St. Louis Urban Fishing program

The St. Louis Urban Fishing program celebrates 50 years of stocking lakes in St. Louis City and County with a variety of fish 

By Charlotte Beard

When most people think of fishing, they may think of driving out to rural areas. However, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in collaboration with the partnership of lakes in urban areas has been making it possible for many Missouri citizens to fish close to home since 1969 by stocking the lakes with a variety of fish. 

The initiative is part of the St. Louis Urban Fishing program. MDC has chosen seven of its 17 partnering lakes in St. Louis to celebrate its 50th anniversary of the program starting April 27 through June 8.  January-Wabash Park Lake in Ferguson located at 501 N. Florissant Rd, is one of the seven lakes that will host a free festival Saturday, June 8. Fountain Lake in Bellefontaine Park and Carp and Island Lakes in Suson Park are two of the other county locations where festivals will be held on May 4. All festivals will take place 8 am to 12 pm. 

MDC will stock additional fish for the festivals with the hope that the events be abundantly enjoyable for attendees. The limited number of available fishing poles at the festivals will primarily be used for participation in fishing instructions. Festival attendees are encouraged to bring their own fishing equipment and bait. All attendees are required to bring a fishing permit except ages 15 and younger and ages 65 and older.

“St. Louis Urban Fishing program is the oldest and one of the largest in the country,” shared Kevin Meneau, Fisheries Management Biologist for MDC. “It was one of six original pilot programs back in 1969 that the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries decided to (attempt) starting to bring close-to-home fishing opportunities to folks in larger urban areas. They recognized that sometimes in highly urban areas there’s not very good fishing unless you drive long distances. The idea was to try having some good quality fishing right in people’s backyards.”

St. Louis was a natural fit for the program.

“They brought wild fish from northern states like South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin and trucked them to these major metro areas and stocked them in urban parks,” Meneau said. “In St. Louis they were stocked in Willmore, Carondelet, Forest Park and O’Fallon. They did survey work for (approximately) three years to see if anyone was taking advantage of the program. At the end of those three years they found that 80 percent of all the fishing that took place in those metro areas took place in St. Louis. So, it was (very) clear folks in St. Louis were ready for the Urban Fishing program. That started our 50-year love affair with the St. Louis Urban Fishing program.”

As part of the program, MDC stocks the lakes year-round with fish appropriate for the season’s climate. 

“In the past we found several of the lakes weren’t built for fishing,” stated Meneau. “They were built as aesthetic amenities to the parks. So, they weren’t very hospitable (for fishing). We decided to make them a better habitat for fish by improving the lakes by deepening them. We spent over $2 million in the late 90s and early 2000s to drain the lakes, deepen them and put better fish habitat in them and provide better access for anglers that have limited mobility. One of the side benefits of improving that habitat was that fish would survive year-round. Fish like crappie, bass, and blue gill could reproduce naturally; those fish reserve are in the urban fishing lakes now where they weren’t before.”

The program not only stocks lakes for the usage of urban anglers but periodically MDC hosts high school fishing tournaments as part of the program at urban fishing lakes. Currently the Fish St. Louis Cup tournament is taking place through the end of May. Meneau also shared that there are plans to host training at several of the partnering lakes to teach kids to fish throughout the year. 

“St. Louisans can be proud that we have the oldest and one of the largest programs in the entire country, still going strong and still providing good fishing for folks in St. Louis right in their own backyard,” stated Meneau. “There are 17 lakes in St. Louis City and County for folks to go use – part of the Urban Fishing program. We strongly encourage them to do that.”

For a complete list of partnering lakes and other program details visit www.mdc.mo.gov or call the regional office to request a brochure at 314-441-4554.

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Urban Fishing program, the Missouri Department of Conservation and its urban fishing partners are holding a series of free family fishing festivals.