Peering from the dock into the weedy depths of Snelling Lake, Alvin Bommarito spotted a fish hovering near the end of his line, appearing to ogle its enticing knot of worm.
“It’s got an eye on mine,” 4-year-old Alvin announced loudly. “Fishy fish, fishy fish fish!”
“One thing about being a fisherman is you’ve got to be patient,” advised Alvin’s grandfather Joe Bommarito, visiting Alvin in Minneapolis from Snohomish, Wash. He stood nearby with his own fishing pole. “Just sit there and wait it out.”
Alvin waited quietly for about 20 seconds.
“I wonder when the fish will get mine,” he said. “When will the fish come, I wonder?”
“I don’t know, you’ve got to be patient,” his grandfather said again. “It’s hard being patient sometimes, isn’t it?”
Ten seconds ticked by.
“Fish, where are you?” Alvin called toward the water.
The fish were biting only occasionally on that sunny afternoon at Fort Snelling State Park, but it was a good day for intergenerational bonding. Alvin and his family, also including his parents and grandmother, were among about 20 people participating in “I Can Fish,” a program held at the park every Friday afternoon throughout the summer.
“I Can Fish” is for anyone who wants to learn to fish, or could use a refresher, or just wants to get outdoors and try something new. The Department of Natural Resources, which sponsors the free program, provides poles, bait and instructions on how to use them. No fishing license is required to fish from the shore within the park.
“It’s been really, really popular,” said naturalist Kao Thao, who helps participants tie worms onto hooks, identify fish species and remove fish from lines once they’re caught.
Lessons on outdoor leisure
“I Can Fish” is part of the DNR’s “I Can” series, designed to lure more people outdoors to enjoy nature, said Erika Rivers, DNR Parks and Trails director. Set in state parks across the state, other programs focus on camping, paddling, archery and climbing. The programs are available free or for a nominal fee, and provide most or all of the equipment required.
“The thing we hope most for this program is that it creates a really easy, friendly first-time experience for people to get outdoors,” Rivers said.
The DNR designed the series several years ago after noticing a decline in outdoor recreation, Rivers said. Although the numbers have slightly improved since 2008, thanks to the recession (more people are vacationing close to home), the DNR wanted to address the obstacles that were keeping people from venturing into the parks.
“One was basic know-how; a lot of people had not grown up camping or hiking,” Rivers said. “The second was equipment. People wanted to give things a try, but they didn’t have a tent, a cook stove, that sort of thing. The third was basic lack of confidence: ‘I’m not exactly sure how to start a fire and I’m going to be there with my family, my kids maybe, and I don’t want to look dumb.’ ”
Fort Snelling’s “I Can Fish” sessions sometimes draw up to 100 participants, a diverse group from around the metro area that includes families, as well as adults without children. A few parents have come on their own to learn, hoping to impress their kids later with their fishing skills, Thao said. Others aren’t really intent on mastering the angling arts but happen to be visiting the park and decide to give it a try.
“A lot of these folks have never fished before, or just once or twice,” Thao said.
That’s the case with Alvin’s parents. “My husband and I didn’t grow up fishing, and we didn’t know how, so we thought we’d come here and get some instruction,” said his mother, Rachael Kulick.
She has read that willingness to stick with a task — like waiting for a fish to strike for what seems forever — is a good predictor of children’s academic success.
“So we really push the persistence activities,” said Alvin’s father, Aaron Bommarito.
Thousands of people have tried the “I Can” programs, Rivers said. The DNR is planning follow-up research to see whether “I Can” participants continue practicing the skills they learned. “Was it a one-and-done opportunity or have they actually followed up and used the resources — camped or climbed or paddled — after that experience?”
DNR officials, of course, hope it’s the latter. The programs, with their encouraging approach, their enthusiastic and knowledgeable staffers, are designed to leave people with happy memories, some basic skills, and the desire to stick with it.
“No question is a bad question, everybody’s contributions are welcomed, and they just create a very friendly atmosphere to learn these skills,” Rivers said.
On the Snelling Lake dock, a small crisis developed — Alvin noticed his hook was empty.
“We need to get another worm!” he yelled. “I need a worm!”
Thao, as usual, was quick to offer help. “I’ve got a really nice juicy one right here,” he said. Katy Read • 612-673-4583