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Finding time for fishing: Program for seniors celebrates 10 years

Senior residents from Goldpine and volunteers load up the pontoon Thursday for a fishing outing. “Let’s Go Fishing” is celebrating its 10th season of taking seniors fishing on Lake Bemidji and Lake Irvine. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 1 / 2
Ann Prince gets help into the “Let’s Go Fishing” pontoon by volunteer Zach Posner on Thursday morning. Two groups of seniors had the opportunity to fish on Thursday through the program’s senior outings events. The chapter takes about 200 to 350 seniors a year fishing. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- In its 10th year, the Bemidji-area chapter of "Let's Go Fishing's" Senior Outings gives elderly residents the chance to reconnect with the most Minnesotan of all pastimes.

Retiree Roy Stephens has been a mainstay on the senior outings, having carried a love of fishing all the way from his days fly-casting for trout as a teenager in Washington state. Although the sky was overcast Thursday and it threatened rain, Roy was still there, waiting patiently with others for the pontoon to be loaded so they could take advantage of the excellent fishing weather.

"Whether we go for a boat ride or fishing, it's just wonderful to be out on the water, visit with friends," he said. "Gives me something to do. It's boring just sitting by yourself at home."

And for the past two years, the chapter has taken seniors and their families on "intergenerational" fishing trips on Lake Bemidji.

As scheduler Janee Hill explained, almost every aspect of the completely free program is designed to be convenient for seniors. As long the fishing guides are available, the trips will run at any time the seniors request them. The program's new pontoon boat is handicap accessible, and rods, tackle, life jackets and bait are all provided. The only things that aren't already taken care of are fishing licenses and transportation to the docks where the pontoon launches, she said.

Hill said the chapter is looking for ways to boost participation because the base isn't as large as it should be after 10 years of operation.

"I think my phone should be ringing off the hook, but it's not," she said.

Let's Go Fishing also holds an annual fish fry with walleye caught during the Kraus Anderson Fishing Classic and then frozen. One way for the chapter to encourage community involvement in the program as a whole might be to get more people and senior living facilities to take part in the frys and use the chapter's pontoon boat for their own events, Hill said.

"We're talking about where we're going to do the fish fry this year, trying to get more people involved, or a different facility, just to try to get the word out there," she said.

Perhaps the most memorable trip Hill has organized so far is when the chapter transported the pontoon boat to Blackduck in order to allow a terminally ill man to go on one last excursion with his family.

"That one moment was worth the whole summer," she said.

The fishing trips run from the second week of June to the last Friday in August, although the chapter also occasionally does fall color tours in September, she said. To schedule a trip, contact Hill at (218) 766-0881. For more information on the Bemidji-area chapter of Let's Go Fishing, visit their website at www.lgfbemidji.org/.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
(218) 333-9791
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