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Youth outreach a positive experience
Photo supplied Three-year-old Georgia Haase is a quick study as she learns the fine art of bait casting during the Angler Education Day at Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area in Iowa County. Kelly Tollefson assists the young angler while DNR Warden Supervisor Chuck Horn looks on.
DODGEVILLE - The rain held off just long enough to provide more than 80 youngsters from around Iowa County with an exciting and memorable experience at the Angler Education Day at the Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area last weekend.

Several members of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, including this writer, were on hand to help out with the event. In addition to a contingent from Iowa County, Dave Fritz from the Grant County delegation and dozens of other volunteers helped manage the swarms of high energy youngsters gone wild with enthusiasm.

I've been to several youth events over the past few months, either to assist or to write up an article or two - for the Times, Wisconsin Outdoor News or perhaps a local newspaper somewhere. These events are always a gratifying experience as throngs of boisterous kids are having a ball. It's also a pleasure to get to know the movers and shakers who make these programs go and marvel at the selfless efforts of so many supporters.

The Taylor County Sportsman's Club offered up a superb event for fourth- and fifth-graders a few weeks ago in Medford, while New Holstein High School has an Ice Fishing Club that attracts more than 25 percent of the student body to Lake Winnebago for an annual Fisharee in February.

The Wisconsin Outdoor Education Expo held in Beaver Dam each year allows more than 3,000 kids to enjoy hands-on experiences administered by dozens of experts in a wide variety of nature-based activities. Smaller in scope but no less impressive, the folks from Lafayette County put on one of the best shows in the state every spring to celebrate Earth Day at Woodford.

Free to area kids, the Blackhawk Lake program included instruction on fish habitat, fly-tying, bait casting methods and "fish"-dyed T-shirt painting.

Despite comments such as "yuk" and "gross," the kids had a ball dipping replicas of fish in dye and then decorating white T-shirts donated by some unheralded benefactors willing to donate to a good cause.

The shirts dangled from crudely strung clotheslines between nearby trees.

The T's will be worn proudly during the afternoon fishing expedition on this quiescent man-made lake off State Highway 80 between Highland and Cobb.

Meanwhile, Kelly Tollefson of Fennimore coached kids on the fine art of casting a fake lure on a pond of green grass where a school of plastic fish lurked. Shrieks of delight could be heard in the distance whenever someone hooked a big one.

Dawn Haase was there with her 3-year-old daughter Georgia, a blonde-haired cutie who demonstrated a wicked wind up with her bait casting outfit, also donated.

With Tollefson's help, she managed to snag one of the dummy fish, squealing in delight as she reeled it in.

"I caught one," she shouts to a much-impressed mom. Then, seeking yet more action: "I want to catch another one."

At another station, Shannon Straka revealed the startling facts of the chances of survival among various species of fish and the need to protect habitat that allows them to sustain viable populations. Students learned that while a bluegill nest may contain as many as 18,000 eggs, only a tiny percentage will die of old age.

He makes a game of teaching the impact of predators that remove large numbers of young-of-the-year from the mix. Each youngster is designated as either a bluegill or a predator. In this scenario, bluegills are safe only in a "cover area" where predators cannot reach them but are vulnerable whenever they move anywhere else in the "lake."

As the game proceeds, many of the bluegills disappear as predators tag them, but the ones that remain share their environment with other species. The moral of the story is that while many are consumed by predators or otherwise lose the battle for survival, the balance of nature is maintained as each species vies for space within a given habitat.

Whether fin, fur or feather, a valuable lesson indeed.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at