Isabella Cox was the first to arrive at Leclaire Lake in Edwardsville for a kids fishing class Tuesday morning.
“I want to learn how to fish,” declared the 6-year-old Edwardsville girl, soon to be a first-grader at Nelson Elementary School. She wore a pink Sophie T-shirt and blond ponytail.
Isabella had recently gone fishing with her mother, Rachael, and didn’t catch any fish. She wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Isabella’s great-grandmother, Mary Heimer, 74, of Wood River, agreed to bring her to class.
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“I’m here, even though I don’t like fish,” joked Heimer, a retired government loan technician. “I always tell people, ‘I never put anything in my mouth that smells worse than my feet.’”
Brothers Lane and Reed Kaburick already knew how to fish, but they wanted to check out Leclaire Lake.
“I heard they have huge fish,” said Reed, 13, of Glen Carbon, who will be an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School.
Edwardsville Parks and Recreation partnered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to offer two fishing classes this week as part of the Southern Illinois Urban Fishing Program. About 25 children showed up Tuesday.
The second class will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday at Leclaire Lake. It’s free and open to ages 15 and younger. Rods, reels and bait are provided.
“We have all these beautiful parks with all these beautiful lakes, and we have kids who have never fished before,” said Assistant Recreation Coordinator Hayley Verheyen, 29, of Glen Carbon.
“(The class) is a great opportunity for them to learn and for their parents to learn proper techniques and safety.”
Many of the children plan to enter the Leclaire Lake Fishing Derby on Saturday.
Classes are being taught by Urban Fishing Coordinator Scott Isringhausen and his predecessor, Mark Yehling, now an IDNR summer employee.
“Our goal is to get kids hooked on fishing instead of the less-desirable things out there,” said Isringhausen, 49, of Jerseyville. “These young people will fish for the rest of their lives.”
Isringhausen also is a farmer who recently was named Jersey County Farmer of the Year by Monsanto. He’s using his $2,500 award to expand the bluegill pond at Pere Marquette State Park, where he organizes a giant fishing fair each year.
“I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven to be able to do this,” he said. “It’s just a great job.”
At Leclaire Lake, Isringhausen started class by talking about beavers, skunks, owls and other critters children may see or hear while fishing.
Next came a lesson on tying knots, baiting hooks and deciding what hooks and baits to use. Bluegill mouths aren’t much bigger than Cheerios, requiring a small hook. Smelly baits are best for catfish.
“Catfish have a great sense of smell but a horrible sense of sight,” Isringhausen said.
Yehling, 71, of Granite City, focused on fishing safety, noting the three biggest dangers are falling in the water and drowning, getting stuck with hooks and being injured by fish spines or stingers.
He demonstrated how to safely cast overhead and jerk a fishing rod to set the hook in a fish’s mouth.
“Be patient, but not too patient,” he said. “Don’t wait for the bobber to go under water (before setting the hook).”
The youngest child in class was Calvin Clifford, 2 1/2, who came with parents Dino and Terri and brother Colton, 4 1/2.
“This is just a way we can safely get them used to fishing,” said Dino Clifford, 31, of Granite City. “If they handle it pretty good here, we can just find a little creek on the side of the road and try again.”
Calvin proved to be a natural. With help from Dad, he caught a small bluegill with his first cast.
“(This fish is) little,” Dino said as Calvin watched him pull out the hook with amazement. “We’re just going to look at him and throw him back.”
The Leclaire Lake Fishing Derby will be held from 10:15 to 11:45 a.m. Saturday (registration at 9:30 and safety tips at 10).
After an hour and a half of competition, children will sip on free Cherry Limeades from Sonic while judges determine who gets awards for catching the biggest and most fish.
“The lake is pretty stocked,” Verheyen said. “We want to make sure kids catch lots of fish.”
The IDNR will offer free fishing clinics every weekday through Aug. 12 in Alton, East St. Louis, Centralia and Carbondale (through July 17 in Mount Vernon) as part of the Southern Illinois Urban Fishing Program.
The clinics are geared toward kids but open to parents, senior citizens and others interested in fishing.
“People also can call if they want us to come out and give a clinic,” Isringhausen said. He can be reached through Pere Marquette at 618-786-3323.
At a glance
What: Annual Leclaire Lake Fishing Derby
Where: Leclaire Lake Park in Edwardsville (meet by main gazebo)
When: Registration at 9:30 a.m. Saturday followed by safety tips at 10 and fishing from 10:15 to 11:45
Who: Children 15 and younger
Bring: Fishing poles and bait (poles can be rented at Edwardsville Public Library)
Information: Call Edwardsville Parks and Recreation at 618-692-7538 or visit www.cityofedwardsville.com
Southern Illinois Urban Fishing Program clinics
Sponsor: Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Who: Geared toward kids, but open to parents, senior citizens and others interested in fishing
Equipment: Rod and reels, bait and other equipment provided
Alton: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 12 at Gordon Moore Park; call 618-917-6296 to register
East St. Louis: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 12 at Frank Holton State Park; call 618-874-7920 or 618-250-2446 to register
Centralia: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 12 at Foundation Park; call 618-532-4311 or 618-314-0437 to register
Mount Vernon: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through July 17 at Veteran’s Park; call 618-242-6890 (press “0”) or 618-314-0437 to register
Carbondale: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 12 at Evergreen Lake; call 217-415-0043 to register