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Queens boy, 11, wins 2012 Bayside Snapper Derby

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Photo gallery

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Gregory Blazek Jr. holds his first-place trophy from the 12th annual Bayside Snapper Derby as he is joined by Bayside Anglers President Peter Pabon. Photo by Christina Santucci
2/18
Paul Lee, 11, pulls a snapper from the water around the Bayside Marina. Lee caught three fish during the annual Bayside Snapper Derby and several more after the contest had ended. Photo by Christina Santucci
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College Point resident Christian Chamberlain, 12, helps his mother Pam Harechmak remove a fish from her fishing hook at the Bayside Marina after Chamberlain competed with fellow youngsters during the Bayside Snapper Derby. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Brothers Ulysses (l.) and Thomas McDonald from Forest Hills participated in the annual contest. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Paul Lee's haul had to be held in a bucket. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Christian Chamberlain holds a fish that he caught. Photo by Christina Santucci
7/18
Seth Morris (r.) demonstrates how to bait a line to youngsters (l.-r.) Sean Hagen, Mickey Morris and Elizabeth Hagen. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Jason Maksimowicz helps Pam Harechmak retrieve a fish. Photo by Christina Santucci
9/18
Bayside resident Paul Lee, 11, has some help from his father Kwang Woo Lee. Photo by Christina Santucci
10/18
Jason (l.) and Steven Mushorn learn a few tricks from grandpa Keith WIlston. Photo by Christina Santucci
11/18
Bay Terrace resident Charlie Erdey took home second prize. Photo by Christina Santucci
12/18
Paul Lee digs out some bait from a bag. Photo by Christina Santucci
13/18
Christian Chamberlain holds a fish that he caught. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Sean Hagen, 6, acts as lookout for his father Brian. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A fish is proudly held up after it is caught. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A hook is removed from a fish's mouth. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Christian Chamberlain shows off a fish to Jordan Calderon. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Mickey Morris and Elizabeth Hagen decorate each other's shoes with fish. Photo by Christina Santucci

There was little space to spare along the substantial Bayside Marina pier Saturday, where more than 100 anxious children clutched fishing rods in hopes of winning a contest designed to both expose them to nature and dispel any lingering myths of pollution associated with the city’s waterways.

But as the 12th annual Bayside Snapper Derby drew to a close, one contender had clearly out-angled his competition: 11-year-old Gregory Blazek Jr., of Bayside, emerged victorious by reeling in five blue snapper fish.

“When I first woke up, I was really nervous,” said Gregory, a rookie at the tournament orchestrated by the Bayside Anglers Group. “But I just dove in. I winged it.”

His instincts paid off.

The soon-to-be-sixth-grader cited patience as a tool more important than anything out of his tackle box. But he also spouted off impressive technical know-how about bait selections based on the salinity of the water.

Gregory has had plenty of time to hone his craft. He goes fishing about once a week with his father, Gregory Blazek Sr., who grew up angling the Bayside waters himself.

The Anglers host the tournament in the hopes of passing on the tradition of fishing to the next generation. But the process is a multi-pronged effort beyond showing the kids how to cast the bait, according to President Peter Pabon.

It starts with convincing people that the waters are safe to use.

“As New Yorkers, we live on islands. We are surrounded by water, but everybody thinks it is polluted,” he said. “In fact, it’s cleaner that it has been in 100 years.”

A 2010 study from the city Department of Environmental Protection shows that while pollution levels are up slightly from a few years ago, water quality off the coast of northeast Queens is above minimum standards for fishing and swimming and has been for more than 10 years.

“In 2010, water quality continued to be superior for the Upper East River-Western Long Island Sound,” the study said.

The city has been keeping track of water quality since 1909, when the fetid waterways might have caused even the most adventurous Snapper Derby contestant to recoil.

Pollution is typically caused by the city’s antiquated sewer system, which combines sewage from homes and businesses with storm water that pours into the system when it rains.

If too much rainwater overburdens the system, a mixture of that and raw sewage is jettisoned into the city’s waterways to relieve the pressure, while polluting the waters.

But comprehensive efforts by the city to better manage storm water have resulted in shorelines that have slowly become cleaner.

Pabon and the Anglers also host a cleanup along the shoreline.

One man was overseeing youngsters pull fish after fish out of the water once the contest ended. He pointed to an undulating blue claw crab beneath the waves as evidence that the waters are clean.

“Ten years ago there were no crabs,” said Jason Maksimowicz. “They’re coming back.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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