Reeling them in: Take Me Fishing event gets families outdoors, forming bonds

MAHOMET — Ten years ago, Chris Clementz agreed to volunteer at the Champaign County Forest Preserve's Take Me Fishing event. Standing along the shoreline of Lake of the Woods' main lake teaching kids to fish on Saturday, it never meant so much.

"I've gotten so much more out of it than I've put into it," he said. "I think it's helpful when you get older to try and be around younger people because it does give you a sense of the wonder of fishing and being outdoors."

For the last decade, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District has invited children to fish alongside their parents and even grandparents the last Saturday in May, June and July at three different forest preserves. The traveling event begins in Middle Fork, moves to Homer Lake and finishes at Lake of the Woods.

Saturday's event at Lake of the Woods was the summer's largest showing with over 150 participants present, while Middle Fork averaged 80 people and Homer Lake with 50.

"We get people that come every year and people that don't know about it and come and it's their first time, then there's always people who try to make it to each and every single event," said Jennifer Wick, CCFPD public programs specialist.

For event attendee Daniel Miske, Saturday was his third year in row taking son Asher, 8, out for a morning of fishing.

"He always enjoys it," Daniel Miske said. "It's always peaceful and a little bit of excitement when they catch the fish."

"This is my fourth one!" added Asher Miske, who tugged on his pole bringing the fish to shore near the lake's bridge.

On the other side of the bridge was Jeremy Heath, who aided sons Oliver and Joe, in their second time at the event.

"They just love to fish and I figured this is a good chance to get them out on this nice day," Jeremy Heath said.

The boys are no novices when it comes to fishing as they often enjoy casting a line on their grandfather's private lake.

Their favorite part?

"Catching them," Jeremey Heath said.

"They also enjoy talking to the fish," joked the boys' mother, Jennifer Difanis. "They stand there and go, 'Here fishy, fishy!'"

On a nearby dock, Jon Swigart watched his son, Lukas Swigart, 7, perfect his cast.

"I like seeing his improvements," Swigart said. "I'm trying to help him learn a few things about patience or focus. He's gotten much better at casting since we first started fishing."

The father and son started sharing the hobby three years ago when Lukas was 4.

"It was difficult when we first got started because he was so small," Jon Swigart said. "But now when he gets the opportunity to fish, he really enjoys it — obviously moreso when he catches something."

Close by the dock on shore was Chuck Allen, who used the Take Me Fishing event as a great excuse to spend time outside with his two grandsons.

"Just to be able to do something with them," Allen said. "They both enjoy fishing. We came last year and they really had good luck. I think each one of them caught about seven or eight. They had a lot of fun and it kept their interest up."

But more than a day spent in the great outdoors, Allen saw the event as a means to form a bond and even teach his grandchildren a lesson or two.

"It teaches them patience and gives them another angle of life for when they get older," Allen said. "Maybe they'll remember this and take their kids out and do something like this."

On the other end of the shore was Kim Roberts, who watched her 6-year-old grandson, Aiden Roberts, beam with joy as he caught another fish.

"That's six!" Aiden Roberts said in excitement.

"It's been a beautiful day today and he just finds enjoyment in fishing and we enjoy spending some time with him."

Once caught, Aiden rushed to volunteer Chris Clementz, who measured the fish for him.

"Do you want to throw it back?" Chris Clementz asked the young angler.

Though Aiden Roberts was hesitant at first, Clementz persuaded him to touch the fish and eventually Roberts warmed to the idea of tossing the fish back into the lake himself.

"It was slimy," Aiden Roberts joked.

Clementz and his wife Paula Clementz decided to assist with the event when the couple's daughter, Stacey Clementz, who is the education program specialist for CCFPD, asked the pair to help out at the first event.

"I was a little hesitant to get involved with it," Chris Clementz said. "I was developing that old man syndrome of 'hey kids get out of my yard' kind of thing," he joked. "I hadn't been around kids in a while but was really pleasantly surprised at how well ran it was and how appreciative the kids were and the joy of getting to see kids catch a fish for the first time was amazing."

Chris and Paula Clementz have held a variety of roles throughout the years. Paula Clementz has helped with registration and measuring fish while Chris has also measured fish and even assisted as a fishing instructor.

"It's nothing too involved because they're young," Clementz said. "You don't want to complicate it. It's mostly just getting them out there."

On average, Paula Clementz said the children catch six to eight fish, but nothing blew her away more than when a girl caught 52 fish this year at Middle Fork within the two-hour timeslot.

"She would kiss the fish each time before tossing it back into the lake," Paula Clementz said while laughing.

Each event awards a youth for the biggest fish caught, the most fish caught and the best good sport.

Though the fish were not biting quite as well as Middle Fork's booming 52, most participants were content with catching a few fish.

Aiden Roberts won the biggest fish award for his 6-and-1 / 2-sized fish. Isabella Shewol hooked the most fish with eight total, and Dawson Martin was the volunteer-selected good sport award winner.

"He got himself hooked but he was very calm about it," Wick said. "He was really calm and he still wanted to catch more."

But more than accolades, the family-friendly event focused on the bond formed between parent and child and grandparent and grandchild.

"There's not always things for parents and children that they can do together," Paula Clementz said. "A lot of times parents, at least when I had young children, you would take them to things and they would do their own thing while you waited or watched, but this is something the parents and the children can do together and enjoy the experience together."

Even though some participants may walk away without the experience of catching a fish, Wick knows it's the opportunity itself that often brightens their day and may even teach them something new.

"It teaches them patience, the importance of safety and respect for wildlife," she said.

And nothing is greater for Chris Clementz than when a child experiences catching a fish for the first time.

"Seeing the wonder and the joy when they do catch a fish ... it doesn't matter if it's a big fish or a little fish that barely fits on the hook, they all have that same excitement and it's pretty contagious," he said.

Though Saturday's Take Me Fishing event was the last of the CCFPD's season, Wick assured the beloved event will return next year.

"It's not going anywhere," she said.

Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation

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