Jan 10, 2015

The “Turning Leaf” Challenge

By: Pat Kalmerton

The “Turning Leaf” muskie hunt weekend is all about bringing youth into the outdoors to experience something they may not otherwise get to experience. It’s based on fishing education, camaraderie and pursuing the fish of 10,000 casts. This annual fall event is coordinated and presented by Sheboygan County Conservation Association, Between the Lakes Muskie Chapter, Camp Y-Koda and Wolf Pack Adventures. While this is just one annual initiative to share the outdoors with the next generation of anglers, it is a successful model for expanding education and awareness throughout Wisconsin. The opportunity is there for other clubs and organizations to pass down the legacy and history to youth starving for fishing knowledge.  Accept the challenge and get planning.  It is important to start the planning process early in the year to make sure the opportunities to get our young people out into the outdoors doesn’t pass by due to procrastination or by not being prepared.

For “Turning Leaf,” the event registration process begins with an essay. The interested youth participant must explain why they would like to take part in this endeavor. Some want to spend more time with their dad (boys and girls ages 12-16 attend this event with a guardian), some want to relive stories their grandpa shares about muskie fishing, but don’t have the equipment to make it happen. The guardians are also responsible for completing an essay as to why they would like to be selected. Some want to get their kid away from video games for a weekend. One had a terminal illness and wanted to pass his passion for the outdoors on, but was physically no longer able to do so.

Then, the selection committee has a big job to do. They read every essay application from children and their guardians – mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors – the possibilities are endless. Grandma may be taking her grandson because grandpa is gone and the single-parent mom is working too many hours to make ends meet. But, this kid really wants to get out there so Grandma tries a new adventure at 80 years old. That is what this event is about!

The selection committee agrees on 16 kids, and the prep and planning begins! Volunteers are the backbone of this event and the starting point is finding 16 guides. They may be members of the Between the Lakes Muskie Chapter, local friends with boats, or guides from the destination area. You know the type – warm-hearted people with boats and fishing gear that volunteer their time, money, equipment and expertise to take kids out fishing.

The location is an important decision. The 2014 event was hosted by Bents Camp (www.bents-camp.com) on the Cisco Chain located in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. They went above and beyond to accommodate our group of about 75; including kids, guardians, media, and event organizers. They had comfortable beds and hot, delicious lunches and dinners. For breakfast, we took the transport bus donated by Heidenreiter Bus Company to Forest Lake Country Store (www.forestlakecountrystore.com) for eggs, pancakes, cereal, meats – you name it, they had it. And it was great!

Before any of the tasty food was consumed – yes, I got ahead of myself and excited talking about food – there was a series of events that needed to take place.

All the participants were notified of their selection and required to attend two days of pre-fishing education to be ready for the adventure. These days also allowed the kids to get acquainted before the event, and give them time to meet and work with their assigned guide who would teach them tips and tactics to becoming a successful angler.

The pre-fishing lessons were kicked off by Chuck Strysick, the ring-leader, if you will. (It may seem silly to mention, but everyone wears nametags – we’re all becoming friends and want to be respectful by using first names!) The ‘students’ were assigned to stations so every kid had an opportunity for hands-on instruction and Q & A.

Station 1: Lure building. Students choose their own colors, then design and build a lure which they put into their new tacklebox donated by Plano Molding.

Station 2: Electronics and map reading. The students work hand-in-hand with their guide to learn how to read maps, understanding where the lodge is located on the lake, and where to begin looking for muskies with a few hot spots marked from fisherman who fish that body of water often.

Station 3: Live bait rigging. Students learn how to rig live bait for quick-set harnesses – these will not harm the fish by setting the hook quickly before the muskie swallows the hooks. They also practice how hard they need to set the hook to bury into the jaw bone of a feeding muskie. Always a fun station!

Station 4: Muskie identification and habitat. Students discuss the difference between spotted, silver, and tiger muskies, as well as the different habitats you may find them roaming in. They also discuss how the Department of Natural Resources shock and survey lakes to know how many muskies are roaming per acre in any body of water.

Station 5: Introduction to muskie rods, reels, and lures. Students learn about different reels, what rod-length to use, and how to cast various rigs. Again, a good time!

Station 6: Catch and release, nets, tools. Students learn how to properly handle a muskie after an exhausting fight and how to use the bolt cutters to cut the shank of the hook so it ensures a quick release for the fish.

Finally, the time comes to get their game on!

A bus arrived Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. sharp in the parking lot of Camp Y-Koda to load up the group for their adventure. All kids and guardians are required to ride the bus to build camaraderie and excitement as we head to our destination. Upon arrival at the camp, there was a short meeting about behavior expectations, how to interact with the guides and each other. Then, fishing!

The next day and a half included lots of laughs, some serious talks, and just a great time! The students learned to drive boats and enjoyed choosing their favorite lures to catch the big one. There was bonding time in the boats; a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday. Life was put on hold and the only care in the world was that one fish that would change a life. That one fish that you work so hard to entice. That one fish that haunts your dreams and makes your day in the same sentence. That one fish – the muskie!

The fishing was tough! We had snow, sleet, cold – oh wait, that’s muskie fishing, right? There were some we missed and there was a fish caught. A tiger muskie. Just enough for these students to dream about, and hopefully they’ll want to continue their quest for a trophy.

After all the boats were trailered and everyone warmed their toes, the biggest surprise was yet to come. Event sponsors sent these kids off with new baits from Yakima Bait, Muskie Innovations, and Muskie Mayhem, as well as new tackle boxes from Plano. Each participant received a graduation plaque, and it was their turn to give back.

The sharing circle is now in session! Captain Roy Kalmerton, the originator of the “Turning Leaf” sharing circle back in 2004 had the floor again. Each participant shares – youth, guardian, guide, event organizer, media, cameraman – doesn’t matter who you are, you are sharing and nothing leaves the circle. I would love to tell you what was said in that circle that evening but the only people who will ever know those words were at Bents Camp in Land O’ Lakes, Wis. on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

On behalf of everyone involved with the “Turning Leaf” event, we challenge you to get our youth involved in the outdoors! Give them the experience to develop the passion. For more information on how to get your club involved in the “Turning Leaf” project.