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Helping kids fish provides rewards

Program trains youth instructors

Taking a group of kids and teaching them to fish is akin to herding cats – cats armed with long poles that are swinging sharp hooks.

But teaching kids to fish is really doing the Lord’s work – remember, a few of the apostles were fishermen.

And giving kids the keys to the tackle box can be extremely rewarding – for both the fishing professor and the journeyman who is angling for a lesson in this art form that likely dates back some 50,000 years. Yes, it’s been around longer than X-Box, PlayStation and Nintendo, combined.

The all-volunteer corps that instructs kids in the basics of fishing opens the portal to the outdoors and provides a foundation for what can be a lifetime of access to a fun and food fraternity.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife offers free seminars for adults, groups or conservation clubs that want to receive the proper training and background to become certified fishing instructors.

“It can really be a wonderfully rewarding experience,” said Peggy Coutcher, a certified instructor who runs the Toledo Zoo’s summer fishing programs. “You get to see these kids go from knowing nothing at all about fishing, or how to bait a hook or how to cast their line, to where just a short time later, they think they can do it all. That’s a big plus for me.”

Fishing instructors are not asked to wade in too deep. Teachers don’t have to learn and then convey the roll cast with a fly rod in tight quarters, or master the art of rigging ballyhoo for marlin fishing. It’s just the basics.

Kids usually get a quick primer on the importance of good habitat to fish and clean waters. They learn how to rig their fishing pole, how to cast, tie a good fishing knot, and how to handle and safely release that fish.

Instructors are given a lot of leeway to customize their classes to best serve the age of the kids in their group, and to cover the most popular and accessible types of fishing in their area. Small doses of safety and fishing etiquette are often included, along with some important conservation tips.

The idea is to get kids fishing close to home, and let them explore the world from a fisherman’s sight line for the rest of their lives.

“There are a lot of benefits from teaching kids how to fish, and how to be good fishermen,” Coutcher said. “Plus, if they are fishing, then that means they are outdoors, where they should be.”

Coutcher has schooled more than 100 kids through the zoo program, while some of us count our Passport graduates in the dozens.

After completing the one-day course, passing the mandatory background check and becoming certified, fishing instructors will have access to the resources needed to nurture young anglers. The Passport program assists with a written curriculum, teaching aids, brochures, equipment, and the possibility of grants for special projects.

“The ‘train the trainer’ concept lets us reach so many more kids,” said Nick Jamison, aquatic education coordinator for the Division of Wildlife. “We are reaching a lot of people.”

Jamison said more than 400 fishing instructors have been trained since 2010, and in just the last fiscal year, more 8,000 young anglers went through the Passport to Fishing program.

Passport to Fishing is the creation of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and has been shepherded by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.