A school kids were happy to go to

May 12—The 130 kids at the inaugural Fish School at the Governor's Fishing Opener learned a key lesson about fishing upon arrival Friday at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato: If it's fishing opener weekend, there's a decent chance it will be raining.

But the on and off rain in the North Mankato park didn't dampen the enthusiasm as groups of kids moved around various stations manned by the Department of Natural Resources and other groups.

Janine Kohn, coordinator for the DNR's Project Water Education Today, or WET, said they picked fifth graders, who came from Monroe and Bridges schools, to attend because it fits with their standards.

"That's the grade where they're studying water quality. We're tying water quality to recreation," Kohn said. "Kids need to know that good water quality is needed for recreation."

Nico Felten, 10, was at the fishing station, dropping a line and worm into the water off the fishing pier.

"I usually fish at Hiniker Pond with my dad. I've gotten sunfish a lot," Felten said.

Sawyer Gorman, 11, was also trying his hand at fishing off the pier. "We fish on Madison Lake sometimes. We fish for anything."

They and all the other kids went home with a rod and reel at the end of the day, donated by the DNR Fishing in the Neighborhood program.

At one of the education stations, kids learned about macroinvertebrates, the little water bugs that fish eat. "We tell them that we need good water for the bugs so the fish have something to eat," Kohn said.

The kids were shown a caddis fly, damselfly, mayfly and stonefly. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who stopped by the event, had the various bugs put on her hand and moved around showing them to the kids.

One of the most popular stations was live fish in a tank, manned by staff of the Waterville and Hutchinson DNR Fisheries offices.

Scott Mackenthun and Sky Wigen netted and held up big northern pike, bass, walleye and crappie, letting the kids touch them and telling them about their features.

"They have a lot of sharp teeth," Mackenthun said, opening the mouth of the pike.

The flopping fish, splashing water on the kids, brought squeals of joy.

At another station, conservation officer Luke Gutzwiller of Redwood Falls showed kids Earl, his German shepherd.

The dogs are trained to sniff out invasive species, often used at boat landings and elsewhere to detect the presence of zebra mussels on boats or on docks pulled in from the lake.

Earl is also trained to follow the scent of venison, turkey and other game meat as well as gunpowder.

"He's located deer taken out of season," Gutzwiller said. If the DNR learns of a place where deer may have been taken out of season, Earl can be brought in; if he detects venison, he can establish probable cause for a search warrant.

He's also used to search for missing people and to protect officers.

Kohn said reaching out to younger kids is important.

"They can take this home and share it with their families. And maybe there will be a resurgent passion for fishing. It's a great family activity," Kohn said.