URBAN FISHING PROGRAMS
The Illinois Urban Fishing Program was introduced in Chicago in 1985 to teach individuals of all ages to fish, to provide better local fishing opportunities, and to give participants an understanding of and a greater appreciation for natural resources. The backbone of the Program consisted of free summer fishing clinics that included fishing at a nearby stocked pond.
In 1994 a new funding package known as “Fish Illinois” was created that was supported by a fishing license fee increase. We currently hold summer fishing clinics at 16 locations. These fishing clinics were held twice daily Monday through Friday for about nine weeks at each of the 16 sites during the summer. Approximately 28,235 kids attended one of 1,319 summer fishing clinics that included fishing at a nearby stocked pond. A Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program grant with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this past year assisted with funding for 14 new fishing clinic sites where about 8,334 kids attended one of 369 clinics. Fish stocking remained important for the program and last year approximately 99,700 lbs. of channel catfish and 115,490 hybrid sunfish were stocked. Members of the public were also able to catch these fish.
Additional volunteers and volunteer organizations have become more involved to both conduct and to assist with programs. Volunteers and volunteer organizations held numerous “volunteer fishing clinics.” Last year they held 155 fishing clinics for 3,850 kids. These individuals and organizations made up a very important part of the program.
Urban Fishing Program coordinators held non-fishing Conservation Education Programs and went into numerous schools during the fall, winter, and spring to teach and promote fishing and the appreciation of natural resources. Our Program was also associated with The Hooked On Fishing- Not On Drugs? (HOFNOD) Program, which is a national fishing program that combines angling skills and actual fishing, the ethical care of the environment, and self esteem issues. Most of our fishing programs met these three requirements and approximately 45,960 kids participated in a HOFNOD Program last year. We were also able to initiate fishing programs in many schools when Illinois school administrators contacted the national HOFNOD office wanting a fishing program.
The popular “Access to Fishing” rod and reel loaner program was established in 1997 and has been growing since that time. Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant also helped fund 18 new locations. There are currently163 “Access to Fishing” fishing pole loaner sites in Illinois, and fishing poles were borrowed more than 21,830 times last year.
During the year the Urban Fishing Program held or sponsored a total of 2,289 fishing and non-fishing educational programs for more than 79,350 participants.
In past generations, Americans fished frequently and often did so as a necessity for food. Times have changed. Now fishing is often done for pleasure. Fish may still be kept for food but are many times released to be caught again. According to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) recent “Illinois Outdoor Recreation Survey,” fishing was the 9th most popular outdoor activity for respondents who were age 18 and older. Reasons why Illinoisans fish, according to the latest “Illinois Sport Fishing Survey” were: to enjoy the outdoors, sport (thrill of catching fish), peace and solitude, companionship with fellow anglers, food for the table, an activity associated with camping, boating or picnicking, and fishing contests. The sport of fishing presents an opportunity to instill outdoor ethics and to cultivate an appreciation for natural resources. Realizing that we live on a planet that is 70% water, we must strive to be good stewards of our natural resources if we are to coexist with plants and animals.
Much of Illinois has been transformed from a quiet rural setting into an urban sprawl. Areas that were once pristine countryside are now filled with houses, super malls, and fast food restaurants. Along with this change in landscape came changes in attitudes, values, and priorities. Such changes have resulted in more single-parent families. With the burden of rearing children and earning a living, outdoor ethics and the exploring of our natural resources are not always being taught. These situations along with society’s other less desirable influences are producing many youngsters who desperately need outdoor experiences. Is there a solution? Can fishing be part of a solution that turns struggling members of our younger generation into good citizens?
There is hope on the horizon! Reports show that kids are more likely to fish when they become adults if they experience fishing before reaching high school age. A survey by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation showed that 20% of Hispanics and African Americans who do not fish would like to fish but do not participate for various reasons. Their survey also showed that participation by members of these minority groups during their teen-aged years was important in influencing them to take up fishing as a lifelong hobby. Hispanics and African Americans tend to fish with others rather than by themselves and view fishing as an opportunity to socialize.
The IDNR’s Division of Fisheries’s annual program evaluations showed a decline in fishing license sales in Illinois from 1992 through 1996. Since 1996 however, license sales stopped declining and had leveled off. The evaluation also showed that total fishing trips had increased more recently because licensed anglers were fishing more frequently, and this same trend occurred throughout the United States. A recent nationwide survey conducted by Responsive Management found that fishing decreased substantially in many states during the early 1990's but also found that total angling days had increased dramatically in more recent years.
The major objectives of the Illinois Urban Fishing Program included teaching kids to fish, stocking sufficient numbers of catchable-sized fish to maintain quality sport fishing for urban anglers, and introducing citizens to the outdoors and instilling an interest and appreciation for plants and animals.
Free Fishing Clinics
Summer fishing clinics are held at 16 local park district sites statewide. Clinics began in mid-June and continued throughout July and into mid-August. Sessions were held twice daily, Monday through Friday. Instructors (usually teachers who enjoyed fishing) were hired and trained to conduct the clinics at each site. Each clinic lasted about 2.5 hours and had two portions: 1) an approximate 45-minute educational period, and 2) actual fishing for the remainder of the session at a nearby stocked lake. The clinics were designed to teach safety, proper angler ethics, aquatic and general ecology (the aquatic food chain), fish identification, knot tying, the importance of becoming good stewards of natural resources, and the importance of choosing good friends. Following the classroom educational session, attendees practiced casting, learned the art of setting the hook, and finally were shown how to remove a hook and to release a fish.
The clinic instructor presented clinics using large laminated posters along with hands-on demonstrations using various types of fishing gear. Group size was limited to 20-30 per session. Larger groups were discouraged because instructors were unable to give adequate individual attention plus smaller groups were more safe. “Catch and Release” fishing was usually practiced during clinics. Reservations were requested for those attending the clinics and individuals were allowed to attend a clinic more than once. At many sites the local park district assisted by taking reservations.
A Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also supported similar fishing clinic and fish stocking programs at 14 new sites this past year.
When the clinic was completed, participants were given an information packet which included books: Kids Fishing, It’s Catching On, Illinois Fishing Information rules and regulations, Common Freshwater Fish of Illinois, and two brochures: Fishing Safety and the Knot Tying Guide. Rulers and bluegill buttons were also included.
Surveys show that kids are more likely to become interested in fishing if they have fun while learning. This is more likely to happen if they catch fish. Therefore, the stocking of catchable-sized channel catfish and hybrid sunfish (green sunfish x bluegill) was an integral part of the Urban Fishing Program. The general public was also allowed to catch these fish.
Channel catfish were stocked through the summer at the rate of approximately 1,000 lbs./acre/year and hybrid sunfish were added at the rate of 500 fish/acre/year. Catfish were added in five deliveries made biweekly during the summer.
Sunfish were added in 2-4 deliveries between late spring through early August. Catfish weighed an average of 1-4 lbs. each and sunfish were 4-7 inches long.
OUTREACH PROGRAMS THAT INCLUDED FISHING
Studies show that a program that teaches fishing is much more effective at getting participants hooked on the sport if participants are able to go fishing. Therefore, clinics included fishing if possible. Some Outreach Programs which did include fishing were: special event clinics, events held by “volunteer instructors,” fishing expos, and fishing derbies.
Special Event Clinics
Special event clinics were similar to regular summer clinics, but were held on weekends, after school, or at different locations where lakes with a suitable fish population were available. Several ice fishing clinics were also held in northern Illinois. Special event clinic participants were also provided with fishing oriented literature packets.
“Volunteer Instructor” Clinics
The volunteer instructor fishing clinics were held by individuals, by employees of state or local parks, recreation department employees, etc., and were held at sites with a lake where fishing was available. The volunteers were trained and provided with Urban Fishing Clinic Program educational materials and with fishing poles. This portion of the Program has shown a great amount of growth and has the potential for more, and will allow additional kids to learn to fish at a relatively low cost.
Fishing Expos were large fishing clinics where each topic of the Program was taught at a separate station by trained instructors. After completing each instructional station, attendees then went fishing. These events were normally sponsored in part or entirely by local fishing clubs, service clubs, and/or private businesses. Expos were one-day events and were designed to accommodate between 100-500 participants.
Fishing Derbies usually involved a larger group of anglers (40-200 people), and included fishing without the educational part of the summer clinic program. Educational sessions were not practical due to large group size, participants arriving at different times, time constraints, etc.
Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs
The nationally acclaimed Hooked On Fishing-Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) Program combined angling skills along with actual fishing, ethical care of the environment, and positive life skills such as self esteem issues, decision making, goal setting, helping others, etc. into one curriculum. Many of our fishing programs qualified as a HOFNOD Program. Illinois teachers also contacted the HOFNOD office in Washington, D.C. to request information and fishing programs for their school. HOFNOD then passed their request to our Department for us to handle, which made it possible to introduce fishing to additional schools.
OUTREACH PROGRAMS THAT DID NOT INCLUDE FISHING
In Illinois, weather usually limits Program activities that include actual
fishing to the warmer months of April through September. If inclement
weather or other limitations such as large group size, time constraints,
lack of a suitable body of water, etc. occurred, non-fishing activities
could be held.
These programs included school classroom programs, sport tackle show programs, and outdoor Conservation Field Day programs.
School Classroom Programs
The School Classroom Programs included a variety of types of sessions. Some programs discussed lake ecosystems and related topics and then allowed students to pick up and handle live fish and other aquatic animals. Other programs included slide show fish related presentations followed by question and answer periods. Another program that was supported in part by the American Fisheries Society studied the water molecule and water’s habits as it flowed through a stream. Some programs were educational bingo-type fish games.
Sport Tackle Shows
The Sport Tackle Shows were held indoors during the winter and they were set up to handle hundreds of persons wanting to visit with vendors selling fishing and outdoor products. Our activities usually included having kids fish for “felt fish” with velcro-covered bean bags attached to cane poles and then teaching them to identify and measure fish, or offered the use of a fish simulator that allowed participants to experience the thrill of catching a fish. We also promoted our various summer fishing programs and gave away aquatic and fish related literature.
Conservation Field Day Programs
Conservation Field Day programs consisted of 15- 25 minute presentations about fish and general aquatics, and were usually held outdoors at state parks for school groups that were on a field trip. Numerous groups of students participated and each group would rotate from station to station.
The Illinois “Access to Fishing” fishing
pole loaner program was started in 1997 and remains a unique way of allowing
anglers to try fishing without having to buy equipment. Fishing poles
which had been purchased by or donated to IDNR were placed in establishments
such as libraries, lake-side concession stands, bait stores, etc. This
equipment was available to be borrowed at no cost, and handled much like
checking out and returning a library book. Tackle packets (containing
hooks, sinkers, a bobber, etc.) and instructional fishing literature were
also available at no cost for users to keep when they borrowed a fishing
pole. The Program was popular with the recent fishing clinic participant,
the first-time angler, and the occasional angler who did not yet want
to buy equipment.
It also made it possible for example, for a parent to take their children and additional neighborhood children fishing and be able to provide a fishing pole for each person.
This equipment was maintained by local volunteers, employees of the lending
facility that housed and lent the equipment, by IDNR employees, etc.