DWR community fisheries have given 20 years of youth fishing opportunities

Rees Pioneer Park Pond in Brigham City didn't have in one the banks fishing Wednesday Twenty years ago the pond was designated as one of the first Division of Wildlife Community Fisheries in Utah.

BRIGHAM CITY – Twenty years ago one of the first cities in Utah to embrace the community fisheries program was Brigham City. Today, with two community ponds – Mayor’s Pond and Rees Pioneer Park Pond – their program includes structured classes, special angling events, and other activities that introduce residents to fishing. They also helped train other cities interested in the community fisheries program.

Tyler White, an employee of the Logan Fisheries Experiment Station, empties a net into the pond at Rees Pioneer Park in Brigham City on May 19,  2019.

Our community ponds provide amazing fishing access and are such a benefit for our residents,” Kristy Wolford, Brigham City Director of Community Activities and Services said. “I see people using these ponds every single day.”

She recently drove past two 10-year-old boys walking with their fishing rods and tackle boxes toward the pond.

“It just brought a smile to my face because, isn’t that what it’s all about? To provide an opportunity for this next generation to enjoy Utah’s amazing outdoors,” she said. “We have really enjoyed working with DWR in this program from the beginning and helping to implement it in other communities, as well.”

Thousands of urban residents across Utah currently have fishing opportunities within a few minutes’ drive and some within walking distance from their homes.

Cache Valley has two community fisheries: one at Wellsville Pond at the south end of the valley and one in Logan, Skylar’s Pond located in Willow Park. Both were in place when DWR began their community fisheries program and both attract crowds when the weather warms up.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources launched the community fisheries program 20 years ago, providing more fishing access and opportunities for many cities across the Beehive State.

Today, Utah has one of the largest and most successful community fisheries programs in the country. The program launched in 2001 and there were roughly 11 community fishing ponds across Utah. Now, there are 57 ponds all stocked annually with fish and dozens of thriving fishing clubs and angler education programs in the communities have followed.

We launched the program in an effort to provide more fishing opportunities for kids as well as those adults who can’t make it to the larger, more distant fisheries,” DWR Aquatic Section Chief Drew Cushing said. “Utah has become a lot more urban as the population along the Wasatch Front has expanded, and we wanted to make sure any kid in Utah had an opportunity to go out and engage in the sport of fishing close to home, regardless of if they live in the middle of a large city or in a small, rural community.”

The goal of community fishing ponds was to provide kids with an introduction to the outdoors and recreating in nature. But this program isn’t just for youth. DWR officials also wanted to provide a place close to the homes of retired people who can’t drive as far anymore to enjoy fishing.

Rachel Newswander got her children out of the house for a day of fishing at Skylar’s Pond located in Willow park on Friday May 29, 2020.

“We have seen some pretty remarkable things since we formally launched this program and built new fishing ponds in some of these communities,” Cushing said. “In one city, they saw a high crime rate at the park at night. So, they partnered with us and built this community fishing pond in the park, and the crime rate dropped.”

DWR officials thought the reason crime dropped was due to people caring about and taking ownership of the community pond.

“I’ve been able to help build a number of the ponds in these communities, and I was always so happy to do that because I knew the benefit it was to the residents,” he said. “Helping run the community fisheries program and teaching kids and community members how to fish was the best job I ever had.”

DWR stocks community ponds bi-weekly during the spring and fall months, using rainbow trout that are raised in local hatcheries. Channel catfish are trucked from Arkansas and stocked into the ponds several times during the summer. And some of the community ponds are also stocked once a year with wipers, a sterile hybrid of a white bass and a striped bass. Some of the wipers are raised in local hatcheries, and others are relocated from Arkansas.

Jaxon Newman, 15 fishes from one of the bridges on the Wellsville Pond May 2, 2020.

“Our community fishing ponds are quite popular now,” DWR Northern Region Aquatics Manager Chris Penne said. “Last fall, we completed a survey at just six community fisheries in northern Utah, and in just two months, the ponds saw a combined 47,000 hours of fishing time. We are so glad that Utahns are using these ponds and enjoying fishing so close to home.”

Many of the youth fishing clubs are run by volunteers, and anyone interested in helping with the programs can reach out to their city officials (contacts are listed on the DWR website). Volunteers are still needed for some community programs.

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