NO BOAT? NO PROBLEM
LDWF’s Get Out and Fish! Program Provides Angling Opportunities For Everyone
story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information
Mother Nature gave a cold shoulder to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ first ever Get Out and Fish! program in November of 2014.
Near freezing temperatures greeted LDWF personnel when they arrived around 5 a.m. at a two-acre pond in Lafayette’s Girard Park to kick off a day of activities.
“We weren’t exactly sure just how many people would show up because it was so cold,’’ said Megan MacMenamin, lead biologist for the project. “But there were people lined up waiting already when we got there (at 5 a.m.), and we weren’t starting until 6:30 a.m.’’
About 250 people from the Lafayette area registered for the initial event day and the program has flourished since that chilly day in November of 2014. Get Out and Fish! has been a big success for LDWF’s Fisheries Extension Outreach Program and the communities where events have been held. It is hosted in conjunction with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation.
A total of five events have been staged, including in Lafayette, BREC’s Burbank Park in Baton Rouge, Zemurray Park in Hammond, Sidney Torres Memorial Park in Chalmette and Kiroli Park in West Monroe. About 2,000 anglers have registered for the events.
The mission of the program is simply to provide fishing opportunities to everyone in Louisiana. Though Louisiana has ample fishing spots throughout the state - freshwater, brackish and salt water - not everyone has the resources or time to take advantage.
“One of the main things we’re trying to target with Get Out and Fish! is not only do we want to recruit the new anglers, the young anglers, people that have never been fishing, but we also want to get anglers reactivated who haven’t been fishing in a long time,’’ MacMenamin said. “We do that by providing what we hope is a quality fishery within a community, within walking distance from your house. Something you can get to without a lot of travel time, without a lot of expense. We also want to promote family and community interactions through fishing.’’
MacMenamin said she realized how great an impact the program could have as she surveyed one man during the event in Lafayette.
“He told me that he didn’t know fishing was available (at Girard Park),’’ MacMenamin said. “He was really excited that we’d be stocking the pond and that it had been years since he’d been fishing. Now that he could walk across the street to the pond he’d be out fishing more.’’
The Get Out and Fish! event is only the beginning of the program. The ponds at the locations are stocked with 600-800 pounds of either channel catfish or rainbow trout. After the festival concludes, the public is still welcome to fish at the community pond.
“We want to make sure there are plenty of fish and good opportunity to catch them,’’ said Heather David, Fisheries Outreach Program Manager. “We put a courtesy limit just so it’s not fished out in a day. Of course, the day of the event we see pretty high attendance. But after the event we’ve noticed attendance remains high and people are still taking advantage of the great fishing.’’
The process to select a potential pond starts with LDWF biologists, who scout their assigned areas. They’re looking for 2-5 acre ponds that are open and easily accessible to the public. Handicap accessibility, restroom facilities and ample parking are sought as well as a good pond for fishing.
When a pond is selected, LDWF partners with local government or community organizations to stock the pond and prepare for the Get Out and Fish! event. LDWF also provides technical assistance and pond management support.
The pond is then stocked with either channel catfish or rainbow trout, which isn’t native to Louisiana. Rainbow trout are only stocked in ponds during the winter because the species doesn’t handle Louisiana’s hot summers well.
“The event we staged in Chalmette where we stocked rainbow trout had about 600 people,’’ MacMenamin said. “Any time we stock rainbow trout we get a lot of involvement from the community simply because it’s a new species we don’t see in Louisiana and people are excited about it. Most have never had a chance to catch them.’’
Tournaments at Get Out and Fish! events are certainly a component of the project. There are three divisions, including little anglers, ages 8 and under, junior anglers, ages 9-15, and adult anglers, 16 and older. The adult anglers must have a valid recreational fishing license as required by state fishing regulations. Those ages 15 and younger don’t need one.
But there is more to do than just fish at the event. LDWF and the community partners provide other educational fishing activities and lessons at the Get Out and Fish! events to provide participants with the fishing skills needed to feel confident to start fishing on their own.
“We want to make sure that everyone who attends feels welcome,’’ MacMenamin said. “We have other activities, such as art drawing projects and learning how to rig and cast a fishing rod. We also do demonstrations of fish cleaning and educational activities about fishing in Louisiana.’’
MacMenamin said LDWF hopes to add 2-3 sites per year. They’re exploring possible ponds in Minden, Lake Charles and Vidalia to hold events in 2017. Eventually, they’d like to see Get Out and Fish! in every parish in Louisiana.
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