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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 2001

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Exlopring aquatic insects on a visit to a school stream. © Robert Queen photo
Exploring aquatic insects on a visit to a school stream.
© Robert Queen photo

Fishing for fun and the future

Aquatic educators reach young people in fun and educational ways

Natasha Kassulke

Wisconsin's fisheries biologists got a wake-up call about 12 years when the state fishing license sales had reached a plateau despite the fact the population was growing. Given Wisconsin's array of fishing opportunities, we sensed that if we started losing anglers, we also might lose a group of people who care about protecting streams, lakes, rivers and the Great Lakes, as well as a source of funding to manage and protect those resources.

"The angler education program was started to reaffirm and revitalize fishing as worthwhile leisure for family and friends," notes Theresa Stabo, the state's aquatic resources education director. "Fishing can be a solitary pursuit but also can be very social. People who are connected to the resource usually have a stronger commitment to protecting it. Fishing is one way to make that connection."

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Also, fishing is a lifetime sport.

While DNR programs aim to introduce all ages to the joys of fishing and the wonders in lakes and streams, a priority is encouraging young people to become lifelong anglers and resource stewards.

One challenge fishing faces, though, is intense competition for children's time.

"Fishing competes with Nintendo, piano lessons, soccer and lots of other interests," Stabo notes.

So we need to make sure that the Angler Education Program is fun as well as educational. The goal is to introduce kids not only to fishing, but to get them outside again.

Adults who take youth fishing learn that angling provides time to talk about school, social issues and family matters as well as the environment. Fishing reconnects people not only with aquatic resources, but with each other.

DNR loans fishing equipment for free at 30 offices, state parks and other facilities. © Robert Queen.
DNR loans fishing equipment for free at 30 offices, state parks
and other facilities. © Robert Queen

To reach young people in a variety of ways, we turn to teachers interested in ways to bring the environment into the classroom. Youth leaders such as boys and girls clubs, summer camp staff, fishing club members, and alcohol and drug abuse counselors also teach fishing skills to help build youth self-esteem.

After attending a training workshop, it's up to volunteers to implement the program in their school or community or camp. The DNR provides access to equipment, supplies and literature. See the DNR website for a list of workshops.

Angler education teaching materials are available to trained instructors for preschool and kindergarten through 12th grade.

Aquatic education can add three new "Rs" to the classroom – relaxation, regulations, and responsibility for resources.

"We can use fishing days or expos as launch pads to establish long-term program and educational goals," Stabo says.

Social studies classes might learn how fishing is an important business and source of commerce in Wisconsin communities. Language arts classes might write essays and poetry about fishing experiences. Art classes can teach students to craft lures and jigs or make fish prints of their catch. Family resource classes can learn to prepare fish for the table. And all learn to appreciate fishing as a healthy choice for spending free time.

Kal Larson, a science teacher at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, uses the Angler Education Program as a basis for the spring Outdoor Education class he teaches with a physical education instructor at the school. Larson teaches the basics of fishing including how to catch and how to clean fish, plus he builds fishing related topics such as the food pyramid and environmental concerns into the course.

"For many of these students," Larson says, "their last experience fishing was with a cane pole or a Snoopy rod and reel when they were kids."

Fishing clinics provide hands-on experience. The Learn to Fish Program gives novice anglers a one-time chance to fish without a license. Fishing Coaches (for those over 18) and Youth Fishing Buddies (for those under 18) provide instruction at fishing clinics.

Hamilton Middle School in Madison sponsors an after-school fishing club. Students learn about tackle, casting skills, fish identification and more.

Angling education programs help kids and adults experience the joy of fishing. © Robert Queen
Angling education programs help kids and adults experience the joy of fishing.
© Robert Queen

On Free Fishing Weekend people fish for free the first Saturday and Sunday in June. Many state parks offer special fishing programs that weekend so anglers are encouraged to invite their non-angling friends out for a fishing picnic, Stabo notes.

The DNR Tackle Loaner Program provides fishing equipment at 30 sites in Wisconsin. There is no charge to borrow the equipment. Groups may borrow equipment for up to one week from regional DNR offices. Parks have their own arrangements. Call (608) 266-2272 or see the DNR website to learn about the tackle loaner site closest to you.

The Hooked on Wisconsin Anglers Club acknowledges diverse angling opportunities and recognizes outstanding sportfishing catches and releases in Wisconsin.

In 1985, the state launched an urban fishing program by stocking Milwaukee County park lagoons and other urban waters in southeast Wisconsin. The DNR's urban fishing coordinator visits schools and other groups to discuss the program. To goal is to help urban residents appreciate the aquatic resources in their backyards.

In 1997, staff in the DNR Alma office started The Reel Kid's Klub for kids ages 10–17. Chapter members hold monthly meetings, fish and take field trips. Guest speakers share fishing skills and talk about fishing safety, aquatic plants, ancient fishes of Wisconsin. The Angler Education Program complements other programs offered by DNR, University of Wisconsin-Extension and national organizations.

Many DNR staff statewide also enjoy giving presentations to share how their jobs fit into the big picture. Randy Larson, fish propagation supervisor for the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery, gives many presentations each year.

"I enjoy doing this very much and get really excited when I see all those eager and excited looks in the eyes of the young boys and girls," Larson says.

For more information about the state's aquatic education program e-mail Theresa Stabo or call (608) 266-2272.

Natasha Kassulke is associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources.