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Reaching out to kids through fishing

Pontoon boats from Let's Go Fishing chapters from all four corners of the state gathered in Alexandria last October for a photo shoot. Echo Press file photo.

There's more to fishing than catching fish.

It can teach children lifelong lessons about patience, interacting with adult mentors, decision making and protecting resources.

That's what the Alexandria Youth Fishing Federation (AYFF) is all about.

AYFF leaders recognize that the youth in the community face many challenges.

Studies show that childhood obesity rates continue to climb, teen depression and suicide are prevalent and many kids lack quality time with adult mentors.

The AYFF wants to change that by encouraging kids to take a break from their video games and electronics and enjoy the outdoors, spending time with other kids and adults in a positive environment.

"Our focus is family oriented programs that teach good life skills," said Rick Jones, one of the organizers behind the effort.

The AYFF is working with other groups in three key segments:

• Let's Go Fishing - Kids. Leaders are focusing on 4th through 6th graders in the area, hoping to get 250 kids in the program this first year.

Kids will spend three hours in the classroom, learning the basics of fishing, caring for the environment and the importance of kindness and working with others.

After that, they'll go on three fishing trips. Data shows that if a child goes fishing three times and has a positive experience, it will stay with him or her for a lifetime.

Parents are invited to come along at least once and can also help in other ways.

Each child will receive a rod and reel and some tackle. To offset the costs, there is a small fee of $20 per child.

• Fishers of Men - Legacy Program. This effort creates teams of one adult and one child for a bass tournament. It introduces kids to the competitive aspect of the sport. It's a true competition with a chance for entrants to win prizes.

A dinner with a devotional message will be held on a Friday and the tournament will take place the next day.

This is the third year of the program locally. Last year's event resulted in 17 boats in the tournament and about 75 adults and children attending the Friday event.

• Student Angler Federation. Organizers describe this as a creative and competitive high school bass fishing tournament involving teams - two students and an adult who serves as coach, teacher, mentor and planner. The adult doesn't fish.

One of the goals is to introduce kids to careers in the competitive fishing industry. The sport offers more than 30 career choices.

It's open to all area high schools - not just Jefferson High School.

Students take 15 hours of classroom time and receive adult fishing equipment, including a rod and reel and tackle. A fee in the range of $25 will be charged.

Area bass fishermen volunteer their boats and drive the teams on the lake.

All three of these segments will reach out to 300 to 350 kids in the area, teaching them skills they can use for the rest of their lives, according to Jones, who serves as director of the Fishers of Men Heartland Legacy Division and coordinator of the Alexandria Let's Go Fishing - Kids program.

"By putting all three of these pieces together, it allows us the opportunity to work with kids in 4th grade all the way up through high school," said Jones. "We may see a lot of the same kids coming through these programs."

With all the lakes in the area, Alexandria is a natural fit for this new effort.

"What a perfect location to do this," Jones said.

Groups and leaders responsible for coordinating this new local effort include Jones; Mike Frisch, Minnesota Intergenerational/Youth Director for Let's Go Fishing Kids; Jeremy Schneider, youth pastor at New Life Christian Church in Alexandria; Barry Durkee, director of Alexandria Youth for Christ; and Trevor Trousil, director of Reel Team Bass Fishing Tournaments.

The AYFF needs more volunteers and funds. To help or for more information, contact Jones at (320) 491-9458,, Mike Frisch at (218) 731-8141, or Jeremy Schneider at (320) 491-7264,

Donations can be made out to "Fishers or Men" or "Let's Go Fishing" and sent to: 4978 Co. Rd. 42 NE, Alexandria, MN 56308.


Here is some background on the three programs the Alexandria Youth Fishing Federation is working with:

• Let's Go Fishing - Kids. This is an extension of the popular Let's Go Fishing with Seniors program that has functioned in Minnesota since 2002. Alexandria will become the 12th local chapter and was selected as one of four pilot programs designed to work with the local school system. Statewide, the Let's Go Fishing - Kids expansion plan will try to reach 1,000 more kids this year.

• Fishers of Men - Legacy. Founded in 1998, this group organizes competitive and professional run bass fishing tournaments. The Alexandria "Legacy" division began in 2009 and now involves more than 200 children, family members and volunteers.

• Student Angler Federation. Sponsored by The Bass Federation and the Forest Lee Wood Foundation, this group has introduced competitive bass fishing into high schools across the country. Last year, 28 states held high school championship tournaments.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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