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Let's Go Fishing launches its 20th season

Let's Go Fishing hosted excursions on Green Lake for Willmar fourth graders this past week as the Willmar chapter launched its 20th season. The local chapter is preparing for a busy season ahead.

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Fourth-grader Braylon Burwell kept to tradition and kissed the first catch of the day as fellow classmate Regan Fernandez (at left) watches. They were part of a Let's Go Fishing excursion offered on Monday, May 23, 2022 as the Willmar chapter opened its new season.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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SPICER — Let’s Go Fishing volunteer Glen Lotthammer piloted our pontoon boat within casting distance of a dock in the belief that a fish or two might be lurking in its shade.

This was last Monday, and Lotthammer and his volunteer deckhands were joined on Green Lake by seven fourth-grade students from the Willmar Public Schools.

With a few deft casts, student Braylon Burwell managed to drop his slip bobber and leech rig right at the dock’s edge and BAM, down went the bobber.

Burwell soon pulled in a hefty, largemouth bass, gave it a kiss and came home with all of the bragging rights. He caught the biggest, and only, fish in our afternoon excursion with Let’s Go Fishing.

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It was all about the smiles as fourth grade students with the Willmar Public Schools enjoyed outings on Green Lake this past week courtesy of the Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing. Fourth-grader Salma Helle was among those who enjoyed the outing on Monday, May 23, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

But every one of Burwell’s classmates on that pontoon reached shore wearing smiles as big as the one he had flashed when volunteer Dennis Forcier helped net the big bass.

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Lotthammer and Forcier were among the many volunteers who hosted fourth-grade students from the Kennedy and Roosevelt Elementary Schools on outings on Green Lake in Spicer to start the 2022 season for the Willmar chapter of Let’s Go Fishing this past week. Four pontoons were kept busy. If all went as planned, some 220 students will have participated in the outings offered Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

It marked the start of the 20th season for the Willmar chapter, the first and founding chapter for the non-profit organization that now includes 17 chapters across the state and into Wisconsin.

“This has become really huge, every year,” said Rick Reimer of Let’s Go Fishing’s tradition of starting its season by hosting elementary students. Reimer serves as the chapter’s president.

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The Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing opened its 2022 season by hosting fourth graders from the Willmar Public Schools on outings on Green Lake. As in past years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provided educational programs for the students at Saulsbury Park in Spicer. Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor with the Spicer office, shows students a sunfish during the program on Monday, May 23, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Joe and Carolyn Holm launched this organization 20 years ago with the goal of giving back to our senior citizens by hosting them on outings on the water. Today’s volunteers hold true to that original mission: The majority of those hosted each season are senior citizens, said Reimer.

Through the years, Let’s Go Fishing has also expanded its role to host military veterans, persons with disabilities and youth.

Hosting youths is aimed at introducing more of them to the outdoors in the hope they will discover all of the benefits that outdoor activities offer. “It’s surprising how many have never been on a lake,” he said.

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The fishing was slow but the trying fun as fourth-grade students with the Willmar Public Schools enjoyed outings on Green Lake courtesy of the Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing. Elias Sain was among the fourth-graders enjoying the outing on May 23, 2022.

Here’s why it’s important to get on the water, no matter your age or background.

“Mental health,” said Darci Mohr, operations director for Let’s Go Fishing’s central office. That’s the most frequent comment she and others with the organization hear from senior citizens and others who enjoy outings on the water. The tranquility, the peace, the stress relief, say what you will, just about everyone who enjoys a Let’s Go Fishing outing mentions the mental health benefits as being what they value the most, she explained.

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System-wide, there are about 1,000 volunteers who make this possible.

Volunteer numbers are down, and more help is needed. “People aren’t volunteering like they used to,” said Mohr. Many of the volunteers are from the baby boomer generation, and as they age, some are also transitioning from being a volunteer to a client, she added.

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The Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing began its 20th season by hosting fourth graders from the Willmar Public Schools on outings on Green Lake this past week. One of the four pontoons kept busy on Green Lake during the outings is shown on Monday, May 23, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Donations from individuals are down some too, she said, but support from community organizations and businesses is keeping the fleet on the waters. That community support has been especially important through the COVID pandemic. Let’s Go Fishing did not take people out in 2020 due to the pandemic, but still had the expenses of maintaining its boats and equipment and insurance.

Let’s Go Fishing was able to return to the waters in 2021, but the impact of COVID was still felt with lower numbers. Last, the Willmar chapter hosted 84 outings, said long-time volunteer Harley Davenport. This year, he anticipates it will be full throttle. There’s already 140 outings booked for the summer, or nearing the 270 total the volunteers and their two-pontoon fleet can offer.

It’s people like Davenport that have kept this organization afloat through all the challenges that COVID and everything else has offered, said Reimer. “Really good volunteers committed to this,” he said.

Volunteers are free to choose their own schedules and help out as much — or as little — as works for them.

Rick Loseth took that to heart last summer and gave it a try. He was back this week, more than ready for another season as a volunteer. It’s the opportunity to be out on the water and amongst people who are enjoying the time that makes this so rewarding, he explained.

When Lotthammer docked our pontoon with seven students on Monday, it was obvious. Everyone was still wearing the smiles that came so naturally on the water.

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To learn more, or to reserve a spot on an outing, go to Let’s Go Fishing’s website: Let's Go Fishing

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Braylon Burwell reels in a largemouth bass he lured with a slipper bobber and leech rig from under a dock on Green Lake on May 23, 2022 as part of a Let's Go Fishing outing.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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