Dwyer Middle School seventh-grader Michael Wells casts a line out on the north side of Huntington Beach Pier. Fishing clubs from Dwyer and Sowers Middle School competed to see who could catch the biggest fish. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / February 26, 2014)

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Though they live in the digital age of instant gratification where quicker is better, students from Sowers and Dwyer middle schools took two hours out of their day last week to slow things down.

Instead of having their eyes fixed on a smartphone, tablet or computer screen, the Huntington Beach pre-teens each had a fishing pole in hand as they participated in the first Fishing Derby competition between the two schools.

"Because we're cross-town rivals, we compete in all kinds of competitions," said Stacy Wood, a physical-education teacher and fishing club advisor at Dwyer. "Now we're competing on how many fish we can catch."

Each of the schools has a fishing club that consists of about 30 members. Dwyer's club goes fishing once a week at the beach while Sowers students meet once a month to fish at the Santa Ana River Jetties. Any fish that the students catch are released back into the water.

Ravi Sohoni, Wood's counterpart at Sowers, said he didn't have a strategy for the event but just wanted his students to have a good time.

"This is one of the greatest things for the kids to do," he said. "You get them out here in the sunshine and doing something active."

About 25 students from each school fished from a stretch of beach about 100 yards long on the north side of the pier. A license to fish on the shoreline is not needed if the person is under 16 years old.

As soon as the contestants checked in with Wood, they baited their hooks, cast their lines in the Pacific Ocean and patiently waited.

The schools were competing in two categories: the longest fish caught and the team with the most fish at the end.

Varieties of perch were common in the ocean, Wood said, but sand and leopard sharks have been caught off the shore as well.

Typically it takes quite some time before a fisher gets a nibble on his or her line, but just eight minutes into the derby, 11-year-old Taylor Gates ran toward Wood screaming, "I got one!"

She had caught a 5-inch barred surfperch using an artificial sandworm as her bait.

"I didn't know I had a fish on my line. I thought it was tangled with my friend's hook," the Dwyer student said. "But when she reeled in her bait, I realized that I caught a fish."

Taylor said she had been fishing for about three years, having been introduced to the hobby by her uncle, an avid fisherman.

"I like the whole part where you wait and then get excited," she said. "And then you wait and you get more excited."

A few other students caught fish shortly after Taylor, but the screams of excitement were eventually traded in for intent stares at the ocean and silence. It would be like that for about an hour and a half.

Michael Wells, 13, was busy walking back and forth from the shore to his equipment about 20 yards up the beach.

Dressed in fishing waders, the Dwyer student tried various combinations of hooks, baits and weights in an effort to find the winning combination to land him a fish.

"I was using the red-and-green camo sandworms. They work good," Michael said. "I had a couple good hits with it, but now I'm going to try an artificial bloodworm."

Eventually Wood called the competition. Dwyer would take home the trophy for most fish caught, topping Sowers 5-3.

Sowers student Edward Leahy, 14, caught the longest fish at 5 3/4 inches and won a first-place trophy.

Edward, who has only been fishing for a couple of months, said he was patient with his lure and bobbed his fishing pole every so often to try and get the fish's attention.

"At some points I did get impatient, but I just kept trying," he said.