Summer is the season when Minnesotans pull out their boats and dust off their fishing rods in preparation for cabin weather. But for some — especially seniors and people with disabilities — getting outdoors can be a challenge.
That’s where Minnesota-based nonprofit Let’s Go Fishing (LGF) comes in.
The organization offers free fishing and pontoon boat outings to seniors, veterans and disabled adults throughout the summer. Scott County has a new chapter this year, which kicked off its season June 1 at Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park in New Prague.
“All of us know of individuals that cannot get out like they used to, and it’s hard to really realize [what that’s like] that without talking to somebody,” said Joe Holm, founder of Let’s Go Fishing. “It’s like taking something very precious from somebody that you had your whole life.”
New Prague resident Larry Smith attended the Scott County chapter’s maiden voyage June 1, which was specifically for military veterans.
“I don’t fish at all, hardly,” he said. “My wife fishes, she’s a fishing fanatic.”
But for the day, Smith was the angler in the family. He caught several sunfish, and then threw them back after showing them off. Participants can also keep the fish they catch, if they’d like.
Joe Vaughan, a retired New Prague fire chief and honor guard member, sat next to Smith, arms crossed, smiling out at the lake and chatting with the group.
“I caught all my fish last night at Cub,” he joked.
Vaughan said he isn’t much of a fisherman, but he plans to come back for another pontoon ride this summer.
And that’s just fine by the organizers of Let’s Go Fishing.
“It’s really about what being on the water does for a person mentally and physically,” Holm said.
The Scott County chapter of Let’s Go Fishing will run two pontoon trips daily, Monday through Thursday until Sept. 24, at Cedar Lake in New Prague. The organization provides life jackets, bait, fishing poles and even sunscreen, said Sharon Brown, chapter president.
“People just need to come with a fishing license,” Brown said. “Or if they come with a long-term care facility or organization, usually that can be waived through the [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources].”
People interested in going on a pontoon trip — to fish or not — are encouraged to register in advance to be sure the boat will launch that day. If no one signs up, the boat won’t go out on the lake.
For now, people can call 952-210-1412 to register. Come July 1, registration will also be available online via the chapter’s updated website at http://scottcounty.lgfws.com.
“There’s 106 trips that are available, and we have 45 booked right now,” Brown said. “So there’s still opportunity for organizations and for individuals to sign up.”
The Scott County chapter also accommodates requests for special outings. For instance, if a family would like to take a loved one in hospice care out on the boat for a private trip, LGF will schedule a private ride, Brown said.
The Let’s Go Fishing boats are modified to accommodate wheelchairs and staffed by trained volunteers, Brown said. The Scott County chapter has 50 volunteers but is still looking for 25 more adults to help this summer.
If the group is successful, Brown said she hopes to expand Let’s Go Fishing.
“There are lakes in Prior Lake, Shakopee, Savage,” Brown said. “We want to move north. We’ll start here and then in the next two to three years, get two more pontoons, if possible, and put them on different lakes.”
Let’s Go Fishing has about 30 chapters across the country, from Wisconsin to Arizona to Colorado and aims to grow even more, Holm said.
“We live in such a fast-paced world that you can’t go anywhere without your cellphones, smartphones and computers,” Holm said. “Let’s Go Fishing is about slowing down just a little bit, pulling up beside people, showing that you care.”
Janice Bitters is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.