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Brad Laabs: Turn off the TV and take a kid fishing

A few weeks ago I was fishing on Mille Lacs Lake. The bite had been very good on several trips over to the big water. The lake had not been as busy as you would think given the good bite on bigger walleyes. Strong year classes of walleyes of 21-22” fish and 24-26” fish were active. The low numbers of anglers on the lake is due mostly to the restricted slot of 18-20” fish that can be harvested and only two walleyes per angler limit. A person doesn’t go there to get fish to eat, you go to catch and release big beautiful walleyes.

While there, we were fishing on a deep gravel bar and we had released multiple 24, 25, and 26” walleyes. Only one other boat was on the gravel with us and had two men and two young men in the 11-14 year old range.

What I saw in that other boat disappointed me. The two young men were both playing games on their smart phones and didn’t even have a line in the water! I, of course, being me said something after noticing. One of the fathers responded stating, “I heard him a while ago yell… fish on…and turned around to get the net….but, he was playing a fishing game on his phone.”

One of the gentlemen in my boat at the time is a recently retired conservation officer from Wisconsin. He commented on what a shame that situation was, and during the last few years he had noticed a significant decline in the number of young people actively involved in fishing and hunting. Minnesota is showing that same trend and my guess would be that this may be the case all over the nation. I know kids and parents are busy, but we can’t be so busy that we neglect exposing kids to lifelong outdoor adventure activities.

I blame the dad in that situation. Don’t let the kids bring the phone on the lake. They are on one of the best walleye fisheries in the state with some of the nicest walleyes you can catch actively biting, and they are playing video games. Wow! Set limits with the kids and teach them to engage in the real life experiences and appreciate the beauty nature and outdoor sports can offer.

Locally, we have something occurring that is also disappointing for me to hear about. A great program exists that is not getting utilized.  Kyle Quittscreiber of the DNR makes himself available every Tuesday evening from 6:30-8:30 for the “Peers to Piers” fishing program. All kids 15 years old and younger are welcome to attend free of charge. Kids 16-17 only pay $5 for a fishing license. They fish off the public dock on Little Detroit across from the Mexican restaurant. All the fishing equipment, along with bait and tackle is supplied by the DNR as well donations from Quality Bait and Tackle. Adults are welcome to attend and get information or instruction also.

Kyle is there to help teach the kids and introduce fishing into young lives. Last year he averaged about a dozen kids every Tuesday night. This last week he had two attend, and the most he has had has been four! I put the challenge out to parents and community. Get your kids involved. If you can’t make it to watch, send them with a friend, neighbor, relative, or even alone. Turn off the TV, take the cell phone away, unplug the computer, do whatever it takes. If this young generation gets disengaged from fishing, what chance does the next to follow them have? If you have lost touch with this awesome sport it is time to get reacquainted. Get out and enjoy what fishing has to offer and for sure give the kids a chance to enjoy the sport.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)