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Reel partners for Reel Kids
As you travel the state, the presence of our water-rich landscape surrounds you – millions of wetland acres, nearly 15,000 lakes, thousands of miles of cold and warmwater streams, rivers that run as large as the mighty Mississippi, and the Great Lakes of Michigan and Superior. A diversity of fishes mirror the diversity of their surroundings. Nearly 160 fish species flourish here to delight everyone from cane pole and bobber fishers to anglers who battle chinook salmon and muskellunge – a perfect place to continue fishing traditions and foster new ones.
Soaking worms at a local trout stream, poking around a pond with siblings in search of bass, and taking family vacations filled with fishing and shore lunches are all part of the tradition. So, too, are the memories of fishing successes and failures; the big one that got away is often more memorable than the one you caught!
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who caught fishing fever as youngsters pass it on to less experienced children. Today however, far fewer people make their living on the land, and the move from our country homes to suburban settings has definitely cut down on our fishing time. As a fisheries biologist, I get concerned that fewer anglers and less exposure to natural resources might ultimately promote an attitude of indifference to our outdoors. To prevent that, I think we need to continue to recruit, educate and retain new anglers.
We've had some decent starts. Many efforts to introduce kids to fishing are presented as one-day events that include a few hours of instruction followed by fishing. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources' Angler Education Program takes it further. Across the state, adult volunteers provide fishing clinics to interested youngsters. In a few cases, these clinics are brought into classroom.
Three years ago in our Alma office, we started with the premise that kids need something more than a one-time fishing event to become life-long anglers and stewards of the resource. We believed we could sustain new, innovative, continued exposure to fishing and fisheries in Wisconsin. We call the pilot project The Reel Kid's Klub.
The Klub began as an "umbrella" or parent organization. We envisioned clubs would eventually organize local chapters similar to scouting troops or 4-H Clubs. The program would be open to kids ages 10-17, and costs nothing to join. Building a feeling of ownership would be important. Members would pick a chapter name, elect officers and plan activities and events. Committees would give each child a sense of belonging
The first Reel Kid's Klub chapter in Wisconsin began in January of 1998 in Buffalo County along the banks of the Mississippi River. The 13 youngsters who joined that evening quickly annointed the Great River Anglers Chapter of the Reel Kids Klub. They elected officers and began planning future activities and events. Since January of 1998, the Klub has met nearly every month and membership has nearly tripled. Eighty percent of our initial members still belong.
Guest Speakers were invited to meetings to share fishing skills, demonstrate fishing tackle and other equipment, and give talks. Topics have included ice fishing safety, aquatic plants, ancient fishes of Wisconsin, trolling for walleyes, bass fishing, trout fishing, fishing large rivers, and joining the "Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club, that's the DNR program that promotes catch-and-release fishing and offers patches to commemorate catching lunkers.
Our club now holds field trips year-round. Members have fished streams for trout, fished the Mississippi River by boat and from fishing piers, and ice-fished on Mississippi River backwaters on several occasions.
Members now participate in several committees. A Library Committee is pooling a collection of fishing books, videos and magazines that other members can borrow. The Equipment Committee set up a program to share fishing tackle and equipment that chapter members loan each other. The Wall of Fame Committee maintains a bulletin board that features photos from chapter field trips and personal fishing adventures. The Catch & Release Fishing Challenge Committee tracks a fun competition that challenges members to catch, photograph and safely release as many species as possible. The Newsletter Committee compiles the Great River Times, the chapter newsletter that keeps members up-to-date on chapter happenings. A Field Trip Committee plans chapter outings, while the Web Page Committee updates our chapter site, www.greatriveranglers.com.
We hope the varied opportunities to get together keep fishing fun for kids and help them find others with the same enthusiasm. We want to keep feeding their interest in fish, outdoor play and resource protection. Perhaps the club idea can build on that simple premise, and it might work in your community too. Over the next year, we'll develop more ideas and refine what we've already done. Then we may have a decent model to expand chapters across the state. Who knows, maybe the next "klubhouse" will be in your backyard.
Brian Brecka is a DNR fisheries biologist and Reel Kid's Klub project coordinator stationed in Alma. Direct questions or comments to him at: DNR Fisheries Management, P.O. Box 88, Alma, WI 54610 or Brian Brecka.