Dick Hohenstein, toting a plastic bag of tackle and brimming with optimism, was ready to fish.
“You have to think big,” said the 82-year-old Hohenstein, of Stillwater, threading a squirming worm on his hook before dropping bait, line and sinker into the St. Croix River the other day. The retired Marine veteran is an avid angler who worked the night shift at a Chrysler plant in Ohio, allowing him to fish during the day.
“I used to fish three or four times a week,” he said.
That was before he retired more than 20 years ago. It’s tougher for Hohenstein to get out on the water these days. But four times this summer he has fished the St. Croix River on a pontoon boat operated by the St. Croix Valley chapter of Let’s Go Fishing, a nonprofit Minnesota group that takes mostly seniors — but also veterans, disabled people and youths — out on the water.
Volunteers with 30 chapters will give excursions to about 20,000 people this year. And since the organization was founded in 2002, more than 110,000 people have enjoyed on-the-water adventures.
“It’s wonderful,” said Barb Welp, 77, who fished with her husband, George, 83, on the recent St. Croix River trip. The couple live in St. Paul and were on their first Let’s Go Fishing excursion.
“Whenever I’m out on the water, it’s good,” said George Welp, a Korean War veteran.
The success of Let’s Go Fishing is dependent on unpaid volunteers. On this day, Wayne Beyer, 69, of Bayport piloted the 25-foot pontoon on a sparkling blue St. Croix. Assisting was Pat Bailey, 64, of Woodbury, who also captains the boat.
“I don’t bait hooks or take fish off, but I do everything else,” she joked.
The organization provides life jackets, fishing gear and bait, and the excursions are free. (Donations are accepted.)
“We’re going after sunfish and crappies,” Beyer told the group. “We have a secret hole where we’ve had good luck.”
One man’s dream
Joe Holm, 53, launched Let’s Go Fishing in Willmar a dozen years ago, never thinking it would grow as it has. Holm, who worked in the life insurance and financial services industry, said a string of family health issues, including injuries he suffered from an ATV crash, made him think about life and what he might do with his next chapter.
“You want it to be significant,” he said.
Why not get more people outside on the water?
“You can’t have a bad day when you’re in the outdoors,” Holm said. “I know the older we get, the fewer activities there are to enjoy. We can’t do things we were passionate about, like getting on the water.”
“I just wanted to put a smile on someone’s face,” he said. Let’s Go Fishing has done more than that, he said. “It’s making an impact on people’s lives.”