First time angler Kiara Martinez, 8, came out to the lake at Alondra Park in Lawndale to catch fish. The problem was that she was scared to touch the wormy bait made of marshmallows, mealworms and mackerel. It smelled bad and the fish would be slimy, she was sure. But like many of the 150 other youngsters who joined her for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools field trip, Kiara found it was actually fun.
Within an hour she caught her first fish, hollering and jumping to let everyone know.
“I caught a fish! I caught a fish!” she said as her father, Fernando Martinez looked on with pride, unhooked the fish and slipped it into a baggie with ice. “My lesson for those who haven’t caught a fish yet-just be patient,” said Kiara, with a smile.
The day of fishing offered Freedom School scholars ages 5 to 14, from the Carson and Lynwood sites, a day long summer eco-educational program. The event, called Fishing in the City, was co-sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Los Angeles County. It is an annual event that began nearly 20 years ago and has brought the pastime to thousands of children who might never have the opportunity to camp in the mountains near a secluded lake. On a bright and sunny day in July, the lake at Alondra Park was fully stocked with catfish, thanks to a donation from the L.A. County Fish and Game Commission.
In groups of 20, the young scholars simultaneously went to each of the five informational stations hosted by a Fish and Game representative set- up around the park. At the stations, scholars learned how to bait a hook, the ethics of fishing, the proper way to handle a fish and how to insert the fishing line into the lake. After visiting the fifth station, the kids were given a fishing rod to borrow, bait in mouthwash size cups and directed to their spot around the lake to take aim to nab a fish. It was a learning experience for the kids and adults alike.
Michelle Woods, 32, of Compton accompanied her 8-year-old son Jalen. “I hope that Jalen exercises patience today,” said Woods. “I hope that he learns that after waiting for a fish, he can apply that same practice of patience to his younger siblings or when learning a new concept.”
Some were eager to catch a fish but were not excited about hooking the bait.
“I don’t want mine with worms on it,” said first time angler Taylor Gonzalez. “I hate worms,” the 7-year old continued. “They look nasty.”
“It’s going to make my hand smell disgusting,” Zaria Jefferson, 7, chimed in. “I want to catch five fish but I’m not going to touch the bait.”
The California Department of Fish and Game has found that by getting residents involved in fishing, they begin to care more about pollution in lakes and streams and so part of the lesson that day will include a talk about urban runoff and how untreated toxins enter lakes and streams through storm drains.
“We want to make sure that people don’t take more than they need because that will lead to depletion,” said Brian Young, the department’s Fishing in the City coordinator for Southern California. “We are getting kids away from the myriad of distractions indoors. We want to bring kids outside so they have that experience. The parents often catch the bug like the kids do and so it becomes a family event.”
Even though she didn’t want to touch the fish, Serenity Carmouche, 8, of Helen Keller Freedom School, caught two. The 8-year-old can’t wait to share her big catch with her parents.
“They are nasty, they smell, and they are gooey,” said Serenity. “But, I’m going to eat them for dinner.“