'Take a Youth Fishing': MassWildlife helps kids learn to tinker with hook, line and sinker

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Photo Gallery | MassWildlife's 'Take a Youth Fishing' event at Onota Lake

PITTSFIELD — They came prepared, with rods and lures, tackle and live bait, hoping to reel them in.

And in the families came, in twos and threes, ready and waiting to learn how to fish.

As part of Youth Outdoors Week, MassWildlife on Tuesday afternoon, held a free "Take a Youth Fishing" event — part of its ongoing Angler Education Program — along the shores by the fishing pier at Onota Lake. The agency invited families to bring their own gear and tackle or borrow the agency's equipment and bait to get set up for an enjoyable afternoon of fishing.

Phil O'Rourke of Pittsfield, brought two of his grandchildren, Norrin Darby, 7, and Maris Darby, 5, of Dalton to give it a go. Each youth had his and her own colorful kid-sized fishing poles.

"Have you guys fished before," asked seasonal Angler Education Program instructor, Cameron Young.

The siblings exchanged unsure glances.

"They're here to learn," their grandfather offered.

Young took them to the water's edge to give them the basic rundown of how to cast a line using a demonstration rod and line with a small orange fish-shaped weight at the end, instead of a hook.

"We want to catch fish today, we don't want to catch each other," Young explained.

In minutes, the Darby kids found the hang of it, first looking back, holding the rod low with your thumb on the button of the casting reel, then swinging the line forward and releasing the button, ideally sending the baited hook and line into the water. After a few landings in the grass, the children finally cast steady lines ahead of them, into the gently lapping waters.

Though Onota is known for deep water and bigger fish, a few kids managed to snag three kinds of small fish in the shallows, which were put on display in a MassWildlife release tank for a couple of hours. One boy caught a type of sunfish known as a bluegill. Next, Maris Darby proudly came forth with another type of sunfish, known as a pumpkinseed. Before the second hour was up, another new young angler, six-year-old Izzy Pease of Pittsfield, came over to the fishing clinic tent to show off her catch, a small perch.

"She's never been fishing before in her life," said Izzy's mother, Stacey Pease.

The catch made Izzy's brother, eight-year-old Brady Pease, even more determined to catch something before the afternoon's end.

Stacey Pease said despite their limited experience, her kids had "been begging me to go fishing." The mother said, as a kid, she frequently took part in fishing derbies, once hooking a prize-winning rainbow trout.

"But today, I needed a refresher, so this was perfect," she said, while baiting a hook with a live worm.

Angler Education Program Coordinator Jim Lagacy reminded the youngsters to not rush through their experience. "Fishing is about getting outside, getting outdoors and enjoying nature," he said.

Though the program is based in Westborough, Lagacy invited anglers from local fishing and sporting clubs to volunteer for the afternoon and talk about their programs.

Angelica Paredes, University of Massachusetts Educator for the Berkshire County 4-H program, went there to meet up with MassWildlife officials and begin talks about ways to partner and offer more programs for youth. This year, she worked with North Adams angler, Larry Heiman, to officially start the 4-H Sharks Fishing Club, based in Adams.

"It's great," said Heiman. "They're away from their devices, they're outside, and it teaches them a lot of patience too."

Some more experienced fishermen also joined in the day's program. Known to her grandsons as "Nana," Adele Hawley brought cousins Johnny Brighenti, 7, and Aiden Hawley, 12, up from Lee, with tackle boxes, rods and a picnic lunch in hand.

"It's a wonderful idea to have this," Adele said, noting that it gave Brighenti, who's more experienced with fishing, time to share the sport with his cousin.

"I've never been here before. It's cool," Brighenti said of Onota Lake.

Skip Greb brought his grandson, seven-year-old Alex Roots, to the program to continue to foster Roots' passion.

"He could fish pretty much anything from sun up to sun down," Greb said.

Asked why he liked fishing so much, Roots said, "It's mostly challenging."

Together, they frequent the bridge on Main Street in Dalton where Roots has hooked three rainbow trout so far. Slinging his fishing net over his shoulder, Roots told this reporter, "It makes me really, really happy."

Reporter Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.

Angler Education Program

Learn more about programs and volunteer opportunities by contacting Program Coordinator Jim Lagacy at Jim.Lagacy@state.ma.us or (508) 389-6309.


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