Standing underneath the shade of the tall pecan trees lining Acequia Park, Oscar Castillo welcomed kids, parents, and grandparents to Fin Addict’s Saturday morning instructional fishing event.
“The parks and recreation [department in Pearland, Texas] was having a kid’s fishing event,” Castillo said of Fin Addict Angler‘s founding in 2011. It was prompted by a frightening fishing accident that Castillo had witnessed during one of his fishing expeditions.
“Basically, all the kids got rod and reels and they had tackle, bait, worms, and … when they gave them the rod and reels and sent them off to the pond … when they blew the horn, we saw one kid hook another kid in the back of the head,” Castillo recalled.
Coming home to San Antonio, Castillo thought about the experience and about how he could stop similar accidents from occurring in his own community.
“I started to look around and I said ‘these kids, they’re out to enjoy the day, to enjoy the moment, but they didn’t understand the theory behind the method,’” Castillo said. “I wanted to teach kids fishing, etiquette, and stewardship of the land, safety, first aid, knot tying. Teach them how to cast and take them fishing, so that when they do get out on the water, they’ll understand what’s going on and what they’re doing.”
He did just that. Along with 40 other volunteers, uniformly dressed in bright orange Fin Addict shirts, Castillo partnered with the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) to set up eight instructional booths along the Mission Reach paddling trail to teach kids fishing safety, knot tying, reeling, and more.
Kids were grouped into alphabetized units and sent to a stewardship tent. They would move from tent to tent, collecting numbers on their wristbands, until they finally had a chance to try some actual fishing from one of the several wooden docks built above the San Antonio River.
Jake, Dylan, and Brooks Perez were all in group A. Their grandfather, Sylvester Perez, had brought the cousins together for the free event along the bank of the river.
The Rivard Report followed the family as they navigated their way through palomar knot tying, line casting practice, and a fish identification game whereby the boys had to navigate small hooks into the waiting lips of multicolored plastic fish laid across a large blue tarp. On the backs of the plastic fish were the names and illustrations of the freshwater fish that swam just feet away from them in the river.
Perch, Bluegill, and some baby Bass were bubbling below the surface of the water as the family walked to the edge of the dock. All of the instruction and practice had led to this moment.
Casting their lines out from the dock, the cousins waited to see which, if any, of their red and white bobbers would be pulled below the surface. Before they’d arrived, Fin Addict volunteers had spent some time chumming the waters to attract the fish before the group arrived.
“You’re not a fishermen if you don’t have some worm guts on your fingers,” one of the volunteers said baiting a hook. A moment later there was celebration. Brooks Perez had caught the first fish of the day. It was a Rio Grand perch, a cross-breed according to one of the volunteers.
He would catch two more fish before the family decided to leave their spots on the dock for the next group that had arrived.
“I like learning more information about fishing, so I can catch more fish,” 10-year-old Brooks Perez said. It was the first time he had gone out fishing with his family, and it was successful.
Back at the trail head, volunteers were distributing bags full of SARA trinkets and informational brochures on the river and the fish inhabiting it. SARA Park Program Coordinator Michael Gramley explained SARA’s reasons for the first time partnership.
“We often look for groups like this to partner with, who kind of already have their program together and just need a venue to make it come alive,” Gramley explained. “We’re hoping to do a series of these, another one in the fall, the spring, you know 4, 5, or 6 of them in the year so we can get more people down here to the river and start building that stewardship.”
Castillo joked that he wanted to add a barbecue to one the events. One could wonder about a fish fry as well, but that may be inadvisable if the fish were to be sourced from the river.
“This is a river that runs through an urban area, you know,” Gramley said. “We’re in the watershed. Everything rolls down hill, so whatever we put outside, or we don’t necessarily process or put in its right [waste] bin sometimes heads down here to the river.”
Plastic bottles, bags, and other trash items floated in clumps on the sides of the river. But having San Antonians see the state of their river is one of the reasons for hosting events such as Fin Addict’s, according to Gramley. He sees recreational visitors as the stewards of the lake, noting that they’re often the ones picking up litter from the pathways stretching through the park.
Gramley believes that this partnership, and others like it, will make the river a more fun and clean place to recreationally enjoy the outdoors.
“We’re just trying to get the people here to have good feelings about the river,” Gramley said. “To come down here and have positive vibes about the river, have a good memory about fishing, have a good memory about spending some time with your family down here.”