Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

August 31st, 1998

Fishing Buddies

On television this morning, either CNN or Fox News (must have been Fox, CNN seems to avoid much cool stuff) were these two guys. Two guys were dressed in their fly fishing garb, with the addition of slouch hats, dark glasses - you know, the "Blue's Brothers" look.

Seems they have been fighting a lengthy battle with the Mayor and powers that be in Holyoke, MA. They even have a old convertible with a sign on the side, "The Fishing Buddies." And they drive around town (when they aren't fishing) with a song playing loudly, something about "catch me if you can!"

They talk to kids, and encourage them to fish. But they are breaking the law! That's what the battle with the Mayor is all about. There is this reservoir right there convenient to the whole town, in fact it has a jogging trail around it. But it is closed to fishing. Mayor Szostkiewicz, says it has to be closed because of an agreement made with the EPA. The EPA says nope, not the way it is at all.

The Fishing Buddies took out a couple of advertisements in the local paper, said they were going to fish in the reservoir - and challenged the Mayor to have them arrested. It didn't happen. So they ran another ad, and did it again. Nothing.

According to the Fishing Buddies, the closure was done to prevent minorities from fishing there. According to the tv report, the Mayor claims there might be a 'trash' problem.

But the reservoir was stocked at one time, presumably so the fish could be caught. Some of them are really big!

That was the gist of the tv piece.

Well, a couple of phone calls provided some interesting information. The spokesperson for Mayor Szostkiewicz, (who was not available to comment) Elaine Pluta told me the police had been present for a couple of the news conferences the Fishing Buddies held, no they had not been arrested, and if they were the only charge against them would be for trespassing.

Locals, Elaine said, really didn't put much stock in what the Fishing Buddies were doing since they are in the advertising business and just doing this to get publicity for themselves..

Turns out neither the EPA nor the MA state Department of Enviromental Protection are the ones to close the reservoir to fishing. The largest reservoir in the state is the Quabbin Reservoir, (about 39 sq. miles,) which supplies drinking water for the city of Boston. And it is open to fishing - and hunting.

Once Upon A Time

James Palmer, the Business Manager for the Water Department in Holyoke, who emphasised he was not the Spokesman for the Water Department, did tell me a group of local fisherman came to the Water Commissioners with a proposal to open the Reservoir to fishing for one Saturday this June. A Kid's Fish-In; for Holyoke residents only, kids under 14, and accompanied by an adult. Somewhere around 500 people showed up, 300 or so of those being kids. Porta Potties were in place, and the sponsoring group obtained liability insurance for the event. They even had medical care available. It was a huge success.

The plot thickens! There is not just this one reservoir in Holyoke - there are a total of three in the city, and an even larger one just outside town. All are open to jogging and other non-fishing activites.

But James Palmer said, there are no 'facilities' at any of the reservoirs. I questioned 'facilites' and he means there are no toilets. Gee, I asked, what do the joggers and other users do? No answer.

I asked if there were any other fishable waters close to town, especially where kids could fish. That's when Mr. Palmer volunteered the info about Quabbin Reservoir, about 25 miles from Holyoke. Frankly a little far for the local kids to ride on their bikes, if they have one.

Let's face it, this is not just a local disgrace in Massachusetts. It is a problem that is getting worse everywhere. It is called public access! And in this case, access to property (and the right to fish it) owned by the public! The reservoirs are a public utility, bought and paid for with tax dollars.

So who holds the power in Holyoke? Who is it that decrees "No Fishing!" The appointed members of The Water Commission. Appointed by the City Council. This is not a village, this is a medium-sized city of 43,000. One where fishing is obviously not considered either proper nor important recreation. And how is their crime rate?

Maybe this is about priorities. Translated that means money. It does cost money to build toilets, or rent portable ones. If the City Attorney shakes in his boots at the thought of 'liability' on the cities end, perhaps a group could step in and provide the money for liability insurance. Aren't there some major insurance companies in MA. Is there a Holyoke Parks Department? What are they doing in this situation?

Or a fund-raiser or auction could function as a means to provide the necessary funds, if the city doesn't have the means to provide them.

Where is Trout Unlimited? Where is Fish America? Where is the Federation of Fly Fishers? Where are all the other groups who "say" they are for promoting fishing and getting kids involved in fishing?

Anyone out there with connections in Holyoke? Get on the phone, call Dave Conti, the spokesman for the Water Department/Commissioners. Phone number is: 413-536-0442 (He was unavailable when I called, but I was given a Fax number so I could send my questions to him) Fax number is: 413-538-6244. If you are a member of a local organization in the surrounding region, get them involved. Do something!

I can't believe that two guys, the Fishing Buddies/Blues Brothers are out there, carrying on a battle with no help. Don't let this one go by - next time it may be your favorite water!

~Deanna Birkholm

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