HAMMOND — After hooking up with a pound-sized catfish early in the day, Evan and Jason Monistere, of Hammond, ran to the weigh-in station to record their catch.
Both said they were having fun catching fish at the first-ever Get Out and Fish Rodeo at the lake in Zemurray Park.
Jason said they forgot their bait so they used some lunchmeat taken from a snack-pack they had been given by their parents.
“The fish liked the bologna as much as we do,” he said.
Fish and family came together in large numbers Saturday as the city hosted its inaugural fishing rodeo.
Almost 400 anglers registered for the event, which was sponsored by Hammond city officials and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Anglers of all ages participated in the morning’s event, but the emphasis was largely placed on young fishermen, some just past the toddler stage. The lake was ringed on all sides with eager fishermen hoping to catch fish. They threw out lines from rods, reels and poles of many different descriptions with a wide variety of baits.
Squeals of joy could be heard from the youngsters as they managed to snag small perch or catfish. Channel catfish were the main target of the fishermen. Earlier in the week, wildlife crews stocked the lake with about 600 pounds of adult catfish. The latest infusion of fish came after the agency stocked the pond about a year ago with bream, bass and catfish.
“The turnout is far better than we expected…the park is beautiful…everyone is having fun…it’s just a great thing for our city,” said Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto.
The mayor said much of the success was the result of efforts by Team Hammond, the city employees who planned the event and the parks and grounds crews who groomed Zemurray Park for the fishing rodeo.
While the focus was on catching fish, there were many other activities for participants, especially the young. The first 100 who registered for the rodeo were given complimentary rods and reels and goody bags containing fishing gear.
LDWF provided a casting station; a mobile touch-a-fish tank containing numerous species of fish on ice; knot-tying lessons; demonstrations on how to tell the age of a fish; arts exercises, including build-a-fish and fish print making; and how to clean and cook a fish. The Hammond fire and police unions offered safety classes and demonstrated equipment used by their members. Awards were given in a large number of categories based on age groupings and size and numbers of catches at the rodeo’s conclusion.
Gail Glorioso, of Hammond, accompanied her daughter and granddaughter to the rodeo.
“This is what it’s all about. This is family day for us. It gives us a chance to be together and enjoy the outdoors. Zemurray is a very nice park with a great atmosphere. It’s clean, and is so convenient right here in the middle of Hammond,” she said.
Glorioso said her late husband used to take their children and grandchildren fishing, so it was her turn to perform that chore.
Martha Bruna, of Loranger, echoed some of the same sentiments.
“This is just great. This event gives us quality time to spend as a family. We are having fun. We have always enjoyed Zemurray Park. The park is a nice place to visit and we always come when it is decorated for Christmas. I also enjoy the dog park here. Zemurray is a great asset to our city,” she said.
The Get Out and Fish Rodeo had special significance for Lacy Landrum, Hammond’s director of administration.
Several years ago, when she was the city director of grants, Landrum helped secure a large grant that was used to dredge and clean Zemurray Lake. Bulkheads were installed around the lake to prevent erosion which had caused siltation. That work was completed last year, and the lake was restocked to provide a fishing experience in the heart of the city.
“Today is just amazing,” Landrum said. “The turnout is well beyond what we expected. As far as I am concerned, today marks the rebirth of Zemurray Park. This is why we build and maintain parks; so our families can have a place to come together for fun outdoors. Today defines what Zemurray Park is all about and I cannot be happier about how things have turned out.”
LDWF’s Biologist Program Manager Danica Williams, who coordinated her agency’s involvement in the rodeo, said the purpose of such events was to place the fishing experience within reach of all residents. She said LDWF began the program with a community fishing day at Girard Park in Lafayette earlier this year and that more such happenings are planned.
Williams said the Hammond rodeo was the most successful thus far.
“Our unofficial motto with this program is, ‘No boat, no problem!’ Our state is known for its great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and this is just one way we are opening the window to the outdoors for more people,” Williams said. “The success of today’s rodeo shows just how much interest there is in enjoying fishing, especially as a family happening. We will stock Zemurray Park with rainbow trout when the weather gets cooler and we hope to have another event similar to this one in the future.”