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April 2009 cover image dorrado fish in the gulf

Neighborhood Fishin’

Your fave fishing hole is probably closer than you think.
By Larry D. Hodge

Drévon Mannis is the perfect target for the guy in baseball cap and sunglasses hanging out in the park: He’s young, impressionable and looking for a new thrill to try.

The approach is calculated. The goal is to get Drévon hooked for life. The first taste is free. After that the sky’s the limit.

And Drévon is willing. “I’m ready,” he says. “I was born ready.”

The guy in the baseball cap hands over the plastic baggie and the necessary gear. Drévon sprints off to show his cousin Jason D’Ambrosio what he’s scored.

Jason is a harder sell, but the influence of an adult does the trick. “Nothing’s going to bite you,” says Louis Bridges. “Hold the worm just like this. Now pinch and pull it apart. Put that piece on the hook. Watch your bobber. Tighten your line. Just a little bit more. There you go! Oh, he got off. You almost had one.”

“He got my worm,” says a crestfallen Jason.

Grandfather Louis gives him a hug. “You’re not that bad. You did a good job. The main thing is to have a good time.”

As we watch Drévon and Jason and a couple of dozen other kids around the pond in Hurst’s Chisholm Park, Bridges puts his finger on a problem that vexes not only the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department but natural resource managers around the country.

“All they know is television and video games,” he mourns. “No outdoor activity.”

TPWD’s Neighborhood Fishin’ Program seeks to reverse that trend. By stocking fish every two weeks into neighborhood lakes in many locations across the state and helping people learn to catch them, TPWD hopes to increase participation in fishing.

So far it seems to be working. “In 2006 some 30,000 individuals participated in the program,” says Bob Betsill, research program director at TPWD’s Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center near Ingram. “About half those were youths or ‘new users,’ about two-thirds lived within five miles of the lake they fished and about half fish only in lakes participating in the program.”

TPWD eventually plans to expand the program as funding allows and has already identified seven additional areas where Neighborhood Fishin’ lakes will be added. However, the line made famous by the movie Field of Dreams — “Build it and they will come” — isn’t always true when it comes to getting people involved in fishing. You can take fish to the water, but then you have to bring people to the fish. “We feel that effective marketing has the potential to double participation,” says Betsill.

That’s where Glenda Beasley comes in. Beasley is the marketing manager for TPWD, and she and other members of TPWD’s Communications and Inland Fisheries Divisions have been working to develop a brand identity and promote the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program at Chisholm Park.

“We sent letters to experienced anglers asking them to adopt a fishing buddy so people can see how easy it is to fish,” Beasley says. “We also did a direct postcard mailing to three different lifestyles within five miles of the park: families, seniors and young professionals. The postcards promoted events with free fishing lessons for beginners, and bait and tackle were also provided at these events.”

The postcards mailed to potential anglers around Chisholm Park were customized according to the recipient. Families with children received a postcard emphasizing family togetherness. The postcard for seniors stressed the social aspects of becoming a member of the community of anglers. For busy young professionals, the card promised the opportunity to “chill out on your lake.”

To make the offer even more attractive, those who signed up for either program also received a free license waiver good for a limited time. “Ultimately we hope they will buy a fishing license,” Beasley explains.

 One characteristic common to all the lakes, present and future, is the fact that fish are not free. Money from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic has enabled TPWD to expand the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program into San Antonio and add more sites in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas, but the biweekly stockings are also dependent on funds from cities where the lakes are located. Cities contribute $1,000 per acre per year for lakes of less than three surface acres and $700 per acre for larger lakes. 

“We estimate that for every $16 spent on the Neighborhood Fishing Program, we bring one more person into fishing,” Betsill says. “Each new $28 fishing license sold increases funding for natural resource management, conservation and habitat restoration in Texas. Also, federal taxes on fishing tackle and motor boat fuel come back to the state for fisheries research, habitat improvement, aquatic education and access for fishing and boating.”

Since the stocking is done by TPWD biologists, the lakes provide a healthy habitat and the fish are safe and plentiful to catch.

“A city or other controlling authority must be willing and able to work with us in providing a quality fishing experience,” Betsill says. “Plus a lake must have year-round water quality adequate to support fish populations. We screen sites for potential contaminant problems. All sites in the program have excellent bank access, adequate parking, security and restroom facilities.”

A sampling of people who showed up in May 2008 at Chisholm Park indicates that efforts to attract new anglers are successful. Aspy Mistry of Bedford and his wife, Roda, attended the event.

“This is Roda’s first time to fish,” Aspy said. “We thought we would give it a try and if we like it, we’ll get into it.”

We also found James Merrill and his daughter Rachel, also of Bedford, busy catching bluegills and putting them into a bucket.

 “I have three daughters, and each one gets to choose what to do on their weekend with dad,” he says. “We got information on the program at the Hurst library, and Rachel wanted to fish on our day out.”

Johnny Rodriguez of North Richland Hills and his wife, Betty, got a postcard in the mail and brought their grandson, Gable Garcia, to fish at Chisholm Park. Also from North Richland Hills were Richard Torres and his grandson, Ricky.

“We love it,” Richard said. “We’re going to get rods and reels and go fishing.”

The number of grandparents involved may indicate that fishing skipped a generation, or maybe the parents were too busy the day I visited. Perhaps the chance to steal the grandkids for a day was just too good to pass up.

But one mother, Ellie Harris, is there for her son, Cyrell. The family recently moved to Fort Worth from Hawaii, and the two are having a blast. Cyrell reels in a catfish, and Ellie rushes over to help take it off the hook.

“Mom’s getting involved here,” she says as she struggles into a pair of plastic gloves.

Nearby, Drévon and Jason are fishing with an intensity exceeded only by their desire to catch a fish.

“I’m bass fishing,” Drévon says proudly. He’s the more experienced of the two, so Louis is giving his attention to Jason, who’s just made a respectable cast but immediately starts reeling his bait in.

“Stop. Now wait,” Louis coaches. “Wait for that sneaky old fish to grab that hook. You’re getting a bite. Let him take it!”

Jason sets the hook too soon and misses the fish. “They’re smart,” Louis says.

Later, as I am packing my gear to leave, I hear Jason squeal. I look, and he is triumphantly showing his grandfather a bluegill I could hide in my hand. But the size of a trophy is measured not by the size of the catch but by the joy it brings. By that standard, Jason D’Ambrosio just put one in the record book, and Louis Bridges is one proud grandpa.

It’s great to see a plan come together.

Tackle Loaner Program

If you want to try out fishing before investing money in equipment, TPWD’s tackle loaner program is for you.

This program loans fishing equipment just like a library loans books. Individuals can borrow rods, reels and tackle boxes with hooks, sinkers and bobbers for up to 7 days of fishing. All you need to do is go to a Loaner Site near you, fill out a loaner survey and form and go fishing.

Some locations may require a deposit. The equipment must be returned within seven days of check-out. Late fees may apply and replacement cost of lost or damaged equipment may be charged. If you are over 17, you will need a fishing license. If you are under 18, you will need to bring an adult when you check out equipment.

For a list of locations, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/angler_education/tackloan.phtml.

 

Catfishing
Trout Fishing

TPWD will stock 12-inch channel catfish in neighborhood fishing lakes beginning the third week of April and continuing approximately every two weeks through early November, except during August. The department has not scheduled stockings for that month because of the potential for heat-related water quality problems. All lakes in this program have special regulations for channel and blue catfish: the bag limit is five fish per day, and there is no minimum length limit.

Rainbow trout stocking begins in late November or early December, when water temperatures are cool enough to be comfortable for trout. Stocking will continue every two weeks until March. The daily bag limit is five trout, with no minimum length limit.

 

 

Neighborhood Fishing Program

The Neighborhood Fishing Program provides family fishing opportunities close to home for city-dwelling Texans. Thirteen neighborhood lakes receive frequent stockings of catfish in summer and rainbow trout in winter, which makes for good fishing throughout the season.

 

Neighborhood Fishing Program Locations

Urban Area

Lake

Location

Contact

Amarillo

Medical Center South

From Interstate 40 take Coulter Street north to Wallace Blvd. and turn east into the Medical Center complex.

Charlie Munger

(806) 655-4341

Austin

Bullfrog Pond

In Travis County East Metropolitan Park on Blake-Manor Road off FM 973

Marcos De Jesus

(512) 353-0072

College Station

Central Park Pond #1

Take Harvey Road exit off Hwy 6 East Bypass and continue south on the service road. Park entrance is on the right just past Krenak-Tapp Road.

Jeff Henson

(979) 822-5067

Dallas-Fort Worth

Lakeside Park

In Duncanville near Cedar Ridge and Camp Wisdom Road

Rafe Brock

(817) 732-0761

Greenbriar Park

In Fort Worth north of I-20, west side of Hemphill Street

Chisholm Park

In Hurst; from Hwy 183 east of Fort Worth, go north on Norwood. After crossing Harwood, look for park on east side of road.

Bob Jones Park

In Southlake, east of Hwy 114 on White Chapel

Houston

Tom Bass

Tom Bass Regional Recreation Center in south Houston

Jeff Henson

(979) 822-5067

Mary Jo Peckham Park

5597 Gardenia Lane in Katy

San Angelo

>Oakes Street Lake

Downtown on the North Concho River between Oakes and Irving Streets

Mandy Scott

(325) 651-5556

San Antonio

Miller's Pond

6075 Old Pearsall Road on southwest side of town

Randy Myers

(210) 348-6455

Waco

Buena Vista Park

From Loop 340 on the east side of Bellmead, turn west on Kendall Lane, go 2-3 blocks and turn left on Crow Drive.

John Provine

(254) 666-5190

Wichita Falls

Plum Lake

Northeast side of town in softball complex

Mark Howell

(944) 766-2383

 


 

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