Memory: Encanto Park, Phoenix, AZ

The massive lagoon in Encanto Park (Phoenix)

I was born in Flint, Michigan.  It was there that my grandfather taught me how to fish, but when I was seven years old, my father decided to move the family to Phoenix, AZ.  I don’t really know why because he fled the scene, his wife, and three young kids shortly after the move.  I never saw him again.

So, I was two thousand miles away from grandpa and a seven-hour drive away from the Pacific Ocean which I could only dream of seeing some day. 

My family was dirt poor, we had no car, we moved often, and sometimes we didn’t know if there was going to be a next meal or not.  Most of time, I only had one pair of shoes and most of the time they had holes in them.  Knowing that my unskilled mother would have to work all she could just to make ends meet, I rarely asked for anything that was not essential like a bicycle or a fishing pole.  So, I had to be resourceful. 

I found an abandoned bike and with the help of a friend’s father, we made it rideable.  Then, the same friend, gave me an old Zebco spin cast rod and reel in payment for helping him with his homework.  All I needed now was a can of corn because I knew where I was going to go fishing: Encanto Park, a large inner-city park that had a huge lagoon with branching waterways that were filled with Carp, Bass, Perch, and Sunfish.    

Some of my happiest pre-adolescent memories revolved around the mornings when I would get up, open a can of corn, grab my fishing rod, then jump on my bike and ride the 2 or 3 miles to the park.  I would stalk submarine size Carp and snag small Perch and Sunfish.  The latter two often went home to be a dinner for me and my mom who loved pan-fried fish.  The Carp I gave to our landlady who knew just how to cook them. 

So for many years, my time at Encanto Park kept my love for fishing alive when I didn’t have much else. 

The same park later became a meeting place for the “turned on” generation of which I became part of as I looked to meet young ladies while worrying about being shipped off to Viet Nam.  On many warm summer nights while my new friends and I sat around on the hill above the bandstand, I would tell them about all the times I’d been fishing in the lagoon.  They were surprised to learn that there was fish in it.

As I grew up, got a job, and a car, my fishing venues grew, but those stories are for other memories yet to be told.

Advice from Grandpa: Always use a fishing pole and a wishing pole!

My fishing pole and my wishing pole

In Michigan, in the 1950’s, it must have been illegal to fish with more than one pole at a time, but Grandpa Duffy, who was a very law-abiding man, told me to use two poles “when I could get away with it”.  What he meant by this is that if possible, fish at more than one water level at the same time because not all fish feed in the same way. 

The “wishing pole” was the one that you cast out to the deepest part of the lake that you could reach and weight it so it would stay on the bottom where the biggest Catfish, Carp, and other bottom-feeders dwelt.  If you caught something that you didn’t want to eat, like a giant Carp, you at least had the sport of landing it.  Then you’d throw it back. 

The “fishing pole” was the one that you held in your hand at all time.  You could use a bobber if you liked to keep your bait off the bottom but Grandpa Duffy, and me too, liked to just use what he called “drift lines” where you cast your line out, without a weight, and let it drift so fish would think it is just a floating meal.  Perch, Crappie, Sun Fish, and Bass all feed this way along with many others.

This plan holds true in the ocean as well where Sharks, Rays, Halibuts, and many other fish feed on the bottom and these tend to be bigger fish.  Mackerel, Perch, Croakers, and Sea Bass, among many others prefer bait that is drifting and moving almost as if it were alive.  Using a drift line means staying aware of what is going on, keeping your pole in your hands and watching for every dip in the tip of your rod.  It is a very interactive way of fishing that many fishermen don’t have the patience or energy to deal with which is why I can be standing 10 feet from another fisherman catching fish after fish while they are being shut out.  On many days, I show people how I fish and they still don’t catch anything because they are not interested in putting in the effort needed to fish this way.