Ecology Center program hooks kids on fishing

The City of Evanston Ecology Center program on Saturdays this summer at Lovelace Park offers free access to fishing to children and supervising adults.

No license is required for kids ages 5-15.

It’s catch and release. Most people here snagged spiky catfish or crappies.

Rods are available free of charge as is live worm bait, courtesy of the able hands of Kyle Peach, 22, a 2010 Evanston Township High School graduate who works as a handy worm helper. Jacob Reber, 18, a 2014 ETHS graduate, recently worked with Peach.

“It’s not bad,” said Peach, of the slimy handiwork, while slicing a worm.

“I was tiny,” he continued. “My dad [Dick Peach of Evanston] made sure I was fishing as soon as I could hold a rod.”

Kyle was in charge of portioning out the six boxes of bait which held a dozen worms each. By noon, about 20 people were taking part in the three-hour program which also teaches folks how to use the equipment.

Armin Abajian, an angler who works for the Evanston Ecology Center at 2024 N. McCormick Blvd., said 65 rods were available for use with about 35 already spoken for.

“Fishing is good because a 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old gets a sense of accomplishment right away,” said Abajian. “If the first experience in fishing is bad, you’ll never fish again. And I know a lot of guys who said they went fishing, they stand on the pier all day, they caught nothin’ and they hated it.

“These kids come out here, they catch fish and they love it and then for the rest of their lives, they’re hooked. Doesn’t matter whether the next time they don’t catch a fish, they know they can and that’s important.”

One North Shore-area man named James Yu came to Lovelace Park to make memories with his son Anderson, 3.

“It’s his first ever,” said a beaming James Yu, of the fish his son just caught. “It was a crappie! It’s awesome, I love it, it could be a tradition with us now.

“My dad took me fishing,” continued Yu. “I was probably 3 years old, just like him [Anderson].”

Elizabeth Steimle of Evanston brought her daughter Greta, 6, and son William, 3.

“We’re learning a lot,” said Elizabeth Steimle. “How to cast, how to bait, what to do when the fish bites the line, they’ve never done it before and they loved it.”

Meghan Cunningham-Richardson of Northfield was featured on an ESPN program in 2007 as a master female angler. She was also president of a Georgia women flyfishers association.

“I love to fish because number one, you’re in nature,” said Cunningham-Richardson, certified in bilingual ESL Spanish teaching. “Number two, it’s the oldest, sustainable sport. Give women a fish and you feed them for a day. But teach them to fish, you feed them for life.”

She brought a group of girls to fish.

The preteens included Alondra Montoya, 9, of Wilmette, a Glenview Avoca West Elementary School fourth-grader; Daisy Rodriguez, 8, an Avoca West third-grader; Sadie-Grace Richardson, 9, of Northfield, an Avoca West fourth-grader; and Tatum Richardson, 11, a Wilmette Marie Murphy School sixth-grader.

“Women have power …” she said, unable to finish her sentence amid tears.

Armin Abajian offered his conclusion: “Bring your children out, you’ll have a good experience fishing with your child.

“And it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

The free fishing is offered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday through September at Lovelace Park (Gross Point Road at Thayer Street in Evanston near the Wilmette border). The program is managed by Evanston Ecology Center staff. The State of Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sponsors Access to Fishing.

For more information, call the Evanston Ecology Center at 847-448-8256.

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