Matthew Hostetler, 8, from Oka Elementary School, kisses a catfish he caught with the help of Dav Carpenter during the Ol' Fishin' Hole Fishing Derby at the lake at Carr Park on Friday. Almost 200 students with special needs from local school districts (pre K-8) participate in the day of fishing. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / May 7, 2014)

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At the rate he was going, Ryan Zeppenfeldt was going to need a bigger boat, or at least a bigger bag, to carry all the fish he was catching.

He and about 180 physically and mentally disabled children from Huntington Beach and neighboring cities participated in the city's annual Ol' Fishin' Hole fishing derby at the lake in Carr Park on Friday. Each child tried to nab the biggest catfish of the day.

Having never fished before, Ryan, 12, appeared to have an unnatural amount of luck, reeling in five catfish and a turtle within two hours. He had even landed the heaviest fish of the day, weighing 4.4 pounds.

"I don't know, I guess it's just probably in me," he said.

The Kiwanis Club of Huntington Beach and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sponsor the event each year to benefit the children, said Chris Slama, recreation supervisor for Huntington Beach.

Kiwanis and the Huntington Beach Fishing Club asked volunteers to assist the students as they fished.

"It's just gives you a great feeling at the end of the day when you help these kids, especially the ones that catch fish," said club member Bob Walker. "It's really quite a pleasure and quite gratifying to help these kids."

State officials brought fishing rods and bait for each child, and stocked Carr Park with about 500 pounds of catfish the night before.

"They spread the fish around real nicely, so hopefully we'll get a lot of bites today," Slama said.

The south side of the lake happened to be the best spot of the day as Ryan and the rest of his classmates from Sun View Elementary kept reeling in the fish.

Eruptions of joy and laughter broke out as the children netted their catches and carried the fish to the weighing station. Students had the option of keeping the fish they caught or releasing them back into the lake.

After the catching frenzy, however, came hourlong lulls where no one was getting bites. The students soon learned the secret to fishing: patience.

"It kind of brings in all the values that we teach," said Jamie Sifuentes, a special education teacher at Sun View. "We talk a lot about perseverance and fishing is about patience, so the kids get really into it."