City’s Newest Lure : DFG Appears to Have Accomplished Goal of Landing Inner-City Fishermen as 1,400 Show for Event to Showcase Echo Park Lake Near Downtown
The small tank truck with its strange cargo rumbled through downtown Los Angeles late last Friday night, arriving at Echo Park Lake shortly before midnight.
There it discharged 900 pounds of catfish into the historic pond, which has become the crown jewel of the California Department of Fish and Game’s urban fishing program.
The next day was the second of California’s two annual free fishing days, when no license is required. The DFG sent not only fish but a task force of 25 headed by fishery biologist John Sunada, who leads the department’s urban fishing program.
The program started last year, the idea being to give fishing opportunities and instruction to children and adults to whom the Eastern Sierra or Cabo San Lucas are faraway dreams.
“We’re hoping the people--the kids, primarily--will get hooked on fishing and continue on with the sport as they grow up and, when they are able to, venture out into the ocean or the Sierra to enjoy fishing,” Sunada said.
But nobody knew quite what to expect. Would it work? Would residents fish the inner city?
They would indeed. All doubts were put to rest at Echo Park last weekend. It wasn’t long after the first fish hit the water that the fishing rods started to materialize.
“We had people here at 3:30 this morning,” said DFG warden Mark Jeter, one of several authorities posted to guard the fish from overeager anglers.
“Most of these people were here when it was still dark,” said Tonya Barnes of the Los Angeles Police Department.
By sunup, they were lining the concrete sides of the 15-acre lake. By 8 a.m., when activity was supposed to start, hundreds were already fishing as many more stood in line to register. At the morning’s peak of activity, park personnel estimated, there were as many as 1,400 fishing, shoulder to shoulder.
“I thought we’d have maybe 700,” said Sunada, who had arranged for 250 loaner rods for those lacking gear. Those ran out at 9:30.
Sunada couldn’t even be sure how many showed up.
“We ran out of (registration) cards, and we had a thousand,” he said. “I’m very pleased.”
It proved what the DFG has always believed: If you stock it, they will come.
The Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department assisted the DFG, which set up booths on the grass next to the lake. Fishermen were required to have their registration cards stamped at each station to be eligible for a loaner rod and a raffle.
At the first station, Sharon Shiba of the DFG explained safety and angler ethics.
“Fishing can be fun, and you don’t want accidents to ruin your fun,” she said. “Be really careful when you’re casting so you don’t hook somebody. Ethics is consideration for other people and the environment.”
Next, Tracy Bishop showed how to remove a hook from a fish. Knot tying, casting, fish biology, equipment and regulations followed until the younger anglers were ready to burst.
“Patience,” counseled C.T. Little, an L.A. City employee who had volunteered to help. “Charlie, if you’re going to fish, you’ve got to learn to be patient,” Little told one boy.
Then, to a bystander: “So many young kids are impatient. Fishing teaches patience for other aspects of your life.”
Herman Williams brought 23 members, ages 6 to 12, of his William Nickerson Fishing Club from the Nickerson Recreation Center in Watts, all in bright green T-shirts.
“I try to spend time with the younger kids who don’t get a chance to go anywhere,” Williams said. “Once they catch that first fish, they’re all excited: ‘I want to go fishing! I want to go fishing!’ ”
A few feet away, Shacole Sparks, 9, had hooked the first fish of her life. The fish pulled. She pulled back. She couldn’t have been more excited with a marlin.
“Somebody out here got a net?” Williams yelled.
If the program produces sociological benefits, so much the better.
Williams said: “Later on down the road they’ll say, ‘Well, look, instead of just hanging out, we can go hang out where we can catch some fish.’ ”
Echo Park Lake was one of the city’s first reservoirs, dating to 1868 when it was known as Arroyo de Los Reyes. The park was built around it in 1907. Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson preached at her temple that still stands across the street.
The lake, rehabilitated in 1984 at a cost of $940,897, is fed by storm drains on Sunset Boulevard and an underwater spring. Two aeration lines run the length of the lake, which is distinguished by a tall triple fountain of spray from the center. Lotus plants were introduced in the 1920s and have flourished into the largest such growth in the country. Their bloom in July coincides with an annual Lotus Festival that draws tens of thousands.
Echo Park is under the jurisdiction of the LAPD’s Rampart Division--the toughest beat in the city--but locals say it’s a safe place to go, a relative pocket of tranquillity off the Hollywood Freeway on the fringe of downtown Los Angeles. The neighborhood appears clean, with a minimum of graffiti and other eyesores. Condos are being built on surrounding streets.
Jess Medina, senior supervisor of the park, said, “The biggest problem we have is soccer"--that is, impromptu games spilling over into family picnics.
The LAPD’s Barnes said: “There’s a lot of crime around here, but the people are very nice. I think it’s all right in the daytime, (although) you might not want to walk through at night.”
Resident Jose Quinones, 18, standing in line with his rod, said: “At night it’s safe, too. It’s a peaceful neighborhood.”
Perhaps the most prevalent crime is fishing without a license. Apparently, many are unaware that one is required for anyone 16 and older, even in the inner city. Or maybe they want to make sure it’s worth the $23.90 investment first.
But the park was hardly peaceful that day, what with the lectures, maintenance supervisor Bill Lopez’s frequent announcements on the public address system and the excitement of kids catching the first fish of their lives.
Besides catfish, the lake has largemouth bass, bluegill and carp, and trout are stocked in the winter when the weather cools. The fishermen can’t wait.
Lopez said: “When they put in a few fish to find out how the fish would respond, they found it was a good environment. The lake is well aerified. Now people have been calling to find out when the stocking takes place. We had calls from as far as Bakersfield and Santa Ana.”
Echo Park a fishing destination? Aren’t they concerned about the danger of coming to L.A.?
“We didn’t get any questions like that,” Lopez said. “They just wanted to come and have the opportunity to fish. It’s really nice to see not only just kids but parents with the kids . . . even grandparents.”
Said Ann Waisberger, an L.A. park ranger: “Some of our parks are worse than others. We do have heavy gang activity in a lot of them. We work in conjunction with LAPD and just do the best we can. We’re trying to have special programs to get the community kids involved in something that’s positive.”
It is too much to hope that urban fishing can displace gang activity. But, Lopez said, 1,400 proved at Echo Park last weekend that “it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Urban Lakes Stocked by DFG
Lake Location ECHO PARK Los Angeles SANTA FE DAM Irwindale PECK ROAD PARK El Monte ALONDRA PARK Torrance LEGG LAKE Whittier CENTENNIAL PARK Santa Ana TRI-CITY PARK Brea EVANS LAKE Riverside