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New generation of Utah anglers learn the ropes in their own backyard pond

Jun 22, 2017 04:06PM ● Published by Travis Barton

Young anglers enjoy an evening of education, baiting hooks and casting at Willow Pond. (Carl Fauver)

Gallery: New generation of Utah anglers learn the ropes in their own backyard pond [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com
 
One of the first things that strikes you when you wind your way past the baseball and soccer fields to Willow Pond is how amazingly effective freeway soundwalls can be. Just south of the scenic pond, I-215 traffic whizzes by, but you’d almost never know it.
 
You might also never know that this largely hidden oasis is a busy place for fishing.
 
“Believe it or not, this is the busiest fishing spot in our state,” said Willow Pond Fishing Club instructor Patti Barton. “More people go to Strawberry (Reservoir) and other places.  But, in terms of the number of people fishing—compared to the size of the waterway— this is the busiest spot in Utah.”
 
Patti and her husband Steve help keep it that way by volunteering as instructors for the annual Murray Youth Fishing Club.
 
“This is about the fifth year we’ve volunteered with the program,” she added. “We’ve helped teach our kids and grandkids how to fish, and love to share it with others, who might not get exposed otherwise.”
 
The six weekly sessions were held in May and June. Now, Patti hopes those kids are pestering their parents to take them to some of our state’s larger waterways.
 
“It’s so important for kids to get outdoors, to get away from phones and computers,” Barton added. “It’s fun to watch them reel in their first fish.”
 
Mother Nature doesn’t provide Willow Pond (6059 S. Murray Parkway Ave.) with many native fish. But thanks to frequent additions of fish from the Division of Wildlife Resources, the kids normally have a lot of success, at least some weeks.
 
Gwen and Audrey Gale, ages 8 and 10, each caught their first two fish at the pond on a night when older brother Porter had to be elsewhere.  The girls both called it “exciting,” while Porter assured, “I was doing something better.”
 
That same night, 10-year-old Adeline and 7-year-old Penelope McGowan each caught two fish as well, as their dad looked on.
 
“I always fished as a kid and thought it was important the girls also learned how to do it,” Benjamin McGowan said. “My wife and I consciously try to limit their time in front of TVs or playing on tablets.  We want them to enjoy the kinds of childhoods we had.”
 
In addition to fishing, the junior anglers also get to see unusual waterfowl, including cranes and pelicans.
 
The Murray Parks & Recreation Department coordinates the youth fishing club with assistance from the DWR. Corporate sponsors such as Sportsman’s Warehouse and Fish Tech Outfitters also help to keep the cost low.
 
Critical to the program’s success are volunteer fishing instructors like Brian Nelson.
 
“It’s always better to be at the lake than at home on the couch,” Nelson said. “The kids seem to have a good time, particularly when they’re catching fish. And I think it’s important to pass along these skills to the next generation.”
 
For a $12 fee, kids receive six evenings featuring brief educational lectures and lots of fishing time. They also get a T-shirt, small tackle box and an informational booklet. On the final night, the group enjoys a fish fry.
 
Additionally, kids don’t have to bring their own fishing poles as loaners are provided.  They also don’t have to worry about buying or digging for their own worms. And, if they play their cards right, youngsters can probably even get someone else to bait their hook.
 
The fish stocked in Willow Pond include blue gills, small mouth bass, trout and catfish.
 
“The biggest fish I ever saw a kid pull out of this pond was about an 18-inch catfish,” Barton said. “But they all seem to enjoy catching fish, regardless of the size or type.”
 
The fishing club is for youngsters ages 6-13. This year’s session is over, but the successful program is scheduled to return again next May. Parents can watch for information at murray.utah.gov
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