flung a lure a second time. "One bit the bait but it got off the hook," she explained.
She knows the vagaries of a strike and catch. "I go fishing tens of times with him," she thumbed over her shoulder to her dad, Rossie Knighton.
Dad was letting Sarah do her own thing. A regular fisherman himself, he didn't want to give an unfair advantage to his daughter. Knighton said he learned the art from his late father, Woody Knighton, two-time winner of Florida's pro bass circuit.
Sarah increased her chances by wearing her grandfather's lucky fishing shirt.
Nearby, 9-year-old Chay Nott of Brooksville, a declared novice, pulled in his line, saying, "I think I need more bait."
Finally, a fish took a liking to the rubber worm.
"I caught one," he said, but it got away. "The fish shook himself off (the hook). I'm trying again."
He noted, "I hardly ever get to fish because we don't live near water." The Nott family lives off Emerson Road, south of Brooksville.
Lucky on her second cast — with help from her mother — 3 1/2-year-old Carlin VanderBurg of Chicago squealed and laughed in delight as she brought a trout from the water. While it briefly dangled in the air, Lawton hollered, "Bring it in! Bring it in."
Carlin, visiting grandparents in Brooksville, had scooped minnows in a hand net before, but had never wielded a fishing pole.
Lawton said his attraction, launched more than 50 years ago by his father, "is a promotion and entertainment for the fair."
He raises the trout on his fish farm in Valley Head, Ala. He chose the species for his portable attraction "because most places they're not native; they're a cold water fish." He pointed out a big water-chilling installation at the head of the pool.
For those who have sunnies, catfish, redfish, bass and other varieties in their repertoire, opportunity is rare for a Southerner to add a freshwater trout to the list.
While the inexperienced might imagine the trout are hungry, they are fed regularly. Curiosity comes more into play. "Just moving the bait makes them bite," Lawton said. He added, however, "It's just like stream fishing. Sometimes you catch one and sometimes you don't."
Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show
5 p.m.: Gates and midway open ($20 armbands/Midnight Madness)
6:30 p.m.: Swine Show
8 p.m.: Gypsy Star
9 a.m.: Gates open
10 a.m.: Steer show
1 p.m.: Midway opens ($22 armbands)
1 p.m.: Paso Fino show
2 to 4 p.m.: Buyers VIP area open
3 p.m.: All animals sale
4:30 p.m.: Buyers dinner
6 p.m.: Stephanie Renee
6 p.m.: Goat milking and cheesemaking demonstration
7 p.m.: 7 Bridges band
7:30 p.m.: Demolition derby
General information: Admission $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 4 to 12, free for ages 3 and younger. Parking $2. Hernando County Fairgrounds, 6436 Broad St., Brooksville. (352) 796-4552. hernandofairgrounds.com.