Beya Rush hoists the first catch of the day out of the water. A smallmouth bass, the fish would be an impressive snag anywhere, much less in the middle of Brooklyn.
The 4-year-old bashfully explained that it was her first time fishing, toeing the dirt at the edge of the pond. And the grin on her face said it all: she will remember this moment forever.
Rush joined over 40 other kids on Saturday to participate in the first-ever, a program run by the Prospect Park Alliance to facilitate education, safety and, well, a fun day in the park. The clinic, sponsored by the Macy’s Foundation, will be held twice every Saturday through August. All of the classes are free.
Each clinic begins with a lesson about the biodiversity of Prospect Park: the area around the Audobon Center is a rich “fishy food web” that includes dragonflies, herons and, of course, the fish that form a complex ecosystem of animal and plants. The kids are then given the opportunity to find their own worms before getting down to business with either bamboo or reel rods.
“Generations of New Yorkers have learned to fish right here in Prospect Park,” said Gabriel Willow, the program manager and teacher of the clinic.
Willow, a native of Maine and an environmental educator by trade, is particularly interested in getting kids—especially those who grow up in the city—into nature.
“This program is a great way to get kids excited about being outdoors,” he said.
The Macy’s Fishing Clinic is a descendant of the Macy’s Fishing Contest, which was a Prospect Park tradition for over 50 years, but was canceled this year due to park.
While the clinics still use staff time, the contest was a much bigger event, with around 10,000 kids taking part over five days.
"It takes a lot of staff time and volunteers," said Prospect Park spokesman Eugene Patron. He added that the weekly clinics also opens the program to kids who might have been out of town during the contest.
The clinics also provide kids with more individual attention, focusing more on education and less on competition, Willow said.
Jose Maldonado, 14, the winner of last year’s contest, is now a volunteer with the Park Youth Representatives, which help the younger kids with everything from baiting hooks to casting lines.
“I’ve been fishing for almost 10 years,” said Maldonado. “My older cousin taught me how to fish.” Last year the humble fisherman caught around six bass.
The clinics appeal not only to budding anglers, but their parents, too.
“I’ve lived in New York for 15 years,” said Akiko Melendez, who brought her two daughters, eight and six, to the clinic on Saturday. “They are very excited. This is their first time fishing, and it gives them something to do on the weekends.”
Paul Karasz is a one of three generations that attended the clinic on Saturday. A Brooklyn native, Karasz brought his son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren with him.
“This clinic is a great opportunity for children to experience the great outdoors,” says Karasz.
The will be held at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every Saturday through August 1. Children under 15 and an accompanying guardian can meet at the Audubon Center, near the Prospect Park Boathouse. Visit www.prospectpark.org or call (718) 287-3400, ext. 303 for details. All fishing in Prospect Park is catch and release.