Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) is a program I’ve been involved with for a short time. I became a certified instructor last year through Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. I grew up fishing and so did my kids. With my own kids grown and flown, it’s time to share my love of fishing with someone else. So, why not kids?
HOFNOD is more than putting a pole in a child’s hand and teaching them to fish. According to IF&W’s website, “The Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs program uses fishing to address: positive alternatives to drug use, motivation, communication, self-esteem building, responsibility, positive role models, the ability to overcome peer pressure, good problem-solving and decision making skills, and improved family interaction.” There’s no guarantee that kids will avoid drugs but with the life skills they acquire, there’s less likelihood it will happen.
Nemo threatened to postpone my first ice fishing event. At 1 am Sunday the wind was still blowing. At 3:30 am it wasn’t blowing as hard but the wind chill was below 0*. Weather is a deal breaker. At 6 am I could see that the sky was clear. The wind had settled down. We were on! It was set up with six kids but three couldn’t make it because of the storm. I’ve reschedule with them for another day.
I fished with Jaime Scelso and Andy Stone, and their kids Joey, Zachary and Kaylee. I’ve known Jaime online for four or five years but met her face to face about six months ago. I hadn’t yet met her family. When she mentioned wanting her family to learn to ice fish I suggested we use HOFNOD’s program. She agreed.
Steve (my husband) started the auger and drilled our first holes. I talked about the different kinds of tip ups we have and explained how to use each style as we moved from hole to hole. Kids have to be accompanied by an adult Nobody flinched when it was their turn to put a minnow on the hook. With just six people fishing and twenty-something tip ups, there was plenty of practice for everyone. Six or seven holes into getting set up, the first flag went up.
“Flag up!” Time for a lesson in hooking the fish…and it was successful. The first fish out of the pond was a pickerel. And then another pickerel, followed by a yellow perch, more pickerel, and then a bass. We learned that we can keep ten pickerel of any length but only one bass, and the bass had to be at least 10” long. The measuring tape came out when the only small mouth bass of the day was caught, and it was legal. We compared their catches to their identification cards until they knew what they were pulling from the pond before it was completely out of the water.
Kaylee decided ice fishing wasn’t really her cup of tea and decided she’d watch but not fish. “Give her time,” I said “she’ll do it.”
“If you leave a pickerel on the ice, a bald eagle will probably take it,” I told them. We waited and scanned the tree line and sky for eagles. Our two hour HOFNOD event stretched into the entire afternoon. Early in the afternoon an eagle soared above the trees but didn’t come close.
After a quick sandwich, Steve drilled two more holes and the fishing poles came out. Joey, Zachary and Kaylee brought poles with them. Jaime and Kaylee fished together in one hole and Andy fished with Zachary and Joey. No fish were caught this way but everyone learned how to set up the pole, tie on the bait and use the pole to fish.
Back at the beginning I mentioned “good problem-solving and decision making skills, and improved family interaction.” This family interacts well and it showed when Joey caught a pickerel that swallowed the hook. Holding a bass or yellow perch with your thumb in its mouth while you remove the hook is easy. Pickerel have teeth. Joey knew how to hold the pickerel. Getting the hook out was trickier.
Fish have a natural defense mechanism. They produce slime when they’re stressed. This pickerel was an over-achiever. I showed Joey and Jaime how to open the fish’s mouth and showed them the hook. Using his Gerber multi-tool, Joey tried to reach the hook. The fish slimed him. It was taking a little time but he was making progress. The hook was almost out. Jaime pitched in the way moms do and assessed the situation. I didn’t mention how extremely slimy the fish was getting as they concentrated and worked together to remove the hook. I’ve never seen so much slime on a fish.
Carefully and with a lot of patience, Joey removed the hook. He moved the fish to the opposite hand, creating not just a stream but a 12” sheet of slime. It was the messiest catch of the day. Well done, Joey! He did an excellent job of sticking with the task and getting the job done.
Late in the afternoon I suggest to Kaylee that she get the next flag and catch herself a fish. She smiled and nodded. Soon after, a flag went up and Kaylee took off across the ice with everyone. Hand over hand at a steady pace, Kaylee pulled her line out of the water. She stood up straight with her pickerel hanging on the line. And then she was done. She was there to learn how to ice fish. She caught her fish. And that was that.
The eagle returned to perch in three trees before swooping down to grab the fish. It flew away from us and landed on the snow. We watched as it ate a part of the fish before taking it out of sight.
At the end of the day the fish started biting again and more fish were caught. Joey, Zachary and Kaylee took home one bass, two pickerel, a few yellow perch and new skills.
Thanks to Jaime, Andy and the kids for letting me photograph the afternoon’s fishing even after we were officially finished with the HOFNOD program. And thanks to Jaime for providing the photos of Kaylee and her fish.