Take a Kid Fishing event returns to Bemidji area lakes
Dozens of youngsters from around Bemidji gathered on Wednesday to experience the fun and rewarding sport of fishing as part of the annual Take a Kid Fishing event.
BEMIDJI — Dozens of youngsters from around Bemidji gathered on Wednesday to experience the fun and rewarding sport of fishing as part of the annual Take a Kid Fishing event.
The event provided an estimated 70 children between the ages of 10 and 15 the chance to fish on approximately a dozen lakes around Beltrami County in a fun, educational and mentored environment.
After gathering at Cameron Park at 10 a.m., children paired up with volunteer guides who offered mentorship, instructions on baiting a hook, and the opportunity to provide the kids with a beautiful, sunny day on the water.
Fishing on one of the pontoons on Lake Bemidji with volunteer guides Dave Bretschneiter and Henry Hammerback, the Hodapp siblings Philip, Patrick, Paul, Elly and family friend Josh Arel got ready to tackle the day.
After a slow start, the fish finally started to bite as the kids began reeling in walleye, northern pike, perch, and even a four-foot muskie followed eighth-grader Elly Hodapp’s fish all the way up to the boat.
Her brother, Patrick Hodapp, 10, caught four fish, putting him in the lead for most fish caught on the pontoon that day. He even offered advice to anyone who’s new to fishing and doesn’t know where to start.
“The first piece of advice would be to be patient, I’m not really good at that part,” Patrick said. “Make sure you always have bait on your hook, hold your rod tight and always bring snacks.”
The annual Take a Kid Fishing event is a statewide non-profit organization that originally started in Bemidji in 1986.
According to Take a Kid Fishing committee members, the event got its start in conjunction with the governor's fishing opener by doing essay contests with the prompt “Why I want to fish with the governor.” Once children got involved, organizers didn’t want it to end there, and thus the Take a Kid Fishing organization was born.
After being canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and continued restrictions putting the event on hold for another year in 2021, the TKF organization still wanted to provide an opportunity for kids to reflect on their love to fish. So, the event was replaced with an essay contest titled “Why I would like to go fishing,” and six lucky essay winners were rewarded with a lifetime fishing license, one of the winners was Elly Hodapp.
“My favorite thing about fishing is just being out on the lake and catching fish,” Elly said after catching her first fish of the day on Wednesday.
Although the young participants are essentially learning from the fishing guides that volunteer their time to mentor them throughout the day, the guides also mentioned how they learn a thing or two from the children in return.
“I know it’s about the kids, but you should see some of these guides that volunteer their time to help, they really love what they do,” said TKF committee member Christina Regas. “These guides become so committed to taking these kids fishing that they’ve never even met before, and just as much as the kids learn from them, they get something out of it too and they love it.”
According to Regas, many of the guides started out participating in the event as “a kid in the boat” and now are involved in other ways to give back to the organization.
Bill Anderson of Bemidji participated in one of the very first TKF events as a child and won the essay contest to go fishing with the governor. He later became a fishing guide with the organization as a teen and has been ever since.
“You get drawn to the organizations and nonprofits that mean something to you, and this has always meant a lot to me. It’s always been something that has been on our radar,” said Regas. “Our family loves to fish. I grew up in Ely, Minnesota, and I spent a lot of my childhood in the boundary waters fishing with my parents, it’s always been a big part of my life.”
As evening approached, the children and their respective guides with stringers of fish in hand began trickling to Lake Bemidji State Park, stories were shared as they helped clean their fish to take home along with a picture of them and their guides as a keepsake to remember the day.
“My favorite part is when the kids come back with all the fish, some of them have never caught a fish before,” Regas said. “I get more joy out of seeing the excitement that everyone else gets. Yeah, we all love to fish but we all like to see others succeed, too.”
Once all the anglers had returned successfully to shore and the fish had been cleaned, the TKF event concluded with a community fish fry at Lake Bemidji State Park.
“The event is about the people,” Regas added, “but the fish is what brings us together.”