The main attraction of Clintonville's Fourth of July celebration might be in the night sky, but before the sun sets, the focus of hundreds of children in attendance will be down below, in Whetstone Park's casting pond.

Each year, up to 300 children ages 15 and younger participate in the fishing derby as part of the annual Fourth of July festivities. This year's event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 4.

Duffy Horan is a former board member for the July Fourth event who now focuses his attention on the derby. He helps orchestrate the arrival of more than $1,000 worth of channel catfish and hybrid bluegill from Jones Fish Hatcheries & Distributors in Cincinnati.

"It's something that's near and dear to my heart," he said.

Horan and his team of volunteers use rods and lures from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and put their own money into trophies and hundreds of dollars in bait, setting up an easy scenario for both beginners and experts to try to catch (and release) the biggest fish.

The event has gone through several iterations since Horan's initial involvement in 2000, when he simply wanted to "do stuff to keep people in the park" amid holiday celebrations.

He said it originally was run like the Ohio State Fair's fishing area, with "loaner poles" from the ODNR and very limited equipment.

At one point, it became a "passport to fishing" program sponsored by the state, but "that just became too much," Horan said.

Now the event is "scaled back," but still popular. He said he expects about 300 youngsters to participate, and as many as 75 at once during the busiest times.

It's been going on long enough that Horan said he and his team see the same children for several years.

"It's really neat to watch a kid catch their first fish," he said. "Now they're 16 and 17 and coming back to volunteer a little throughout the day, so that's really nice."

For those not interested in fishing, the Clintonville celebration offers plenty of other pre-fireworks fun.

Festivities start at 7:15 a.m. with registration for the 4 on the 4th run/walk, beginning at Whetstone High School, 4405 Scenic Drive. After a kids dash at 7:45 a.m., the 4-mile race kicks off at 8 a.m.

At the same time as the race starts, events begin at Whetstone Park, 3923 N. High St., with a community breakfast that costs $10 for adults, $5 for children.

Parades at the park for pets and bikes kick off at 9:45 and 10 a.m., and the North Columbus Intramural League All-Star Game also begins at 10 a.m. in the park.

Concessions and music begin at 11 a.m. and last until 10 p.m.

This year's event is similar to celebrations in the past, which is just fine for Scott Smith, president of its board.

"We've built a great event with this," he said. "We've kind of kept the same thing because it includes everybody."

After the long day, the annual fireworks -- which leaders say stack up against most in central Ohio -- begin at 10 p.m.

"It's a big job," Smith said of the festivities, "but it's been fun, and it's a great day we've got planned."

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