The Cuevas-Sánchez family's fishing story starts small.

Like, really small.

About three years ago a family friend invited Ian Cuevas-Sánchez, then 5, to fish for the first time, on Lake Nokomis. Set up with an ice fishing pole because it was a good fit for his small stature, Ian targeted bluegills, setting in motion a progression of experiences that have turned his parents and siblings into a Minnesota fishing family. And an exceptional one.

Ian was invited to go again. His father, Jared Cuevas, said his excitement was unmistakable. So much so that Cuevas and his wife, Elsa Sánchez, decided a fishing-themed birthday was a must when Ian turned 6, but it would take some preparation.

"I thought I might learn how to fish first," Cuevas, 37, said with a laugh.

Plans were made for a birthday picnic close to the fishing pier at Lake Hiawatha. In addition to a cake and a piñata, the couple bought rods. They also started to research how to fish and where to go, and came across a Go Fish! event through the Department of Natural Resources at Fort Snelling State Park. The program was transformative.

They took Ian to the event, were the only ones in attendance, and had a Spanish-speaking instructor no less. DNR fishing and hunting skills liaison Ray Ruiz went through the fundamentals, from tying knots to properly baiting hooks to effective casting. Jared laughed at the memory.

"It was awesome," Cuevas recalled. "There was just the three of us getting all the knowledge."

Ruiz ended up following up with more instruction when he was invited to Ian's bash.

That success has since followed the family, including twins Eric and Aaron, 5, to the birthday party and beyond.

They have embraced the DNR'S Fishing in the Neighborhood program, which partners with other parks agencies and provides lake maps and other essential information (like identifying fish or where to borrow gear or how to buy a license) for its urban fishing program. Hiawatha, near their home, has been a go-to lake — they even landed a northern there after trying ice fishing for the first time. As they have built knowledge and skills, they have also gone elsewhere to target species. Lake Minnetonka is a favorite of Ian's.

Traditions have taken root, too. The family has Fishing Friday Night when they come together. Each family member also now has individual rods, and eagerly anticipates the opener in a few weeks. They might go to one of the Chain of Lakes. Lake of the Isles gave up a memorable largemouth bass. Otherwise, the Mississippi River might beckon. They caught their first smallie there last summer.

Cuevas said they have been targeting carp of late with good success. They are hoping to catch trout and muskie this summer, to broaden their experiences.

Fishing has stuck with the Cuevas-Sánchez crew, and that is inspiring when your vocation and mission, like Ruiz's, are to expand opportunities for people who might miss out.

"They are the reason and purpose why I love to teach fishing," he said. • 612-673-7899