CITY CATCH, A FISHING PROGRAM FOR BALTIMORE CITY CHILDREN
He was a city kid. When he was nine years old his family moved from Pulaski Street in the inner city to Edmondson Village. He could walk to the Edmondson Village Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and he had read every book in the Pratt Library on trout and salmon fishing and rivers, but he had never been to a trout stream. He could also walk into Leakin Park. Leakin Park is the largest city park of any eastern city in the United States. Much of it was mature forest following the Gwynns Falls stream valley. In about ten minutes he could walk to a tributary to Gwynns Falls named Dead Run.
Growing up, he spent most of his outdoor time in Leakin Park. First he collected rocks and minerals. Then it was butterflies and moths, then snakes. But during all this time there was fishing. He had no fly rod but he cast flies with a casting rod. He caught black nosed dace and rosy side dace. In his childhood fantasies the black nosed dace were brown trout and the rosy sides were his rainbows. Strategically placed on telephone poles and some sycamore trees, were red and white signs stating “Danger Typhoid Fever Polluted Water – Keep Out.” The problem was that sewer lines were installed in the stream valley as they are in most cities. Sewer lines leaked and sewage could enter adjacent streams. Later, as a grown-up, he often thought that it was a shame that city children didn’t have a chance to fish for trout.
In 1972, he was one of twelve people that formed the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited. (MDTU) One of his first discussions with the Director of the Trout Program in the Maryland Fisheries Service was about city streams. “Why can’t you stock trout in city streams in Baltimore?” he asked. He was told, “Because there is raw sewage discharging into them and it could create a serious health hazard to attract people to those streams when they are polluted with human sewage.”
Several years later, Baltimore City announced a federal grant which would pay for sealing the leaking sewer lines that ran down the stream valleys in Baltimore. MDTU again approached the Director of the Trout Program, who said he needed evidence that the water was safe. Charter MDTU member, Bud Sinor, a high school science teacher, set up a bacteriology laboratory. Volunteers collected water samples from Herring Run and Dead Run for about a year. We presented results of fecal coliform and fecal streptococci bacteria analyses to the state and convinced them that the problem had been solved. The following year trout were stocked into Herring Run near Morgan State College. The return of trout fishing to Baltimore City was such a big deal that Mayor William Donald Schaeffer was on Good Morning America when he stocked the first trout into Herring Run. The next year trout were stocked in Herring Run and Dead Run.
In the second year there was some bad press for the city stocking program. The outdoor writer for the News American wrote a story about children chasing trout with baseball bats immediately after they were stocked. He opined in the article that we should not be wasting trout on city children that had no appreciation for them. MDTU was concerned that the program could end over this incident. There was quite a debate over it. Some people said the state shouldn’t be stocking our trout in their streams.
MDTU discussed the fact that these children had never been exposed to sport fishing and had no idea of what was appropriate behavior. We approached the mayor and told him that we wanted to conduct a fishing clinic for city children. We wanted them to learn how to catch trout ethically and legally. Furthermore we hoped that they would develop an appreciation for streams and good water quality. With help from Mayor Schaeffer we raised enough money to buy the kids fishing outfits that they could keep. The idea was if they had the tackle they were more likely to go fishing again after the event. We also bought the fish that were stocked so as to avoid the concern over using fish that fishermen had paid for with their trout stamp purchases. (Children don’t have to buy licenses or stamps.)
Pam Kelly, Schaeffer’s aide, helped design the program. Recreation and Parks held a contest with two winners from each of the 125 Recreation Centers in the City. Thus we had 250 children of ages from about 8 to 14 learning to fish each year in Leakin Park.
The program disappeared when we could not get any cooperation from Mayor Schmoke. We were able to start it again under Mayor O’Malley. It has been going strong since then. This year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake joined us and brought her niece, who caught her first fish, a nice rainbow trout.
If we are committed to the protection, restoration and reconnection of cold water habitats we need to continue to reach out to the younger generation. What motivates most of us to care about water quality and aquatic habitat is the love of our sport and the beautiful places we pursue it. We need to pass this on to young people if we want the next generation to care also.
CITY CATCH IS ONE OF THE WAYS WE CAN DO THIS.
City Catch 2014: Continuing this strong partnership with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, MDTU volunteers introduced the fun of trout fishing, and the importance of conservation, to over 80 students this spring. Special thanks to the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation, our guest Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who attended and addressed the group, and to Tochterman's Tackle Shop, our equipment sponsor.