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Catching a new generation: Baltimore youths get a taste of fishing at City Catch 2015

Jose Sabastro stood on the bank, pole in hand, peering at the hover of rainbow trout darting beneath the surface of Dead Run in Leakin Park. He had been there for an hour — eternity for an 11-year-old city kid who'd never fished. But the pebbly stream murmured, sunlight danced on the water and the youngster stayed put, determined to outwit his prey.

Cue the tug.

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"You've got one!" someone hollered as Jose landed a 10-inch trout with his right hand. With his left, he pumped a fist in triumph.

So it went Saturday morning as 70 city youths — most of them first-time anglers — gathered at the park in West Baltimore for City Catch 2015, an effort to introduce fishing and conservation to the next generation.

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"The more people who want to fish, the more who'll want to keep our waterways clean," said Greg Davis of the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited. That organization coordinates the annual event with the city's Bureau of Recreation and Parks, which shares the $8,000 cost. Children are given their own rods, reels and bait, supplied by Tochterman's Fly Shop, and paired with TU members and other volunteers who spread out over a 1-mile length of Dead Run to teach the youngsters the basics of fishing.

"It's fun for us and the kids," said Ben Legg, a member of the TU committee that puts on the affair. "To see their faces when they snag their first fish … and then to take it home, show it to friends and eat it. We clean the fish here, so they're ready to be put on the grill."

On Friday, TU members stocked Dead Run with 800 trout between 8 and 15 inches long from a hatchery in Pennsylvania. What the kids didn't catch Saturday are fair game for others.

Before the event, city officials test the water quality. On Saturday, trash littered both the stream and its banks, but Legg and other volunteers carried black plastic garbage bags and picked up litter.

"We make it a point to gather it in front of the kids," he said. "Sometimes the light bulb comes on."

Both boys and girls, including Ayla Lewis-Jones of Cherry Hill, took part in the program.

"It's my first time," the 10-year-old said, dropping her line into a secluded pool. "I thought it would be fun to catch a lot of fish and play with them, let them squiggle around in my hand. Then I'll take them home and eat them. They'll taste better than those from the store because I caught them."

Nearby, an 8-year-old in a Joe Flacco shirt tried his luck.

"All I've caught are two leaves," said Jordan Wampole of Armistead Gardens.

Edward Clark, 11, hooked the pants of a fellow fisherman and was quick to spread the word.

"Look! I caught a human!" said Edward, who lives in Northeast Baltimore.

Just finding the fish was excitement for some.

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"I see one! I see one!" squealed Satrina Thomas, 8, of Northeast Baltimore. "Well, I've seen three but I haven't caught one. They're hiding; I think they're afraid of me."

What if she went home empty-handed?

"If I don't catch one, I won't be sad because fish don't want to be caught."

Begun in the 1970s, City Catch is the brainchild of Jim Gracie of Trout Unlimited, who grew up in nearby Edmondson Village.

"As a kid, I came here and fantasized about catching trout," Gracie said. "Most kids have two impressions about city streams: One, don't go there because it's not safe; and, two, that's where you throw your trash because it goes away."

On Saturday, Gracie, 73, watched children head off upstream and down, as excited as if on an Easter egg hunt. "This is my dream come true," he said.

Likewise Jabari Lyles, who caught his first trout and reckoned it wouldn't be his last.

"Now I'm going to get one for my sister, and my cousin," the 8-year-old from West Baltimore said.

Some, like Neejata Shrestha, did just that. In less than two hours, the 10-year-old landed three fish.

"I'm proud of myself," said Neejata, of Northeast Baltimore. "I like how they wiggle all over when you bring them up. … Now I'll show them off to my aunt, my mom and some other girls. Will they go 'ewww'? Probably."

Ellis Curry also caught three trout in his first outing. But Ellis, 12, of West Baltimore, played it cool, shrugging off plaudits.

"He caught them all on his own, too — and that's a big deal," said Dave Buck of Catonsville, his TU mentor.

Perhaps Ellis will go fishing again?

"You better do it, Ellis, because you're a natural," Buck said.

The boy beamed.

For brothers Rayquan and Andre Briscoe, the troutfest was a chance to experience what their father once did.

"I took part in this [event] when I was 14, and it changed my life," said Adrian Briscoe, 42, of West Baltimore, who accompanied his sons. "I grew up in the Gilmor Homes housing project in the 1980s and never got in touch with nature.

"Now, any chance I get to fish, I take it. I love the peace of mind. … My kids had never been fishing and I wanted them to see a broad view of Baltimore. It's mind-pleasing out here."

Alas, the brothers left without a trout.

"They probably caught a cold after falling in the water," their father said. "But they didn't care because they had fun. And they want to come back tomorrow."

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More pictures at baltimoresun.com/outdoors

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