By Duffy Zimmerman and Gabby Pardo
Nine-year-old Joey Fleres stands on the bank of Belmont Lake with his metallic red fishing rod slung over his right shoulder. Just below the surface, 4,000 trout dart through the murky water. Like a baseball pitcher getting ready to throw, Fleres lifts his left leg into the air. After a pause, he snaps the fishing pole forward and launches his lure far into the freshwater lake.
“Trying to catch the fish is my favorite part,” Fleres said.
The most appealing part of the Freshwater Family Fishing Festival,which has been held annually since 1996, is seeing kids like Fleres catch the fish that were added to the lake in the three weeks leading up to Saturday’s event, Jessica Anderson-Ruiz, the State Parks Recreation Supervisor for Long Island, said.
“I think my favorite part of the year is watching a child catch their fish for the first time,” Anderson-Ruiz said. “That’s the whole purpose of this event, is to get the children outdoors and enjoy freshwater fishing.”
The New York State Parks Department and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are both involved in organizing this family event each year. Kids were encouraged to participate in a casting contest to see who can throw their fishing line out the furthest distance. Anyone fishing at Belmont Lake State Park on Saturday did not require a fishing license due to a blanket permit by both departments.
“The Spring Fishing Festival at Belmont Lake State Park is an excellent way to kick off the fishing season and introduce your family to the sport with no license needed,” George Gorman Jr, Executive Director for New York State Office of Parks, said. “At this festival, you can learn about freshwater fishing opportunities on Long Island and about local fishing clubs.”
The number of fishing licenses issued in Nassau and Suffolk counties has been decreasing overall since the early 2000’s, according to data from the DEC. Events like this festival encourage fishers of all ages to buy licenses. Long Island also promotes fishing is through I Fish N.Y., a program within the Department of Environmental Conservation that hosts summer programs and fishing clinics.
“New York has a lot of history based on fishing,” Francis McParland, an Environmental Education Assistant for I Fish N.Y., said. “The Catskills economy was based on fishing, Montauk as well. We’re trying to get people back towards the routes of a great New York pastime.”
Besides trout, those who attended the festival could also find other species of fish, such as Brown Bullhead, Yellow Perch and Carp. While some may catch any of these types of fish, some people will leave with only their memories.
“You know, we haven’t had much luck at Belmont,” Richard Flanagan, a Brooklyn resident who attends the event each year with his son, said. “We’ve done better at other parks in the metro region, but it’s pleasant here, so it’s nice to come spend a few hours fishing.”