Fishing Crew at MacArthur Park Lake Working to Keep Kids Away From Gangs

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MacArthur Park Lake isn't known for its bountiful fishing. However, a group of local anglers are catching and releasing some serious monsters.

Their club is called California Ghetto Carping. They cast their lines where most people won't – in water so dirty that they're often forced to get creative with their bait.

"I'm telling you, there's some big boys in there. Most of our bait all comes from our wives' kitchens," says Sergio Talavera, aka Big Sergg.

He's an ex-gang member who traded bullets for bait. His mission now is twofold.

"I want to teach kids who are in a rough place, like I was, to fish and have confidence," Talavera says.

Last month, club member Eddie Salmeron hooked a behemoth 50-pound carp. He says it took him more than 20 minutes to reel it in.

"The way the carp fight, it's like a bull. You can't hold it back," Salmeron says.

The duels these anglers engage in today are oceans away from their past.

"I was in a gang for many years. I've been stabbed, shot at, everything," Talavera recalls as he packs his homemade bait around a fishing hook.

Salmeron knows the feeling. He says Talavera helped him turn his life around.

"Sergg caught me when I was 21. I was an inch away from doing something that was going to impact my life so negatively that I think I'd still be in jail. So Sergg had a huge impact on me. Now I want to help other kids and show them what Sergg taught me," Salmeron says.

And that's the real bait behind California Ghetto Carping. Talavera says it's all about the kids.

"What I'll tell a kid is that there's only a few ways to live out on the street. If you're from a gang, there's only a few options. You're going to be dead, spend your life in prison, or end up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life," Talavera says. "I'll show them my scars and say, 'This right here, I should have been dead. But by the grace of God I was saved from that.'"

Most kids in the park – many of them homeless – have never even seen fish this big, let alone caught one. Salmeron says spending time and teaching them how to fish is the greatest reward.

"It makes my heart beat real loud. I love it," Salmeron says. "It's a feeling of joy that I made an impact on somebody, who I know in the future is going to be doing something positive."

He calls fishing his "drug."

"I love it. It's like church," Salmeron says.

So far Talavera and Salmeron have taught countless children their craft and given away dozens of fishing poles. Currently, they're trying to expand their program to reel in more inner-city youth. Eventually, they hope to work with the city of Los Angeles to organize a free fishing day at the lake. But first, they're determined to raise more funds to give away more rods and reels.

Not a fisherman? Not a problem. The club is open to everyone. The number one rule: catch and release.

"Fishing taught me a new life: how to respect others. I want to teach the kids that so they don't follow my path. And I want them to land a big one! This is my way of paying it forward," Talavera says. "More tackle boxes and less X-boxes."

To learn more about the group, or to make a donation, visit the group's GoFundMe page.