More than 400 Wisconsin and Tennessee youth went fishing last weekend — many for the very first time — thanks to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), dozens of volunteers from local labor unions and a consortium of partners dedicated to introducing kids to the joys of fishing.
The union-led community events, held June 1-2 in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Madison and Janesville, Wisc., and Spring Hill, Tenn., were all part of the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground conservation program, which organizes free Take Kids Fishing Days and other youth outreach events across the country. The events are supported by local and international labor unions and national conservation partners Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Pure Fishing, Plano Synergy and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
Each child who participated received a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing and a pair of game calls from Plano Synergy. Union volunteers ranging from electricians and machinists to engineers and fire fighters helped them rig up, bait up and start fishing. Afterward, union volunteers prepared a picnic-style lunch for the young anglers and their families.
“The USA, in cooperation with labor unions in each area, holds Take Kids Fishing Day activities in many locations each year, but this was by far our biggest weekend,” said USA Conservation Manager Robert Stroede.
While the community-outreach Take Kids Fishing Day events are designed to strengthen ties between local unions, union workers and the people in their neighborhoods, the main focus is encouraging young people to enjoy the outdoors and develop an interest in conserving natural resources.
“Many children today don’t get the chance to go fishing, hunting, camping, or do any of the outdoor activities we all did when we were young,” said Robert Potter, president of the South Central Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council, which sponsored and hosted the Madison and Janesville events. “And we think it’s pretty important to provide those types of opportunities.”
“Research shows that outdoor activities such as fishing encourage kids to develop an interest in environmental conservation,” Stroede added. “And introducing them to the sport at a young age makes it more likely that they’ll continue to participate as adults.
“Through special excise taxes, sportfishing funds fisheries conservation and public water access projects to the tune of $600 million per year,” he noted. “So we need to ensure the next generation of anglers has a solid foothold when starting along that path.”
Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Tyler Tubbs said teaching children about the sport and seeing their excitement at reeling in a fish makes volunteering a labor of love. “When a little kid pulls up a little fish, it’s like a 30-inch walleye to her,” he said. “Something so small gives youth so much satisfaction. That, in and of itself, makes giving our time totally worth it.”