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Huntington Beach fifth-graders enjoy ‘Fish With the Force’ event

Lt. Brian Smith jokes with Khloe Martinez a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School.
Lt. Brian Smith, second from left, jokes with Khloe Martinez, far left, a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School, after he helped her attach bait to her fishing line during Huntington Beach Police Department’s “Fish With The Force” event on Friday morning at Carr Park.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Fishing usually requires an extreme amount of patience.

Don’t tell that to Catherine Riebli.

The fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach had never held a rod in her hands before Friday morning. But Catherine and about 60 of her classmates got to participate in the annual Huntington Beach Police Department “Fish With the Force” event.

About five minutes into the session at Carr Park, Catherine felt a tug on her line. She had caught one of 400 rainbow trout planted in the lake by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It felt weird when I saw that there was a fish on the line, just seeing the eye poke out of the water,” she said with a laugh.

Event organizers hope that children like Catherine will feel comfortable around police officers. New Police Chief Eric Parra not only attended the event, but he prepared the fishing line for another young angler.

HBPD Chief Eric Parra, second from right, helps Natalie Beavers, far right, attach bait to her fishing line.
Police Chief Eric Parra, second from right, helps Natalie Beavers, far right, a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School, attach bait to her fishing line during Huntington Beach Police Department’s “Fish With the Force” event on Friday morning at Carr Park.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Lt. Brian Smith said the popular event, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, usually is larger and involves multiple schools. This year, the pandemic guided the decision not to bus in children from other schools; St. Bonaventure is right across the street from Carr Park.

“Many of our officers are outdoorsmen that enjoy and respect nature,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity for them to get out there and share their love for the outdoors, with kids that might not normally have this experience or exposure. To do this event right across from their school, it adds a whole another element to it. It makes it easier for them to connect with nature.”

Smith emphasized that the children see that police officers don’t just go around arresting people.

“There’s more to our jobs than that,” he said. “A lot of them have questions that they normally wouldn’t be able to ask, about what officers do.”

Natalie Beavers, a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School, casts her fishing line on Friday.
Natalie Beavers, a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School, casts her fishing line during Huntington Beach Police Department’s “Fish With the Force” event on Friday morning at Carr Park.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Friday’s event was a collaboration of several different organizations, including HBPD, the Huntington Beach Police Community Foundation and the Huntington Beach Fishing and Recreation Club. The Kiwanis Club of Huntington Beach was also on hand, cooking up lunch.

Before casting a line, the students visited different educational stations manned by Department of Fish and Wildlife volunteers, where they learned how to cast, how to handle fish, about the different types of bait and how to be an ethical angler.

Though many of the St. Bonaventure kids weren’t as fortunate as Catherine early on, they also seemed to be having a good time.

“They’re super-excited for the fishing,” St. Bonaventure fifth-grade teacher Kelsey Weston said. “It’s nice to build that community feel, have them exposed to the police officers in a fun, relaxing environment.”

The Huntington Beach Fishing and Recreation Club had several members lakeside, ready to help the kids prepare their lines or help them reel in a catch. Ray Heslop, the president of the club, said they were happy to help.

“Get the kids interested in fishing, and maybe they’ll stay with it,” Heslop said. “Most of these city kids have never had a fishing rod in their hands, so it’s good to teach them how to do that.”

John Ives, a volunteer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, gives a demonstration on how to handle a fish.
John Ives, center, a volunteer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, gives a demonstration on how to handle a fish to St. Bonaventure Catholic School fifth-graders.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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