Real Israel: Reel life

Debating, de-baiting and unwinding at Ma’ayan Zvi Fishing Park

Yossi Collins in Maayan Fishing Park 521 (photo credit: Liat Collins: Yossi Collins in Maayan Fishing Park)
Yossi Collins in Maayan Fishing Park 521
(photo credit: Liat Collins: Yossi Collins in Maayan Fishing Park)
MAGAZINE August 26, 2011 REAL ISRAEL I’ve never been tempted to hang a “Gone fishing” sign on my door, but my nearly 10-year-old son has been hooked on the idea for a while, so when we got the chance to visit Ma’ayan Zvi Fishing Park for an overnight trip, we packed our tent and camping gear and headed North, close to Zichron Ya’acov, in that particularly pastoral strip of coast at the foot of the Carmel mountains.
As it happened, the dates that suited us best fell on days in which the fishing park is dedicated to the Orthodox and ultra- Orthodox public. Visitors are required to wear modest clothes, there are separate hours for boys and girls in the paddling pools and the music is suitable for the religious public. The result was a peculiarly Israeli experience.
The original idea of the park was to allow adults to fish by providing enough attractions to keep the children busy. From what I could see, however, most families came for the kids’ sake and enjoyed not only the fishing, but watching their offspring have fun.
Situated along the Dalia stream, with natural ponds, the fishing is obviously the bait that lures the public, but there are several other activities to suit most age groups.
Most of the men and children made a beeline for the water (rods can be hired).
The shallow ponds are well stocked, mainly with carp and St. Peter’s fish. These are foolish enough to be caught fairly easily. As a vegetarian, I’m proud to say I saved more fish than I caught. In fact, I didn’t even try to catch any and just lent a hand at the tricky task of gently unhooking the hapless creatures and throwing them back into the water. The park allows visitors to weigh and pay for fish they catch (and provides a cleaning service), and several families did catch their own suppers. Most people, however, returned the fish to their own element.
The younger children have an option of catching small fish in tanks with nets.
Fishing is evidently not as easy as it seems.
“This is not Hollywood. Don’t throw your line into the river, drop it in,” explained Omar Diknash, who has worked at the site for several years and was not fazed to see fishing lines caught in the branches of a palm tree, as if the visitor had been trying to catch a bird rather than a carp.
While my son was caught on the fishing – hook, line and sinker – I toured the area, watched a nature movie in the reconstructed old windmill, admired the photo exhibition, and took the opportunity to interview some of the visitors.
What a varied bunch they proved to be: I ended up deep in discussion about the future of journalism in the Internet era with a family from Bnei Brak (the wife works in computers); with a young woman from Safed, I pondered Martin Fletcher’s observation of the fundamental difference between Israelis from the coastal plain (where life is easier) and those from the hills (who are tougher); I debated the rights of man to rule the animal kingdom with a family from Elad, and ended up in conversation with a 21-year-old mother from Rosh Ha’ayin about the nature of wars. This conversation was sparked when I mentioned that the resident dog, Crembo, had been adopted as a puppy when he was abandoned during the Second Lebanon War, presumably by a family fleeing the missiles.
In between, I also talked with the hardworking park manager Graciela Gelbed about the ruthless Argentinean regime she escaped when she came to Israel more than 30 years ago; with the park owner and developer Ofer Shinar, a secular former pilot, I ended up discussing religion versus science; and with Diknash – a Techniontrained former engineer from Fureidis – the problems of the Arab sector. As I said, this fishing park has an only-in-Israel feel to it.
The site has been operating for nine years (after a battle with environmentalists that I could well understand over development in this sensitive area). It has been holding special days for the religious public for the past five years, and I got the impression it is still a work in progress.
“It’s not meant to be Superland,” Diknash pointed out, using the generic name for an amusement park. The activities, however, include a rope ladder and rope slide, donkey rides, paddling pools, baking pitot, and – a particular hit with my son – boats (although steering away from the fishing lines at one point left us up a pleasant creek without a paddle).
There is also (for an extra charge) a foot spa, where the fish tickle as they nibble at the dead skin. I’m not sure whether this counted as cruelty, given the state of my feet, but out of all the fish at the site, they seem to have the best job.
For those who want to venture further afield, there are bicycles for hire and marked cycling paths, and of course, the coast is an easy walk or ride.
AS NIGHT fell, and only the campers remained, the fishing park took on a different, more intimate, atmosphere. Families borrowed from each other the one thing they had each forgotten to pack (a sharp “dairy” knife; a can opener; salt). The showers and toilets are basic but clean, and, perhaps because it was not crowded, the camping was more pleasant than at other dedicated campsites I’ve been to.

We slept well and woke up to the sound of the many water birds for which the area is well-known.
The park began filling up in the morning, again with different types. My son hooked up with a fisherman who was willing to share his 40 years’ experience. Even I watched, amazed, as he pulled two fish out of the water together and then, with tremendous ease, unhooked them and let them go. “I don’t think there’s a fish here that hasn’t felt my hook,” Moses Kolet told me.
Kolet, a semi-retired healer and medical masseur who lives in Hadera, comes to the park once a week for a day’s fishing. Fortunately he’s not the sort who requires solitude for the hobby, and we discussed the Indian Jewish community and early years of immigration while he periodically pulled fish from the water.
I also met an extended family from Netanya and, while the children played, we sat in the shade and discussed education and the role of women and religion. One mother, while not into the fishing, was openly seeking a different type of catch – a shidduch for her 21-year-old daughter.
Day entrance to the fishing park (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) costs NIS 42; overnight camping followed by a day’s activities (from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the following day) costs NIS 85. Although the park is open year-round, it is best to check in advance whether it is open to the general public or aimed at the religious sector (; (04) 639-1603).
Even without fishing, I cast my cares aside, relaxed, and left with my feet, at least, in much better condition – an experience for body and sole.

The writer and her son were the guests of Ma’ayan Zvi Fishing Park.