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MADISON – Bob Wiedholz has been passing on his angling passion to students at Madison’s Hamilton Middle School for nearly 10 years as a Certified Angler Education Instructor and director of the school’s fishing club.
"With all the choices for the average sixth-grader these days, such as computer and video games, it's refreshing to see that kids still choose to be outside and involved in activities like fishing," says Wiedholz.
"The kids ask about the club on the first day of school. It fits a need that isn't found in conventional clubs or activities. It is the ‘one thing’ for some kids – and for me, nothing beats (hearing) 'I caught one, Mr. Wiedholz'’"
He started offering the afterschool club after talking with Theresa Stabo, who directs the aquatic resources education program for the state Department of Natural Resources, and whose son was in Wiedholz's class at the time. The department offers angler education workshops to help train adults and provide them with materials and access to loaner equipment to help them start their own fishing club.
The Hamilton Fishing Club is free and open to all Hamilton Middle School students in the Madison Metropolitan School District. The club typically has about 12 to 15 students participating each year, with some from families with a long fishing tradition but most who are discovering fishing for the first time.
The club starts in January and meets once a week after school for five months. The hope is not only to teach kids how to fish, but to teach them a variety of skills by doing hands-on activities, Wiedholz says.
Club members take an ice fishing trip in mid-February and learn to identify fish, as well as clean and cook them. They learn how to tie knots, paint jigs, and cast. They also take a canoe trip which supports teamwork. Some kids even express interest in future fisheries' careers. A field trip to tour the Nevin State Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg and talk with a DNR fish biologist is also included in the schedule. A family fish fry brings the club to a close.
Wiedholz gets lots of support from people, businesses, organizations and clubs like the Yahara Fishing Club to make the after school club work. They provide time and lots of free and discounted gear that Wiedholz can give the novice anglers.
"They love to get 'stuff,'" he says. "And the people, businesses and organizations realize that it is to everyone’s advantage to encourage healthy lifelong activities that hook kids early and deeply."
Wiedholz sees other benefits for students as well. "I think the club gives some kids a connection to school, which makes them better students and citizens. It helps kids develop friendships. I think it inspires some kids to become involved in outdoor careers."
And it helps him appreciate his students even more.
"The kids are so fun to be around in such a positive adventure. Last year I was taking a few kids home after a fun day. They were bubbling with enthusiasm, and I realized how lucky I was to be involved with such great kids."
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