Eunice Tucker and Leonard Jones lie back in their green plastic recliners by theside of Echo Park Lake with their fishing poles propped up in front of them. In the deepening twilight, Latinos play soccer among the palm trees and families stroll on park paths. "It's always like this," Tucker says.
The middle-aged pair move slowly, partly from languor, partly for Jones because of back problems that knocked him onto disability from his job as a school bus driver. They've been spending much of the summer here while Tucker, a junior high school special ed teacher, is on vacation. "We could go back to Crenshaw now," Tucker says, eyeing the Hollywood Freeway a block away, "but the highway'sprobably jammed."
Eight feet deep, Echo Park is only one of two lakes in the city which has springwater as a source. For the past two years, the Department of Fish and Game has been filling it with trout and catfish as part of its Urban Fishery Program. John Sunada, the associate fishery biologist in charge of the program, says the idea is to offer recreation for the neighborhood and a good meal. "A nice-sized rainbow trout is a pretty tasty morsel," he says. Locals have been stocking the lake as well. Goldfish have been released from children's aquariums, telapias are present in decent numbers, and anglers have spotted the occasional carp and freshwater eel.
Fishing has proved so popular at Echo Park Lake that Fish and Game has established a club for children called Los Tibur nes, The Sharks. "We've been giving stuff to these kids all day," Tucker says, nodding toward a group of children who had been borrowing bait and hooks from them.
Tucker and Jones have a comfortable style of fishing. They cast and then prop their poles on a plastic case and a wheeled shopping cart. Between the first andsecond rungs on their poles, they've pulled out a foot of slack line and hung a plastic floater at the bottom of the curve. "When it goes up, you've got a fish," Tucker says. "You've got to move quick," Jones says from his recliner.
Whether the fish are safe to eat is a matter of some debate. Catfish that survive the first few weeks turn a dark, dull color, but Fish and Game and the local Water Quality Control Board say the fish are healthy. "I wouldn't drink the water but it's a decent place for a fish," says Sunada. Most of the regular anglers reason that since the fish are usually there for only a couple of weeks,they can't be too dirty. "I've never gotten sick," Tucker says with a shrug.
When the light is gone, Tucker and Jones pack up their two catfish and leave along with the other day fishermen. They're replaced by the lake's night anglers. Pechen Wong, 61 and on disability, and friend Ronald Sturak, 32 and unemployed, fish about twice a week and have developed their own adaptations fornight fishing. Wong attaches a bell to his line to signal when he has a bite; Sturak paints the tips of his rods with white glossy fingernail polish so that he can see when they move. Some of the time, usually right after the lake's beenstocked, they'll stay until 2 or 3 in the morning.
"When it's hot and you can't sleep," says Sturak, "it's just so nice by the water."