From the tree-lined pond bank, 10-year-old Fatu Sheriff cast her baited hook and bobber into the water to officially open the 67th state-stocked fishing pond in the metro area last week in Brooklyn Park.

Fatu won the honors because she caught the biggest fish, a 1½-pounder, at last year’s police-sponsored outing. Since the city lacked a good fishing pond, Brooklyn Park police teamed up with area businesses and the state’s Fishing in the Neighborhood (FIN) program to clean up and deepen a 1.1-acre stormwater pond. It sits right outside the city’s Community Activity Center at 5600 85th Av. N.

“We are bringing fishing closer to the kids. Not everyone has the opportunity to get on a boat or go Up North,” said Leah Weyandt, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist working with the FIN program.

Fatu said she and her family took the bus to the centrally located pond. They joined about 100 kids, each given a Cabela’s fishing pole, from lower-income families whom the DNR hopes to hook on fishing.

More than 40 police and DNR officers were on hand to bait hooks and offer tips to the kids, some of whom had never fished before. The DNR stocked the pond with about 1,300 bluegills and yellow perch this spring. Big fishing rocks line part of the pond and a T-shaped dock is coming this month.

Fatu was upstaged by 5-year-old Sophia Bell-Cepeda, who caught the first fish of the morning, a small yellow perch. As her proud mom and two older sisters looked on, Sophia, in pigtails, had her picture taken. She said it felt good to catch the first fish on her second time fishing.

Police inspector Mark Bruley said the pond was great for annual “Cops-N-Kids” events, which had been held on Champlin’s Mill Pond in recent years because Brooklyn Park lacked a fishing lake. He said city employees and volunteers cleared heavy brush from the banks, deepened the pond from 3.5 feet to 13 feet at its deepest point and laid clay on the bottom to hold the water.

The pond is perfect for the FIN program because of its high visibility at a central location, with bus service and housing a few blocks away, Weyandt said.

The program is aimed at urban kids and families that don’t have much opportunity to connect with the outdoors, said Jim Levitt, a fisheries specialist. He said today’s families have less free time, so “we created something that is easier for them to do with their kids. You can go fish for an hour, you don’t have to make a day out of it.”

The DNR’s four FIN fishery specialists participate in about 100 fishing or educational events attracting up to 10,000 people a year, said Levitt. He said with only two FIN staffers this year, about 25 events will be held. He said the DNR stocks an average of about 30,000 fish a year, mostly bluegills and catfish, in the 67 FIN ponds in the seven-county area.

FIN was started in 2001 with the goal of keeping fishing popular because fishing license fees support the DNR’s fisheries stocking and management program, Levitt said. He said FIN’s $50,000 budget helps pay for fishing piers at ponds, catfish bought from a Missouri business, fishing poles and other equipment used at events. The DNR raises its own bluegills, perch and other fish.

One way to gauge FIN’s success is monitoring annual fishing license sales, which rose to 1.17 million licenses in 2012, after dropping from 1.18 million in 2009. The youngsters who attended FIN events 10 years ago are reaching 16 and 17 years of age. Licenses for that age group increased to 30,129 last year after declining three years from 32,324 in 2008.

Meanwhile, back at Brooklyn Park’s pond, Anthony Adams, 7, was keeping DNR conservation officer Steven Walter busy rebaiting minnows, which kept disappearing from his hook. Walter also freed Anthony’s shorts from his hook a few times. Walter, a 27-year DNR veteran, said he sometimes sees kids he once taught to fish still fishing years later as adults, with their own kids.

Something was tugging on Anthony’s bobber. With shouts of encouragement from Walter he reeled in a ¼-pound yellow perch.

“I caught a fish, finally!” Anthony beamed, as Walter unhooked it.

After holding the fish (Anthony declined) by the boy’s smiling face for a picture, Walter added:

“I haven’t seen too many kids doing this who don’t want to do it again.”