MONROE TOWNSHIP — It was a pretty certain sign that Saturday’s Passport to Fishing Youth Clinic was proceeding well when one of the casting instructors, Kurt Hux, let out an exuberant yell.
At the Casting/Fishing Demonstration station — a section of grass where children practiced casting, and a pond with a dock just yards away — Andrew Dickhof, 11, of Centerburg, had listened closely to casting tips from Hux. Taking his fishing rod back to his ear, he released his line about 45 feet in a nice arc, and into a hula hoop on the pond’s surface. As if to celebrate themselves, a few bullfrogs bellowed their approval, nearby but out of sight.
“We got a winner! He got it in, first one today!” exclaimed a happy Hux, who is co-coordinator of the event with his wife, Katie Hux.
Katie Hux is president of the Kokosing Valley Junior Anglers. Last year, she teamed up with Lori Totman, Knox County Park District manager, the state Division of Wildlife, the Knox County Fish and Game Association, and with the help of sponsors offered the inaugural Passport to Fishing Youth Clinic.
This year’s event, held at Wolf Run Regional Park, saw 92 children participate at six learning stations.
The event is free, and all children receive a Zebco fishing rod, a tackle box with lures suitable for bass fishing, a backpack courtesy of the park district, healthy snacks, cold bottles of water, and lunch. Most of the fishing-related items were offered through grants obtained from the ODW.
Dickhof lives on a family farm with a pond, so he was already knowledgeable on some aspects of fishing before Saturday’s event. But thanks to his casting instructors, who included Thadd Blubaugh, he learned some new things. Blubaugh coordinated casting instruction on the grass, where children were asked to cast their lines and lure a few feet beyond a flat, blue rubber fish on the ground. In this reel-it-in exercise, they were able, if done properly, to rewind their lure backward over the grass and on top of the blue fish, which had a slit the lure could latch onto. Proper reeling is no higher than waist level.
“I didn’t realize you point the rod down when you reel the line in,” Dickhof said. “I always used to point up.”
At another station nearby, called Fish Handling and Local Laws, students sat on the grass near a tarped structure where Austin Levering, a state Division of Wildlife officer, drilled them on questions from the Ohio Fishing Regulations Book. They learned, for instance, that fishing daily limits for all types of bass — largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted — depend on where you are. On Knox Lake, the limit is five per day, and they must be a minimum of 18 inches in length. At this station, students also learned the proper handling of fish, using model fish coated with vegetable oil. As Levering explained, children who fish need to learn that fish “slime” acts in part as a defense mechanism, such as to help protect a small fish escape from predation by a bass.
“They need to get a feel for what a live fish actually is,” said Bill Buskirk, president of the Knox County Fish and Game Association.
At another station, Habitat and Local Information—Kokosing River species, made use of Knox County Park District interns to explain watershed ecosystems to children. At the station, students could see species of small local fish in a tank, crayfish in another tank, and even a baby snapping turtle found near Honey Run Waterfall — the back of its shell no larger than a quarter.
Cody Wright, a park district intern, asked the local information group if they knew about macroinvertebrates. These animals are “macro” meaning small but big enough to be visible with the naked eye, and, being invertebrates, do not have a spine. Crayfish, clams, snails, and insects such as mayflies and dragonflies are examples.
It was the tiny snapping turtle, however, which stood out among the animals even at diminutive size. It was housed separately in a small container from the other critters whose abundant presence indicates stream health.
“At that size its bite will feel like a little crayfish pinch,” Wright offered. There were no takers.