Hundreds of children gathered at Milford’s duck ponds Saturday for an annual trout derby, and thanks to a promise by the Devon Rotary Club, the 45-year-long tradition can continue well into the future.

The Milford Striped Bass Club announced last year that it was having trouble funding the children’s trout derby and might have to stop the event.

Club members persevered and enough donations came in to keep the derby alive last year and this year. But they weren’t out of the water yet: Future events were still in jeopardy.

Not so anymore.

The Devon Rotary Club has promised to fund the event for years to come.

Vinny Lambiase, owner of Beachwood Florist in Milford and treasurer of the Devon Rotary, said three club members came to a meeting after reading about the trout derby struggles and suggested the club come to the rescue.

Coming to the rescue means pledging at least $6,000 a year, which Lambiase said the club is committed to doing.

According to Bill Blotney, president of the Milford Striped Bass Club, the derby costs about $6,000. The money pays for trout to stock the Milford ponds, trophies, portable bathrooms, and other expenses.

“That’s what the cost is now, and you never know if that’s going to increase,” Blotney said.

He pointed to the North Street duck pond, where scores of children were fishing Saturday morning, and said he’d also like to see the pond dredged at some point to make the fishing better here.

The Devon Rotary Club has also pledged to pick up the tab for that if it happens.

“This takes the pressure off the Striped Bass Club so they can focus on running their trout derby,” Lambiase said.

The Devon Rotary gets its money from fund-raisers and sponsors, the Milford Bank being its largest backer. Funds are directed back into the community for civic programs.

Blotney said he heard that the Devon Rotary was interested in funding the annual derby by word of mouth. With several members in both the Devon Rotary Club and the Striped Bass Club, it wasn’t long before Blotney was told to call Lambiase for some good news.

Lambiase later came to a Striped Bass Club meeting to make the announcement, and the club was thrilled with the news.

“I envisioned for years a group or business getting involved with the derby,” Blotney said.

Derby-goer Joe Coury, 14, said he thinks it’s great that the event will continue into the future.

“This is a fun event because every kid gets a chance to fish,” Joe said as he prepared to cast a line into the water. “There aren’t many places like this to fish.”

Another event-goer was also very pleased that the derby will continue: Bob Mahoney, who started the derby 45 years ago with local businessman Pete Hebert.

Mahoney said he grew up in Milford, and one day many years ago he was driving by the pond and thought it was a shame that no one was fishing there. So he went to Pete Hebert at Hebert Jewelers and they each agreed to put up $50 to stock the pond and organize the fishing day for children.

With 120 fish released into the Milford waters, the two men expected a couple of dozen kids that first year. The Milford Citizen had run a small announcement about it — nothing huge, Mahoney said.

Still, 300 children showed up, and that was the start of it all.

Mahoney doesn’t live in Milford anymore, but he drives 275 miles each year to sit on the sidelines at the duck pond and watch the children fish. The only time he didn’t show up was when he was in the Army.

He is happy the tradition will not end.

“I hope it never ends,” he said.