There’s good urban fishing in city parks all over the country, but these stand out.
I managed to get a personal day last week from my Austin, Texas job, and I decided to check out Onion Creek in nearby McKinney Falls State Park.
You’d never know this place was three miles from a major airport, or inside the boundaries of one of the country’s fastest growing cities, or 12 minutes from my South Austin apartment. The ranger at the park station pointed me to a chain of cypress-shaded holes just downstream from the falls. It was good advice. These holes fetched up Guadalupe bass, sunfish, catfish, and carp, a few of them large enough to satisfy trophy hounds.
It turns out that I was still looking too far from my front door. Urban conservation and renewal programs are starting to pay off, bringing wildlife back to long-degraded areas where they haven’t survived in decades.
For good reason, this hasn’t led to an upswing in urban hunting. But urban fishing is seeing a revival, and a new audience is starting to pick up the sport.
Here are five of the top urban fishing areas in the US, and each one is well worth checking out.
5. Lake Austin & Lady Bird Lake
In the 1970s, Lady Bird Lake was a dump. Then named Town Lake, this cooling reservoir for the Holly Street Power Plant was polluted, ugly, and overgrown with weeds. A partnership between mayor Roy Butler and Lady Bird Johnson turned the lake around, and now it’s one of the city’s premier attractions.
Local guides sell trips out on the lake, which seems like a great way to fish if you’ve got children or novice fisherman in tow. Plus, you’re in walking distance of a P. Terry’s burger joint if you get skunked.
Upriver from Lady Bird is Lake Austin, a deeper reservoir popular with boaters and carp fisherman. The grass carp was first stocked to eradicate invasive weeds, which it did very successfully. Fisherman have come to appreciate them as strong fighters and exceptionally picky eaters. As a herbivore, carp aren’t especially interested in most pattern—they require precision casting and grass imitating flies.
Wonderbread works too, but that seems like cheating. The lake yielded a 43 pound state record common carp during the 2006 Texas Carp Challenge.
4. Any Major Town or City in Arizona
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has an entire office devoted to supporting and promoting urban fishing. The program features a special discount license and stocks the full range of beloved American sport fish: rainbow and brown trout, smallmouth bass, catfish, and sunfish.
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3. Los Angeles River
Non-Angelinos are often surprised to hear that there’s a Los Angeles River. In fairness, it was hardly a river for most of the 20th Century. In the late 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers encased the banks in concrete to curb what up to then had been a deadly series of floods.
The plan worked, but it cost the river its entire native fish population. Do you remember the race scene from Grease, and that big, empty culvert? That was the Los Angeles River.
In recent years the city has begun restoring sections of the river to their original state, and it’s become popular with bikers and kayakers. There’s nothing to be done about the concrete slopes on either side. In a weird way, it’s an interesting view while you fish for carp, which is the most common sport fish in most of the river. North of the city in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area the river is stocked with bass and rainbow trout.
2. Seattle, Washington
Seattle’s advantage as a site for urban fishing is its proximity to some beautiful lakes and rivers, and the wealth of salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat that visit them.
Even the Duwamish River, now a federal Superfund site, holds big runs every year. Unfortunately, eating is prohibited. There are less toxic fisheries not far off though. Lake Washington has been closely monitored since the 1960s, and several parks line the shores of Lake Sammamish.
1. Chicago, Illinois
Competitors in the 2000 Bassmaster Classic were skeptical when they heard it would take place in Lake Michigan close to Chicago. But the smallmouth bass there thrive, thanks to the otherwise annoying zebra mussel, an accidental import from Russia. The mussels filter silt and pollutants out of the water, improving the penetration of sunlight and encouraging the growth of algae.