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They're hooked on the sea

Young people from South L.A. get their first taste of ocean fishing.

August 17, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Betsy Camano squirmed as a deckhand aboard the New Del Mar threaded a 6-inch anchovy onto a hook and showed the youths from Watts and other parts of South Los Angeles how to cast their lines into the Pacific Ocean.

"This is my first time in a boat," said Betsy, 17, a lifeguard at the 109th Street pool in Watts. "I don't understand why we have to kill the fish first if we're going to kill another fish."

But after the group had been fishing a while, she leaned over the side of the 75-foot vessel anchored three miles offshore and reconsidered.

"It's actually fun," she concluded. "It's more than just a pool."

Betsy and more than 120 other youths took part in the outing last week as part of the Watts deep sea fishing excursion, organized by the office of L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and the Watts Gang Task Force. The task force includes police, city officials and community members whose aim is to steer young people away from gangs.

"The goal is to provide experiences for kids who are growing up in a part of Los Angeles that has historically been disconnected from the ocean," Hahn said, noting that many of them had never been to a marina or on a boat.

On the bus ride from 103rd Street and Compton Avenue to Marina del Rey on a recent morning, one youth asked how many people on the bus had ever been fishing. Only a few raised their hands.

"How many of you all have been on a boat?" he asked, and even fewer responded.

"These kids have to deal with gang violence and regular occurrences of shootings in their neighborhoods," Hahn said later.

"They live under pressures that a lot of kids in Los Angeles don't have."

Hahn and Eric Brown, her deputy chief of staff, said they would like to expand the trip, which cost about $7,000, to an annual event. Another idea is to find additional funding to purchase boats so the Department of Parks and Recreation can run a constant summer youth fishing program, Brown said.

Members of the Watts Gang Task Force showed their support for the event during a meeting last month when Art Jackson, who works for the Department of Parks and Recreation, laid a $20 bill on a stool in the middle of the room and challenged other members "to not talk about it, but be about it."

Instantly, the group raised about $500 to help pay for the boat's deckhands.

Aboard the New Del Mar, there was constant chatter among its gleeful passengers.

"We got a fish over here," some yelled. "What you got?" others responded. And then: "Reel him in!" A small crowd formed as one snared a mackerel and another a bass.

Benjamin Bailey, 11, the first to catch a fish, grabbed his prize by its tail, thrust it up in the air and smiled as chaperons snapped pictures. His impressions of the silver-bellied creature? "It was wiggly."

Brian J. Quinteros, 22, said he was surprised by how much fun he and others were having on the boat.

"You realize you're taking brand-new steps in a brand-new world," he said.

"Their reaction to this is different than what I thought it'd be," said Michael O'Dell, 26, who works with AmeriCorps in South Los Angeles and is part of the gang task force.

O'Dell said all the kids were excited and engaged, except for the few who got seasick.

"It feels weird," Ericberto De La Cruz, 19, said when the boat first took off on what would be his initial voyage at sea. "I'm right here, but everything's moving."

He quickly adjusted to the new experience, however.

"Sometimes in the city it gets really stressful," he said, "but just being out here with nature, fresh air -- it's good."

For the next two hours, De La Cruz baited his hooks and cast his line into the ocean, with little success.

He was exasperated but not discouraged.

"I didn't even catch one," he said. "Next time."

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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