Fishing camp teaches baiting, casting and respect

Published 9:39 am Monday, July 29, 2013

COTTAGE GROVE — Cottage Grove is offering a class that, arguably, teaches children how to be true Minnesotans — by fishing.

The class teaches the basics of baiting hooks, tying bobbers, casting and returning fish to the water the respectful way.

On a hot early-summer morning, fish camp manager Dave Olund called the 13-student class to order in a shelter in Ravine Regional Park. The city sponsors the two-day camp twice a summer.

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The first lesson? Safety. A dozen kids whipping razor-sharp hooks around a dock is a recipe for trouble, unless they are taught how to cast. Cast overhead only, Olund said — never sideways.

Campers learned the difference between an open-faced spinning reel and a closed-face, and a pencil-shaped bobber and conventional round bobber.

Never break a fishing line by biting it, Olund said. “You can chip your teeth.”

They got a lesson in sinkers — the metal BBs that cling to fishing lines to make them sink. Use pliers to pinch the sinkers onto lines, advised Sam Nord, a summer intern with the city of Cottage Grove.

People who catch a fish, then flip it back in the water like a piece of garbage represent Olund’s pet peeve.

Consider, he said, that the fish has been traumatized, with a metal hook jabbing through its mouth or internal organs. It’s been yanked out of the water and is dying of suffocation. The last thing it needs is to get flung off the dock to smack into the water.

“You lay the fish back in the water. You need to have proper respect for the animal,” Olund told the class.

Then, the icky part.

On the fishing dock, Olund showed the kids how to bait a hook. He held out his hand, holding the squirming inch-long wax worms. Several kids backed away.

Olund threaded the hook through one of the worms as if he were sewing a sock.

“You put the hook once through the butt, then through his head,” he said. Several kids wondered if worms even had butts — which are apparently about three-quarters of the way down from the head.

When freeing the hook, he said, remember that some fish have dangerous teeth.

“Piranha?” asked one boy.

“No, but walleyes, Northern and muskies,” Olund said. “You don’t put your fingers in their mouths.”

When the fishing started, Peter Boullion, 11, pulled up a fat sunfish and grinned.

“I like everything about fishing,” he said, holding up his catch. “I like the waiting. It doesn’t take a lot of energy.”

Olund jumped between re-baiting hooks and answering questions: “No, we don’t have any doughnuts.” Looking around the dock lined with poles, lines and children, he explained that fishing is good for kids in many ways.

“The biggest issue is that they think they are going to catch fish right away. But they have to learn patience,” he said.

Fishing also teaches kids to love nature and to learn their place in the environment.

The decline in how many Minnesota fishing licenses are purchased, now at a 13-year-low, distresses him. “We are losing quite a bit,” he said. “I think it’s sad kids are not doing enough of it.”

Most of the young anglers liked to cast — and kept casting, over and over, not giving the fish a chance to bite. One boy dangled the bait in the air for almost an hour — waiting, he explained, for the right moment.

“Can you focus on leaving the bait in the water?” Olund said.

But all around him, kids were learning about water, fish and nature. Several of them marveled at the clear water, which allowed them to see the fish darting around the plants.

“I like how you can actually see the fish,” said Anthony Pomerleau, 8. “It’s not like paying money for an aquarium. Here, you have to earn it.”

Next to him, 8-year-old Joey Iaga cast a line into the water. “My goal is to get a walleye,” he said.

Countered Anthony: “My goal is to have fun.”