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April 24, 2014

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Living Las Vegas:

A fishing hole stocked with good memories

Sunset Park pond attracts fishermen who are just as interested in conversation and camaraderie as in landing the elusive fry-pan catfish

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

David Rivero watches the evening sky while fishing Thursday at Sunset Park.

Urban Fishing

David Rivero watches the evening sky while fishing Thursday at Sunset Park . Launch slideshow »

Sunset Park

Gary Bainum wouldn’t want to start his day anywhere else and, when he shows up, he discovers he’s not alone.

The 57-year-old U.S. Army veteran arrives around sunrise at Sunset Park to find others casting their fishing lines into the 14-acre pond. Shaded by his Vietnam veteran cap, Bainum puts his fishing poles in one hand and his tackle box in the other to make the short walk from his van to the shore to begin his daily ritual. His sun-bleached tackle box is more than broken in, loaded with lures and bait, but with plenty of room for a fish — if he is so lucky this morning.

Bainum takes his seat along the rocky bank, a breeze blowing in his face and a duck quacking by his side. The water is so clean and clear you can reach down and touch the shimmering rainbow trout and carp that race by, teasingly close to the shore.

It’s a great way to spend his retirement from the military, especially if he can catch some catfish for his wife to fry later in the day.

“It’s a relaxing getaway, a chance to enjoy myself away from the rest of the world,” Bainum said.

The fishermen form easy bonds, sharing tales from childhood outings or debating whether they’re better off using lime green Power Bait powder or sticking with store-bought, old-school worms.

A few feet away from Bainum, Alex Cadiz reminisces about growing up — and fishing — in Hawaii. Back home, he says, you could use as many fishing poles as you could handle. (Sunset Park enforces a two-pole maximum.)

For most people, if you mention fishing, or water, images of Lake Mead are conjured up. The valley’s urban ponds don’t draw much attention, offering solitude that, for many, is the best catch of all.

The cost of fishing at Sunset Park: $29 for an annual license. There is a three-fish maximum per day.

Fishermen say the pond at Sunset Park — 12 feet deep and supplied from wells — is one of the cleanest and clearest in town.

In 2008, the most recent year with data, about 2,500 anglers worked the Sunset Park pond, averaging about six visits during the year.

Cadiz says that of all the ponds in the valley, the one at Sunset Park is his favorite. “It’s nice, quiet and not too rowdy. I have a lot of friends here,” he said.

The park, which opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m., is busiest on weekends.

Fishing knows no age limits; witness 8-year-old Johan Streichert, who plays football, soccer and basketball — and decided to expand his horizons after reading the book “The Magic Fish.”

His father, Joe Streichert, purchased a starter kit of sorts, complete with poles, lures, bait and all the necessities to catch that elusive first fish. On this day, father is teaching son the delicate technique of casting.

This is the stuff that makes Ivy Santee smile.

Santee, the wildlife department’s southern regional angler education director, promotes fishing to the uninitiated, and this past week hosted a group of elementary school students at Floyd Lamb State Park.

Funny thing about fishing, she said: People may try it for the sport of it but, in time, they return because of new friendships. “They’ve made friends,” she said, “and have a group of people they like to meet up with.”

Tom Pavlinsky, a 40-year-old construction worker, has been fishing since his childhood growing up in Pennsylvania. The Spring Valley resident has fished in several parts of the nation and finds peace spending mornings at Sunset Park.

“Where I grew up, you could wake outside and find a fishing hole 100 yards out of your backyard,” Pavlinsky said. “It’s an addiction. Once you pull in your first fish, you want to stay until you get your second.”

By now, Bainum has been at it for nearly two hours with no fish to show for it. But he’s enjoying the breeze and sunshine, and bonding with a duck that refuses to leave his side.

Maybe tomorrow he’ll gift his wife with a catfish to fry.

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