PAL fishing program gets kids hooked

Aleksandra Bupajiyk and Peter Milillo learn about fishing

Aleksandra Bupajiyk and Peter Milillo learn about fishing on the Great South Bay through a Police Athletic League program. (July 13, 2011) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

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The point seems simple: you fish in order to catch a fish and then eat that fish.

But for three dozen youngsters aboard the Taryn-Ann fishing boat last week, the point seemed lost, or at the very least, ignored. The kids, part of the Police Athletic League's fishing program, took joy simply in casting their lines and spending the day with the sun overhead and the Great South Bay spread out before them.

"There's a lot who come who've never been on a boat before, who've never been fishing in their lives even though they live right near the water," said Officer Mike Harvey, who has been supervising the trips for over two years.

PAL has been hosting the fishing program once a week for eight weeks each summer for decades, giving a discount rate or offering trips for free to those who cannot afford them. On last week's trip, many were from youth groups in North Babylon and Copiague.

PAL programming is designed to keep kids occupied so they don't get in trouble, but activities like fishing have other benefits, Harvey said.

"It builds confidence and self-esteem," he said. "They're able to say, 'I did this and I did it without mom and dad.' "

Harvey and the boat's crew members teach the children how to fish, untangling lines and helping haul in catches along the way. The kids usually land at least one fish each but only a handful are "keepers" they can take home.

"I got a fish!" shouted Johann Zephirin before kids began straining their necks and clambering to see whether the fluke was big enough to keep.

But they all cringed when a crew member asked if they wanted to touch it, and offered only quick finger pokes and shouts of "ewww." The 11-year old from Copiague had to throw the fluke back because it was a few inches shy of the state requirement of 20.5 inches.

It was Johann's first-ever catch, her first time on a fishing boat and her first excursion on Great South Bay. She was disappointed she couldn't keep the fish but re-baited her pole and soon was back at it. "It's actually relaxing," she said. "I'd like to come here again."

Cammi Farash, 12, of West Babylon said she loves fishing but added, "If I don't catch anything I'm totally fine with that."

Soon Andrew Sussman, 15, of North Babylon, snagged one of the day's few keepers, a 21.5-inch fluke. His father Stuart, 50, on board as a chaperone, called the PAL trips "good quality time" with his son. "We all work so hard these days and it's hard to find the time to do these types of things," he said.

Throughout the day, boat captain John Reilly asked trivia questions about the environment. Reilly, who teaches earth and marine science at East Islip High School, hopes the educational component leads to environmental responsibility.

Reilly cites another benefit of the trips. "They get to see police officers in a different light . . . and not just when something bad is happening," he said.

Some kids wouldn't ever have the opportunity to fish, said James McDougall, of North Babylon Community Youth Services. "A parent might not be able to afford it or have the time," he said, ". . . and it's something constructive to do instead of video games or hanging out."

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