Howard Carr's advice on how to keep kids out of trouble: Put a fishing pole in their hands.
"You get a kid hooked on fishing, and he'll just never give it up," says the 84-year-old Torrance resident and veteran angler.
Come Saturday, Carr will gather his fishing gear and, for the 16th year in a row, head to Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach where he and city recreation leaders will conduct a fishing clinic and contest for youngsters. Last year, nearly 150 children turned out to try their luck at hooking a fish at the park's acre-sized pond.
This is the first fishing derby at the pond since a $426,000 project aimed at improving its water quality was completed about five months ago. The pond was drained and a liner composed of soil and concrete was installed along with aeration and filtration systems.
And it is the first derby since the public flap that ensued after 83 ducks and geese that called the pond home were removed to make way for the project. The birds were killed after the city's Adopt-A-Duck program drew only one taker. Council members later decided not to replace the domestic ducks because their excretions posed a pollution problem.
As for the fish that lived at the pond, some minnows were rescued by local Girl Scouts and put back into the pond once the renovation work was completed. Other not-so-lucky fish wound up as fertilizer for the park.
The city has since restocked the pond with about 200 pounds of bluegill and catfish.
The Saturday affair is sponsored by the nonprofit American Youth Fishing Program, which Carr helped establish 18 years ago. Carr, who now serves as the program's executive director, said that over the years, contests have been held at numerous parks throughout the Los Angeles area. A contest held in Ventura County a few years ago drew more than 500 participants, he said.
For Carr, who began fishing as a child when his uncle handed him a pole with a string tied to it, the contests are a labor of love. Carr said he sees the contests as a way of taking "a kid off the street and teaching him something he'll never forget."
"It's a wonderful experience to get these kids out and let them catch fish," Carr said.
"I've got kids that are married now and bringing their kids" to Polliwog, he said.
City officials said fishing is not normally allowed at the pond. However, the one-day contest gives some youngsters an opportunity they might not otherwise get.
"Everybody gets a free lesson, and hopefully everybody is going to be having a lot of fun," said Idris Al-Oboudi, a city recreation supervisor. "We hope this will turn on kids to a new recreational skill . . . that would bring them in touch with nature."
City playground leaders will supervise the activities. Veterans such as Carr will demonstrate to the children how to make lures and tie knots, and how to cast. Prizes will be awarded to those youngsters who catch the most fish or the biggest fish, as well as to those who can cast the farthest with the most accuracy.
Although some fishing equipment will be available, participants should bring their own fishing gear, city officials said. They should also bring a sack lunch.
As for the unwilling participants--the fish--they have nothing to worry about. The rules require that they be released.