- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

It was a typical day on the Mall, with dozens of tourists visiting museums and monuments — and hundreds of youngsters fishing at Constitution Gardens.

About 450 children from the Washington-Baltimore area yesterday learned about baiting hooks, casting lines and reeling in big ones at the gardens’ 4-foot-deep pond. Gathered in clusters around the pond, the inner-city youths waited for a bite.

“I like fishing because I like to catch fish,” one 4-year-old from the District said. ?I always like to because my mom lets me fish.”

The fishing expedition served as the opening event for National Fishing and Boating Week, a national effort to generate support for fishing, attract new generations to the recreation and provide children an alternative to harmful activities, such as drug use.

About 150 volunteers from groups — including the American Sportfishing Association, Trout Unlimited, National Park Service and the Future Fisherman Foundation — helped direct students to different activities and provide fishing instructions.

“Conservation is important, protection is important and being responsible stewards of God’s creation is important,” said Mamie Parker, 47, assistant director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“But we also need to promote other activities for children. When I was younger, I know if I had not been out there fishing, I would’ve been kissing. Fishing saved me from that.”

The children were separated into small groups that walked around the gardens, stopping at six different learning stations to hear talks on boating safety and fishing.

Vincent Smalls, 45, of Upper Marlboro, chaperoned his son Brandon’s prekindergarten class at the fishing trip on the Mall.

“These kids have a limited opportunity to do this,” said Mr. Smalls, whose son attends Smothers Elementary School in Northeast. “For some, this will be the first time to have access to a rod and reel or learn about boats. For a lot of them, being inner-city, fishing is not even available.”

Students ages 4 to 13 participated in the event. They hailed from Terrell, Ludlow-Taylor and Smothers elementary schools in the District, Garrison Middle School in Baltimore and Long Branch Elementary School in Arlington.

“I was always a person to take my children on a lot of field trips. It gives them a lot talk about,” said volunteer Peggy McCool, 71, a retired D.C. schoolteacher. “This day may lead some of them into being a biologist or something. Who knows?”

Constitution Gardens sits next to the World War II Memorial and is part of the 50-acre Potomac Park.

The annual fishing event, first held in 1995, generated record turnout this year but usually attracts about 200 schoolchildren.

The pond is stocked with 1,000 blue gills and 500 largemouth bass especially for the event.

Although the National Fishing and Boating Week kickoff is the only organized fishing day on the pond, the Park Service allows anyone with a D.C. fishing license to fish there year-round, provided they throw back the fish.

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