Creatures from the Encanto Lagoon

File it under trickle-down benefit: Among the many aftereffects of the Encanto Park renovation is a cleaner lagoon. Observers say the fish who live there like it better.

The recent renovation of the city's most parklike park, which occurred over a period of almost two years and at a cost of more than $4 million, produced many noticeable changes. Lighting was improved, pathways were paved, parking was added. Kiddieland and the bandshell were leveled and have yet to make a reappearance. But the pond and its canals got a rehab, and they sparkle. An aeration system and two artificial waterfalls were installed, and canal walls and floor were shored up. For urban fish finders, the Encanto Park lagoon has become the home of whoppers.

So says Bill Carson, a rod 'n' reel veteran who's been hanging his line in Encanto's 7.5 acres of waterways for years. He was spied recently in a familiar spot, planted in a lawn chair just east of the boathouse.

"One day a couple of weeks ago, I took me just an hour and twenty minutes to catch my limit, and usually it takes three or four hours," says Carson, age seventy, who spends about three mornings a week fishing at Encanto while his wife does volunteer work at a nearby hospital. "I usually catch my limit. Anything beats sitting home and watching the idiot box."

Asked the average size of fish he'd been hooking recently, Carson, without winking, holds his hands about a foot apart. "I had some of these fish for dinner the other day," he says, drawling a little. "Put them in the oven and baked them. They was fine."

The Arizona Game and Fish Department administers urban-fishing programs in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and Tucson. It issues licenses (cost: $12 per year), stocks the ponds at several parks (Encanto gets a load of trout or catfish every two weeks) and patrols the banks of the ponds in search of unlicensed fishermen. The daily limit at Encanto, as set by Game and Fish, is four trout and four catfish. It is the opinion of Bill Watt, an urban-fisheries biologist with the state, that anglers like Carson are noticing the effects of the new stocking program rather than reaping the direct benefits of a happier and healthier fish population because of improved living conditions. "There wasn't a regular stocking program there before," he says.

The cleaner water does nothing at all for the fish? "That's a difficult question. I just don't have the data on that," Watt says, launching into a detailed explanation of the benefits of aeration on a pond like Encanto's, including information on the effects of temperature stratification on photosynthesis and other stuff. "Typically," he concludes, "air injection will not hurt a lake, it will only help it." On the morning New Times caught up with him, Carson was doing his research in the field. A tackle box sat open at his feet--"I got a smorgasbord in here," Carson says--and a talk show played on a small radio there. Carson was using gobs of cheese-like commercial gunk for trout bait. "It looks like cheese, but it don't smell like it," he says. "The trout like it. When they're biting, they hit everything you throw out. Salmon eggs, worms, everything.

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Dave Walker

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