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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Summertime!

School’s finally out, the temperatures are finally up, and summer officially starts this Saturday, although many people consider Memorial Day the first day of summer. No more excuses for hiding indoors – get outside and play!

June 7-8 was the Indiana Free Fishing Weekend, celebrated locally at the Rainbow Pit in the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area with a joint effort on Saturday by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the LaGrange County Parks Department. The weather cooperated and lots of little ones got an introduction to fishing.

My husband questioned what I would be doing to help, since I’m not a big fan of worms and I don’t like handling hooked fish. I wasn’t sure myself, but I’m glad I went. There was lots of non-worm, non-live-fish activities.

For little guys and gals that had never cast before, there were two learning areas before the pond. Kids were given a spin-cast reel with a clothespin on the end and practiced releasing the line at the proper time while casting in the grass. The clothespin gave enough weight to feel like a real cast and it didn’t get stuck in the grass. Once the kids had that down, they graduated to another area that had plastic fish lying on the ground. Each fish had a slit in it that the fishing line could go through, but the clothespin “caught” the fish. This was a chance to practice accuracy, and to feel what it was like to have something on the line. Kids were just nearly as excited to catch a plastic fish as a real one.

Moving up to a rod and reel with a barbless hook and mealworms, kids were able to “really” fish. This was a little trickier this year. The bad news: the harsh winter had killed a lot of the small panfish that had been in the pond. Last year every kid that put a hook in the water caught something, and even if it was only a three-inch sunfish it was a thrill to a little kid. But the good news was that the pond had been stocked with rainbow trout, and when someone did hook a fish it was a nice one! Some of the older kids and parents had brought their own equipment (and obviously skipped the learning phases) and they were catching more rainbows with their spinners than the little ones with mealworms, but even some of the little ones caught nice rainbows. It’s nice to have a “guarantee” on your first fishing experience, but we all know catching fish is a sometimes thing and you aren’t always successful. Just being outside on a beautiful day is a reward in itself.

One little girl, who couldn’t have been more than two years old at the most, caught a trout on her first cast in the pond. What a thrill for her and her family. I’ll bet she’ll be a fisherman for life!

There was even a pack of “Go Fish” cards, in case anyone got bored with real fishing, but they didn’t get any use as far as I could see. There were tons of free pamphlets explaining fish identification, fishing regulations, and other related information. A man from the IDNR had a tank of common fresh-water fish that he told the kids about and let them hold the fish after explaining the proper way to hold them. Even if some kids didn’t catch their own fish, they could still get photographed with a fish.

There was also a demonstration of how to fillet a fish. One of the lucky anglers not only caught a fish, but got it cleaned by an expert.

Several other locations had similar activities for the state-wide free fishing weekend. Check your local state or county parks department’s activities for information. A fishing license is a cheap way to enjoy the great outdoors, and the cost of fishing equipment helps preserve habitat by the tax put on fishing and hunting gear. If you’re looking for inexpensive options, fishing gear can often be found at garage sales. If you have small children or grandchildren, put this on your list for next year! Or if you just want to get out and watch the kids explore and experience something new, this is a great opportunity.