Moolahta Thaing had never fished on a lake, let alone an ice-covered one. But there he was Monday morning perched on a bucket watching his line as it drifted in a hole that had been cut in the ice.
Thaing, 17, was one of 10 high school students who took advantage of a school holiday and braved the cold to go ice fishing with St. Paul police at Big Marine Lake in Scandia. The outing was part of a program designed to build relationships between officers and teens.
“I got one!” Thaing yelled as he pulled on his rod and hooked a small sunfish.
As Thaing pulled in his catch, officers and other students ran over to congratulate him. He proudly displayed his bluegill for photos before releasing it back in the icy water.
“I never went fishing before in my life,” said Thaing, a senior at Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul.
Thaing, who is Karen, emigrated from Thailand almost eight years ago, he said.
He hopes to someday become a police officer, he said, to “get rid of bad guys” and make the community a “safer place for everyone.”
The ice fishing initiative, which involves several St. Paul police units, started several weeks ago.
Police have received so much positive feedback in the weeks since that organizers are considering continuing the program long after the ice thaws.
“This is an activity that for a lot of urban kids, they don’t get a chance to do,” said Sgt. Mike McGinn, of the juvenile unit.
For some students, simply walking on the frozen lake Monday was a first, McGinn said. They fished, played soccer and raced to see who could drill a hole in the ice the fastest with a hand auger.
They even divided into teams to see who could catch the most fish.
Jack Conrad, a retired St. Paul firefighter whose son is a St. Paul police officer, helped supply the icehouses and fishing rods. Conrad, 64, said he also hopes to get ice fishing apparel to lend to the students, some of whom didn’t dress for the weather and had to borrow jackets from officers to stay warm.
“I love ice fishing and I want somebody else to love what I love,” Conrad said.
All of the students who fished Monday are Karen immigrants and attend the same high school. They were selected by a school resource officer to participate in the program.
For most, the outing was a chance to see police officers in a different light.
“From where they come from, police is a military aspect,” said Jim Yang, an officer with the gang unit.
“They’re scary when they are in their uniforms,” said Htoo Moo, 16, talking about police, “but like this, they’re cool.”
As Moo huddled with other students inside a fish house, he tried to coax fish to bite his line. But the best he could do was watch them on an underwater camera.
“It’s neat when we can catch the fish …” McGinn started to say.
But, Yang added, “It’s actually for the experience.”