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Go fish

Let’s Go Fishing group targets Lake Shetek Area for chapter, touts benefits of program for seniors

January 27, 2009
By Per Peterson

LaVonne Johnson was this close to handing down all her fishing tackle and equipment to her grandsons before reading about a Let's Go Fishing meeting that was scheduled in Marshall.

Johnson, who lives in Marshall and grew up in the Alexandria area, decided to hold on to her equipment after learning there's a possibility of a Let's Go Fishing chapter getting started in the area.

"I was all ready to put it all away or give it to my grandsons," Johnson said. "Then I read about this in the paper and thought, 'hmm, I think I'll leave it in the closet for a while.' I haven't fished for years and years."

Johnson is one of many seniors in the area who could benefit from a Let's Go Fishing chapter, and organizers of the non-profit group see the Lake Shetek area and surrounding communities as a good place to promote the program and, eventually, get a chapter started.

"There are a lot of people who grew up enjoying fishing and a lot of people, as they grow older, they're not able to participate anymore," said Roger Benson, who runs the Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing.

"It's a way to give back to our seniors. There are so many seniors out there who used to love to fish, and we want to re-open that chapter in their lives."

Fact Box

If you're interested in seeing an LGF chapter started in the area and want to be part of the leadership group, contact Roger Benson or Joe Holm at 320-235-8448.

Let's Go Fishing, Benson said, started with a single fishing boat on Green Lake in Willmar in 2002. Eventually, a pontoon boat was purchased, then another. Since its inception, more than 18,000 Minnesotans have taken part in fishing trips around the state.

In the last few years, 20 chapters have formed in Minnesota, as word spread quickly after the Willmar chapter formed.

"Soon after we started, other communities stepped up and said, 'Why can't we have that in our community?'" Benson said. "It's great for seniors, for intergenerational programs, for kids with no adults in their life, and veteran's organizations are being targeted now.

"It doesn't cost them a dime," Benson added. "We don't get people out there and pass the hat, we don't talk about money. We work hard during the winter to raise money for the summer."

The benefits of Let's Go Fishing, Benson said, are many-fold. He's heard numerous stories from nursing homes and families of seniors on how people's lives have been affected by simply being able to get out on the water to fish for a couple hours.

At Thursday's meeting, Benson told the story of an elderly woman who recently told an LGF volunteer that going out on Green Lake during a fishing trip reminded her of home back in Norway. Benson was later told by an employee of the nursing home the woman lived at that it was the first time in her five years on the job that she had heard the woman speak.

"It's therapeutic for the soul," Benson said. "I've been told so many stories on how lives have been changed because of this. In 2005, we had the oldest licensed fisherman in Minnesota go out with us."

A big part of the reason LGF has seen so much success since it started is the volunteers who've step forward, no matter where the chapter is, Benson said. More than 1,000 volunteers have put in their time with LGF throughout the last six years, and some of them don't particularly care for fishing.

"It's an organization that cares about people," LGF founder and CEO Joe Holm said. "The volunteers seem to come out of the woodwork for this because they're people with a heart - that's why they're here. We have some who are not big fishermen, but they have a big heart and that's all that matters."

Barb Lipinski represented the Marshall Adult Community Center at Thursday's meeting and is excited about the possibility of starting an LGF chapter in the area.

"One of the real benefits I see is being able to give back to the seniors and just watch them enjoy doing something they once did," said Lipinski. "The intergenerational aspect of it is real exciting. I think it would be immensely exciting to be able to get the young and the old together to enjoy fishing."

Getting a program started in the area "is very viable," Lipinski said. "We have the lakes around here, so why not use the resources we have and tap what we have to give back."

One of the biggest hurdles facing communities looking to start a chapter from square one is funding. The start-up fee for a chapter, Holm said, is more than $38,000, and includes purchasing a specially-made pontoon, plus all the equipment like bait, rods and reels, life jackets and gasoline.

The custom-built pontoons are designed with seniors in mind. They have a third pontoon for stabilization and also include an extra-wide gate to the seating area - wide enough to fit a wheelchair through - and swiveling captain's chairs as opposed to more traditional bench seating.

Ryan Beers, activities director and community education director for the city of Slayton, is also looking forward to the possibility of starting a chapter in the area. He called the cost of getting a chapter started a little overwhelming, but thinks raising enough money is possible as long as it's a multi-county/multi-community effort.

"I am excited," Beers said. "We've got the lakes, we've got a lot of people who would benefit from this. There's that five-digit price tag, but our businesses and families in Slayton are so supportive. And when you break it down by communities and you include all of the (area) communities, it seems doable."



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