AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Summer is in full swing, and today we introduce a series in honor of the season. We're calling it Summer Nights. We're going to take you to some special places around the country that come to life when the sun goes down. Some are well-known hotspots where people flock on a summer evening. Others, a little more surprising, like our first story about a pond. It's in the middle of a park in the toniest historic neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina.
As Julie Rose of member station WFAE reports, the pond has become a magnet for people looking to catch the big one.
JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: Freedom Park is one of the prettiest in Charlotte. It's where I take my evening walks, and I can always tell when summer has come because the fishermen come out.
CIARRA CARELLA: Got one.
ROSE: A tiny bream wriggles on the line of 11-year-old Ciarra Carella. She's fishing with a piece of hotdog dangled off the edge of a lovely stone bridge that's popular with wedding parties taking pictures.
Freedom Park is the spot for photo shoots or bringing your kids to feed the ducks. This is the first time Ciarra and her uncle, Brien Carella, have fished here. He admits he was a little skeptical that a manmade pond in a posh neighborhood could be much fun, but...
BRIEN CARELLA: You Google it, Charlotte, best places the fish is at here in Charlotte, and this is one of the best places to fish in.
CARELLA: Brien, caught another one.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Brien, she caught a perch.
ROSE: Ciarra's caught another. And it's not just kids who cast a line here. Serious anglers like Phillip Anthony swear by it.
PHILLIP ANTHONY: Come down here to grab them big catfish. My girlfriend - she likes to eat them. Put them on the grill. They be right.
ROSE: This seven acre pond is only a few feet deep in most places, but the County Parks Department stocks it with catfish, and Anthony says he once caught 70 in a sitting.
ANTHONY: And I ain't lying. I did, right over there by that willow tree over there. See that willow tree over there? I stood right there for about three hours and I - and no soon - I caught that many fish with two rods, they were biting so fast.
ROSE: What's a fishing hole without a fish story, right? Anthony comes here a couple of times a week and, sometimes, he brings his 10-year-old granddaughter along for a taste of what life was like before Charlotte got all big city.
ANTHONY: You got condos all over the place now. Everywhere you turn, there's condos going up.
ROSE: This may not be the most natural of fishing spots, but the catfish in these waters are a fair challenge. They're well fed on the leftovers kids toss to the ducks and they're wily. Tonight, they're taking worms off Anthony's hook as fast as he can cast them.
ANTHONY: They know how to pull that thing off without getting caught, for real. Oh, shucks. Oh.
ROSE: Another one gets away. Anthony leaves empty-handed around nine o'clock, just as Jose Sosa and his son amble down the manicured park path. They've got no fishing poles, only empty 16 ounce soda bottles wound with fishing line.
JOSE SOSA: I do this easy and cheap and I catch them.
ROSE: It's how they fish back in his native Honduras, says Sosa. He flings a hook loaded with bloody chicken liver out into the water like he's a cowboy trying to rope a fish.
SOSA: I like coming here because, the last time, I catch a big fish, 21 pounds.
ROSE: You caught a 21-pound catfish?
SOSA: Right there. Catfish.
ROSE: Right there?
SOSA: Right there. Yes. Bait like this.
ROSE: So big, it made his hands bleed to pull the line in. He used his camp chair to scoop it out of the water and heave it onto the lawn. I am not buying this story. Why would I? He can tell from the look on my face, then out comes the cell phone picture.
ROSE: Whoa, holy. It's huge.
ROSE: After posing for pictures in his kitchen, Sosa says he gave the bewhiskered behemoth to a hungry friend and headed back to Freedom Park after dark.
For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Charlotte.
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