SANDY POINT STATE PARK, MD. -- They weren't talking about the fish that got away. For many of the 900 children and teenagers at this park near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Sunday, showing off the first fish they ever caught was enough of a fish story.

Creating enthusiasm for recreational fishing and preserving the Chesapeake Bay, as well as showing alternatives to getting high on drugs, were the goals of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in hosting the first Governor's Cup Fishing Tournament, held at 11 sites along the bay.

Judging by the hundreds of families, scout troops and community groups dropping their lines off marina docks, the tournament was a success, said John Foster, a recreational fisheries coordinator with the Maryland Fisheries Division.

"As of last week we were expecting 250 kids or so. Look at all the people lining the docks and rocks, and the beach is packed," Foster said Sunday. "We weren't prepared for this many people, but we distributed 750 rods and reels and bags {filled with instructional material, coloring books and a "Party on the Bay" T-shirt} without too many problems."

Thirty-six hundred children participated around the bay in the noncompetitive tournament, which was followed by a picnic. The other fishing sites were Rock Hall, Kent Island, Deale, Chesapeake Beach, Choptank River, Tilghman Island, Solomons Island, Hoopers Island, Point Lookout and Crisfield.

"We worked with the Governor's Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention using the theme, 'Get Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs,' " Foster said. "It started out as a fishing promotion to create an awareness of the bay. We also want to help the kids to know that drugs are not the right road . . . that there are wholesome, fun activities they can get involved in."

Catrina Heath, 10, of Baltimore, was excited all week about going with her scout troop on her first fishing trip. "I had never been {fishing} before, so last night I asked my mother to please set the alarm for 5:30. That came real quick and when my mother called me I jumped right out of bed and into the shower and got dressed and asked her to please bring me to my troop leader Miss Emma's house right away so we could go. I was wearing a dress, so when I got there Miss Emma told me to go home and put some pants on."

Catrina proudly opened her bag to reveal several spot fish she caught and crinkled her nose while explaining how she put the slimy worms on her hook for bait. "A crab ate my bait. Somebody else got the crab but gave me my bait back," she said.

Jack Richardson was one of dozens of boat owners who volunteered to take a group of young anglers on short excursions on his charter boat Girlie to fish in deeper waters. John Bridges, who owns the charter boat J-B and works with Richardson, helped explain the varieties of fish found in the bay and what they eat, and pointed out a large school of shiners swimming past the boat. He and Richardson demonstrated fishing techniques, baited hooks with bloodworms and unhooked the two dozen spot fish his guests caught.

"We were asked to do this and thought it would be a good thing to do. This is for the young people, is there a better reason? Look at the turnout, you can see it's successful," Richardson said.

"Look at these kids and how they are enjoying it," Bridges said. "It is so important to us that kids appreciate {the bay}, in order to preserve it. It's {the cleanup} come a long way and it has a long way to go, but it has so much to offer."

Devin DeVall, 4, was with his friends Brian and Richard Galloway on the boat. Although it was his first time out, the Severna Park boy quickly hooked two fish before tiring. Brian, 9, started off slowly but was able to catch up with his brother and together they caught almost a dozen.

When the boat was back at the dock, Devin perked up and quickly announced, "I got two fish . . . . I want to come again."

Royal and Darlene Thompson brought Girl Scout Troop 853 from Baltimore, about 40 girls, to Sandy Point. "It is very important for the youth to know that drugs are killing them, they are a lost generation," Royal Thompson said. "Activities like this help keep their minds occupied.

"The important thing is that they not be bored," he added. "When there is not enough to do they get involved in the wrong things. To know that there are free activities will help pull them" away from drugs.

"I like fishing and I'd like to come again," Catrina said. "Even when I wasn't catching anything I was laughing because it was a lot of fun."