Mario Travaline will set up on Lake Nokomis early Saturday with a fully charged ice auger, a pile of rods and reels, a complement of tip-ups and buckets of bait.
It’s Take a Kid Ice Fishing weekend in Minnesota and any state resident can fish for free when partnered with a child younger than age 16. Travaline’s job with the Department of Natural Resources is to turn people on to fishing. Winter provides him with an extra sales pitch: You don’t need a boat!
“I don’t want a kid to say, ‘I can’t do this because I need fancy-schmancy gear,’ ” Travaline said. “We start out very simple and build it from there.” (Editor's note: The Lake Nokomis event has been rescheduled to Feb 8, owing to the storm forecast Friday into the weekend.)
The DNR’s “Fishing in the Neighborhood” specialist won’t be alone this January and February in hosting events to boost participation in the sport, which attracts about 150,000 anglers each season, according to the DNR. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Nokomis, he’ll partner with city parks and recreation staff to host every fun-seeker who shows up. Other free, try-ice fishing events will be popping up Saturday at Chisago Lake; Bush Lake in Bloomington (Sunday); Fish Lake in Maple Grove (Jan. 25); and Blackhawk Lake in Eagan (Feb. 1).
Travaline said his lessons typically start with full-blown safety information, including how to dress. From afar and in the midst of groups of ice anglers outfitted with snowmobiles, four-wheelers, motorized ice augers, portable shelters and propane heaters, ice fishing looks expensive and complicated. Travaline tells beginners that you don’t need much more than a hook and string to find adventure.
Cut through the ice with a hand-cranked auger and sit on a five-gallon bucket while dangling a wax worm from a cheap rod. No action at your spot? Move around, maybe to a hole vacated by someone else.
“You don’t need the best of the best,” he said.
Mark Morrison, a recreation supervisor for Bloomington Parks and Recreation, said children and other first-timers can be comfortable and entertained with minimal small tackle. On Saturday, he’ll teach a family ice fishing class on Bush Lake as part of the city’s Winter Fete. Even in the brutal cold of last year’s event, 60 people showed up to kick the tires and catch panfish.
“The kids absolutely love it,” Morrison said. “In the past there’s been quite a bit of action.”
Bloomington’s event is supported by the DNR and a local chapter of the Izaak Walton League.
In Maple Grove, a try-ice fishing event hosted by Three Rivers Park District will be part of a larger winter sports festival held throughout the afternoon Jan. 25 at Fish Lake Regional Park
Nick Sacco, a recreation specialist for the park district, said the mission is to get people started in ice fishing with an emphasis on safety and the simple joys that come with the use of basic equipment and a little bit of live bait.
“Ice fishing is one of those things that can intimidate people,” Sacco said. “But there’s something magical about it.”
Sacco said he’s seen an increase in ice fishing interest by school groups, including foreign exchange students. They’re intrigued by merely trekking out onto the ice and amazed when they pull out a fish from an ice hole.
While next week’s “try-it” instructions will dwell on the fundamentals, the park’s beach area and pavilion will feature demonstrations of fly-tying, fish identification, tip-ups, underwater cameras, fish finders, portable shelters, a dark house, and inflatable survival suits. Outdoor fires, a kick-sledding exhibition and minnow races will add to the festivities.
“It’s in its fry stage, but we want it to turn into a whopper,” Sacco said of the event.