WILLMAR -- Scores of Minnesotans will head to their favorite waters for the fishing opener this Saturday, but drop the "Grumpy Old Men'' image of this being a day for older, white males and possibly the kids they tow along.
Many of the region's newest residents bring with them a tradition that makes them right at home on the waters of Kandiyohi County too.
They love to fish.
No question about it, according to Maria Diaz, coordinator of the Raíces project in Willmar. While she is not an angler herself, Diaz said she has been grateful on more than a few occasions for gifts of fresh-caught fish delivered by friends in the Latino community.
Diaz said she knows many in the local Latino community who are avid anglers.
It's common for entire families to be hooked on fishing. The Rev. Naomi Mahler, pastor of the Paz y Esperanza Lutheran Church in Willmar, said it's very traditional for Latino families to make a family trip to the park or outdoors and wet a line. Latino anglers look at fishing as a family activity as much as a sport that brings friends together, she said.
The growing number of new Minnesota anglers from many different ethnic backgrounds -- whether from Central and South America, Africa or Eastern Asia -- is catching the attention of folks in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Bruce Gilbertson, fisheries supervisor in Spicer, said he and others responsible for our outdoor resources are always looking for ways to better serve the changing population of anglers in the state. There is a realization that the new ethnic groups bring with them different needs and perspectives when it comes to fishing, he explained.
For example, the new ethnic groups are less likely to be species specific when it comes to fishing. One of the more pronounced trends in fishing over the last few decades has been the growth in numbers of people who fish almost exclusively for walleye, bass or trout. That is less likely to be the case among the new immigrants groups in the area.
Gilbertson noted that they tend to pursue a greater variety of fish. Their choice is often based on what's biting, or what is accessible.
Gilbertson pointed out that many of the new immigrants are holding entry-level jobs and don't have the resources to invest in boats or extensive collections of tackle.
As of today, the changing demographics of the angling population haven't led to any changes in how the fish populations in the county's lakes are managed, said Gilbertson. He has not heard requests to augment the populations of fish that the new residents might be more familiar with or favor.
More often in this area, it is a matter of addressing the fishing needs of the newest residents. Having fewer resources, the area's newest anglers depend on public access sites for shore fishing, said Gilbertson.
In fact, Mahler and Diaz noted that many new residents often lack the fishing poles and tackle that others take for granted.
Many also come from areas of the world where there are no such things as a fishing license or limits on a catch. That there could be an entire book full of regulations comes asa genuine surprise to many.
Mahler said most new residents learn about the requirements from friends. "I'm sure it's a little puzzling to some why you need to get a license.''
No matter their ethnic background, young people who are introduced to the sport of fishing take to it quickly, according to Kathy Beaulieu of the MinnAqua program offered by the Minnesota DNR.
Headquartered in New Ulm, one of her responsibilities is to introduce young people throughout southern Minnesota to the outdoors and fishing. There are so many reasons these days for young people not to go outdoors -- such as video games and computers -- that it is increasingly important to give them reasons to go outdoors, she explained.
Fishing fits the bill perfectly, she said.
Most of MinnAqua's programs are offered in partnership with Scout, church and other groups, and do not necessarily target specific ethnic populations. But Beaulieu said she and others in the program are always eager to introduce people from all cultural backgrounds to fishing, and always welcome inquiries and contacts from the state's newest residents.