Sturgeon University

Early in the year, I asked the Spartan Angling class at Nashwauk High School the following question: “What is one species of fish you have always wanted to catch?” There was an excited response. One student yelled, “Sturgeon, I have never caught one of those!” Other students agreed, and the chance to catch a four- to five-foot fish was enough to lure the kids to the infamous Rainy River.

These students unanimously voted to target this species as the “big” trip for the class. A fishing date was set, and all the class had to do was wait for the big day!

Spartan Angling was founded at Nashwauk High School in January of 2019 from a DNR grant aimed to recruit and retain anglers. I’ve taught math for 17 years, but I wanted to bring angling knowledge, experiences and provide opportunities for kids to become lifelong anglers into the school during the school day. The Spartan Angling experience exposes them to Minnesota fish species, locations and seasonal patterns, tactics, slot limits, over harvest, invasive species, shoreline management and several other topics. The class is way different than emerging fishing teams because the kids learn a lot more about the art and science of angling. Students also receive high school credit for the class toward graduation.

Eleven students from the Spartan Angling class, principal Ranae Seykora and I made the trip on May 9th to Baudette. Eleven inches of snow fell the night before in Duluth, but luckily the eager anglers and I were driving up in rain instead. As we went through Bigfork, the skies began to part and slivers of sunshine began streaking through the ski. Miles of no cell phone service had kids working on homework and talking face-to-face! It was a welcomed change to the youth anglers. I had formed a fishing partnership with Border View Lodge and the kids were loaded into two charter boats and my Alumacraft Tournament Pro. Border View Lodge values youth angling and gave me a deep discount on the trip with the students. The students also created a thank you poster in partnership with the NK Shop Class and hand wrote letters of appreciation to the resort.

The boats anchored in the last few miles of the Rainy River near the the resort. Several sturgeon were spotted surfacing in the morning by guides, and students were dressed in ice fishing gear to battle the elements. It didn’t take too long for Braden DePaulis to tie into a prehistoric beast that was making her journey to spawn in a portion of the river or tributary.

Screams and arms waving with excitement echoed from the charter boat as other boats kept hearing, “We’re hooked up!” DePaulis decided to share the fish of a lifetime with other anglers in the boat. Jon Olson, Rick Webster and James Newman all got to tussle with the white bellied monster for several minutes, as principal Seykora captured smiles on camera. As the whiskers broke the surface, the excitement peaked with sheer screams and sound carrying for miles. The anglers had won— a FIVE FOOT lake sturgeon was grunted and wrestled into the boat by the guide and adrenaline rushed anglers. It was like the red carpet was rolled out for the crew as camera flashes and “slime high fives” slapped the air with excitement. The David vs. Goliath was won and the migrating mother of thousands of eggs was gently released into the murky waters of the river to restart her journey.

Other anglers did manage to catch a few smaller sturgeon, suckers and eelpout. The fish were all released and memories were made by all. Students now know the tactics, locations and habitat to look for as their enter their driving stages of life and can trailer their 12-14 foot boats to the river. They now are able to identify the scutes on the fish, baits used and what to look for on the rod as they wait for a bite. They know why the sturgeon has large pectoral fins and a tail designed to travel long distances to forage and spawn. They are successful graduates of Sturgeon University. They can now feel the excitement of not being able to sleep and create memories for themselves, friends and future families. They are the future of fishing and experiences like this start the fishing traditions that are being lost in today’s society. I am proud of my anglers, and they were incredibly appreciative of the experience today. My grandfather, Dave Heritage, who passed the priceless gift of teaching me fishing, would be so proud today.

Spartan Angling is in need of sustainable funds to continue this class. We are looking for sponsors and business to help financially sustain trips like this for kids and continue this class for years to come. We want to partner with your business! We are also looking for avid anglers to share knowledge and speak to kids. If you are interested in donating time, money or resources, please email Luke at ladam@isd319.org to help continue this opportunity to youth at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and provide these memories for years to come.

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