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* Although city dwellers may not fully appreciate what the Charles River has to offer, residents in riverside surburbs know its value.

Here is a river which offers lush vegetation, 15 different species of fish, and over 200 different species of birds. On a given weekday afternoon, fishermen can be seen casting their lines from local bridges, boats, or riverside parks.

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Writer Ottar Draugsvold, a Boston-area resident for 20 years, has fished in the Charles River for the past four years, racking up a total of 140 fishing days in 1992. The kinds of fish he finds include large-mouth bass, small-mouth bass, northern pike, pickerel, perch, blue gill, catfish, and others.

"When I first moved to Boston, [the Charles] was unfishable," he says. "Fishermen don't like to sit out in the stink and catch diseased fish. Now there is a tremendous difference. The Charles has become quite a good fishing river."

River cruises are also becoming popular. The canopied, 30-seat "Totem Pole" boat launched its new 3 1/2-mile river tours last month. Riders on this tour will enjoy a ride on the Charles's most scenic stretch of water. The tours go through what is called the Lakes District, a wide, lake-like section.

Totem Boat owner and operator John Connor says many people are enjoying the river's natural treasures, including great blue herons and beautiful purple-colored lythium water flowers.

"The river has come back from a pretty poor state to a healthy state," Mr. Connor says. "In a weekend, you'll see as many as 50 to 75 bass fishing boats."

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