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National Eagle Center hooks kids with free fishing program

Fishing on the Refuge returns to Wabasha's National Eagle Center, giving kids a chance to practice their angling skills.

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Jarud and Sarah Thompson helped four of their five children cast and reel their lines as part of the Fishing on the Refuge program at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Thursday, June 3, 2021. The program is held Thursdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Eagle Center through the summer. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)
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WABASHA — One look at the notice saying free fishing, and the hook was set for one young lady.

A couple brought their granddaughter to the National Eagle Center on Thursday to have a look at the eagles. But Fishing on the Refuge — a free program for kids ages 15 and younger at the Eagle Center — was what excited their granddaughter the most.

"We came up to see the eagles, and she found out there was fishing," the grandfather said. "She's fished in the Mississippi (River) around La Crosse and Winona, and in Mississippi, where her mother lives."

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A young angler named Tabitha enjoys a few moments of Fishing on the Refuge at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Thursday, June 3, 2021. The program is held Thursdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Eagle Center through the summer. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

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The girl said she loves spending time with a rod and reel, and has even caught a bass, holding up her hands about 16 inches apart to show the size.

"You get to see the fish and touch them," she said. "Sometimes I name them before I put them back."

Starting Thursday and continuing through the summer on Thursdays and Sundays, the National Eagle Center will offer Fishing on the Refuge free to kids ages 15 and younger. The experience includes free access to fishing tackle, bait, life jackets, and helpful advice from Eagle Center staff.

While each child needs a guardian present, they do not have to be paying guests of the Eagle Center to participate.

Jarud and Sarah Thompson were happy to give their kids a little lesson on angling. The couple, who said they are in the process of moving from Virginia to Alabama with the Air Force, were visiting Jarud's mother in Stewartville when they decided to take a trip up to Wabasha and the Eagle Center.

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An eagle educator talks to a group of visitors about the live eagles Thursday, June 3, 2021, at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

"This is their first time fishing," Jarud said.

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Sarah added that while their kids hadn't gotten a nibble at the ends of their lines, they were getting good practice at casting and reeling. She said she liked how the Eagle Center provided everything they needed on the spot to do some fishing.

"It's nice not having to worry if we have the right license or if it's legal," she said.

Jarud said as part of their home-schooling curriculum this year for their kids, they've included bird watching, so a trip to the Eagle Center was a must while they were in the region. The fishing, he added, was a nice bonus for their kids.

Conor Masak, an avian education specialist with the Eagle Center, was giving advice on how to cast and be patient while waiting for a fish to hit the bait. While the fish were cagey Thursday, he said, once one hits, there's plenty of excitement.

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A statue of Chief Wapahasha II stands outside the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Thursday, June 3, 2021. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

"The second they get a fish, it lights up their whole day," Masak said.

Ed Hahn, marketing manager for the Eagle Center, said the program offers an experiential education opportunity, with staff teaching kids and adults about the fish species native to the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the dangers of lead-based tackle, and the fun of fishing.

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That young granddaughter eventually got a bite on her line, but the fish got away.

Her grandfather said he liked that she loves to fish, which was a common activity on a summer day when he was a boy.

"I don't know a kid that doesn't love fishing, boy or girl," he said as he watched his granddaughter cast her line. "It gets them off the couch, gets them doing something."

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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