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Fishin' In The Dark Draws Rods and Reels To Park

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In the middle of Charlotte, N.C.'s toniest historic neighborhood, a pond in a local park has become the city's unlikely fishing hole.

Many residents consider Freedom Park one of the city's prettiest, and when summer arrives the fishermen come out, hoping to catch "the big one."

A tiny bream wriggles on the end of 11-year-old Ciarra Carella's line. She's fishing with a piece of hotdog, her line dangling off the edge of a lovely stone bridge. It's a popular spot for wedding photos and for bringing your kids to feed the ducks.

On a recent evening, Ciarra and her uncle Brien Carella fished here for the first time. He admits he was a little skeptical that a manmade pond in a posh neighborhood could be much fun, but just as his Google search promised, "this is one of the best places to fish at," Carella says.

It's not just kids who cast a line here. Serious anglers like Phillip Anthony swear by it.

"I come down here to grab them big catfish," Anthony says. "My girlfriend likes to eat 'em. Put 'em on the grill; they be right!"

This 7-acre pond is only a few feet deep in most places, but the county parks department keeps it stocked with catfish — and plenty of them. Anthony says he once caught 70 in a sitting — and what's a fishing hole without a fish story?

"I ain't lying. I did, right over there under that willow tree over there," Anthony says. "I [stood] right there for about three hours and ... I couldn't even fish with two rods they were biting so fast."

Anthony comes here a couple times a week. Sometimes he brings his 10-year old granddaughter along for a taste of what life was like before Charlotte got all "big city."

"You got condos all over the place now," he says. "Everywhere you turn, there's condos going up."

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.

The fish are wily, too. They're taking worms off Anthony's hook as fast as he can cast them — but he's not reeling any in.

"They know how to pull that thing off without getting caught. For real," Anthony says.

He leaves empty-handed around 9 p.m., just as Jose Sosa and his son amble down the manicured park path. They have no fishing poles, only empty 16-ounce soda bottles wound with fishing line.

"I do this easy and cheaper," Sosa says. "And I catch it!"

Sosa say's it's how they fish back in his native Honduras. He flings a hook loaded with bloody chicken liver out into the water like he's a cowboy trying to rope a fish.

"I like coming here, because the last time I fish — big fish," Sosa says. "Twenty one pounds ... catfish. Right there. Yes — Big."

So big, Sosa says, 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.

The story's hard to buy, until a cell phone picture comes out. In it, Sosa's holding one seriously large fish.

After posing for photos in his kitchen, Sosa says he gave the bewhiskered behemoth to a hungry friend, and then headed back to Freedom Park to give it another shot.

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