Let’s Go Fishing launches its 20th season – West Central Tribune
SPICER – Let’s Go Fishing volunteer Glen Lotthammer piloted our pontoon boat within casting distance of a dock, believing a fish or two might be hiding in its shadow.
It was last Monday, and Lotthammer and his volunteer deckhands were joined in Green Lake by seven fourth graders from Willmar Public Schools.
With a few deft throws, student Braylon Burwell managed to drop his bobber and leech rig right off the dock and BAM, the bobber fell.
Burwell quickly lured a large largemouth bass, kissed it, and rode home with all the bragging rights. He caught the biggest and only fish on our afternoon excursion with Let’s Go Fishing.
But each of Burwell’s classmates on that pontoon reached shore with a smile as big as they had when volunteer Dennis Forcier helped catch the big bass.
Lotthammer and Forcier were among many volunteers who hosted fourth graders from 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 last week. Four pontoons were occupied. If all goes as planned, some 220 students will have taken part in the outings offered on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
This marked the start of the 20th season of the Willmar Chapter, the first founding chapter of the nonprofit that now includes 17 chapters across the state and in Wisconsin.
“It’s gotten really huge, every year,” said Rick Reimer of Let’s Go Fishing’s tradition of starting its season with elementary school students. Reimer is the chapter president.
Joe and Carolyn Holm started this organization 20 years ago with the goal of giving back to our seniors by welcoming them on outings on the water. Today’s volunteers are true to that original mission: the majority of those taken in each season are seniors, Reimer said.
Over the years, Let’s Go Fishing has also expanded its role to accommodate military veterans, people with disabilities and young people.
Welcoming young people aims to introduce them to the outdoors in the hope that they discover all the benefits of outdoor activities. “It’s surprising how many have never been on a lake,” he said.
Here’s why it’s important to get out on the water, no matter your age or background.
“Mental health,” said Darci Mohr, Let’s Go Fishing’s central office operations manager. It’s the most common comment she and others in the organization hear from seniors and others who enjoy being out on the water. Tranquility, peace, stress relief, say what you will, just about everyone who enjoys a Let’s Go Fishing outing cites the mental health benefits as what they value the most, he said. she explains.
System-wide, there are approximately 1,000 volunteers who make this possible.
The number of volunteers is down, and more help is needed. “People don’t volunteer anymore like they used to,” Mohr said. Many volunteers belong to the baby-boomer generation, and as they age, some also transition from volunteer to client, she added.
Donations from individuals are also down, she said, but support from community organizations and businesses is keeping the fleet on the waters. This community support has been especially important during the COVID pandemic. Let’s Go Fishing did not take people out in 2020 due to the pandemic, but still had the expense 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. Finally, the Willmar Chapter hosted 84 outings, said longtime volunteer Harley Davenport. This year, he expects it to be full throttle. There are already 140 outings booked for the summer, nearly the 270 in total that the volunteers and their fleet of two pontoons can offer.
It’s people like Davenport who have kept this organization afloat through all the challenges that COVID and everything else has offered, Reimer said. “Very good volunteers engaged in this area,” he said.
Volunteers are free to choose their own schedules and help as much – or as little – as they see fit.
Rick Loseth took this 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 on the water and among people enjoying the weather that makes it so rewarding, he explained.
When Lotthammer docked our pontoon with seven students on Monday, it was obvious. Everyone was still sporting the smiles that came so naturally on the water.
To find out more, or to reserve a spot on an outing, visit the Let’s Go Fishing website: Let’s Go Fishing