Josh and Jen Atkinson moved their family from Oakland, Calif., to Albertville four years ago, but it wasn’t until today that they got their first taste of a uniquely Minnesotan tradition: ice fishing.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Jen said from inside a heated pop-up ice shelter on Coon Lake in Columbus, where she and Josh dropped lines with their sons, 8-year-old Sheamus and 3-year-old Shawn. “This is so cool.”
“Best of all, it’s free,” Josh added. “And everyone is just so darn nice.”
Sheamus and Shawn were among 100 kids introduced to ice fishing today at a community event co-hosted by Local 9 of the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the nonprofit Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, with support from other local Building Trades unions and sponsors.
Participants in the first ever “Take Kids Ice Fishing Day” received free rods and reels, lunch, access to heated shelters and the instruction and assistance of volunteer union members, including a dozen members of Local 9.
All families had to do to participate was register in advance, as the event reached its capacity of 100 anglers more than two weeks ago, according to Dave Morin, Local 9’s president.
“The goal was to get kids out who have never done this before, and get them excited about ice fishing,” Morin said. “It seems like it’s kind of a dying thing right now, where there aren’t a lot of kids going outdoors and fishing or doing that kind of thing anymore.”
Mike Rodger, a member of Cement Masons Local 633, said “Take Kids Ice Fishing Day” was among the most successful youth ice fishing events he’s seen, despite sub-zero temperatures and a wind chill of -17. And Rodger has seen a lot in his work with Clam Outdoors, a company that sponsors youth events across the region as part of the nonprofit Ice Team, dedicated to increasing participation in the sport.
Clam provided the ice shelters and heaters for the event. Pure Fishing provided rods and reels. Plano Synergy gave each participant two free game calls. Vados Bait and Tackle provided bait. And Thorne Bros. Custom Rod and Tackle donated pads and tackle.
Local 9 and Union Sportsmen’s Alliance chipped in to purchase raffle prizes, all of which, Morin said, were selected to encourage kids to return to Minnesota’s lakes and fish some more.
“I’ve been ice fishing all my life,” he said. “I want kids to get that spark, to be excited about it like I am – even if it’s cold.”
Headquartered in Little Canada, Elevator Constructors Local 9 is a union of over 550 members who work in Minnesota, North Dakota and western Wisconsin.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is a nationwide nonprofit that brings together union members through conservation and preservation of North America’s outdoor heritage. The ice fishing event was part of USA’s Work Boots on the Ground initiative, which encourages union members to volunteer their time and expertise to conservation projects and mentoring youth in the outdoors.