by Scott Moeller
Tom Crosby is helping to get Martin County West students hooked on fishing, one afternoon at a time.
Crosby is a sixth grade teacher and coach at the southern Minnesota school serving Sherburn, Trimont and Welcome in western Martin County. Recently, he has taken his passion for fishing to the next level, and begun to share it with Martin County West students.
Crosby credits his inspiration to his many fond memories of going fishing with his dad.
“Those are some of the greatest memories you can make,” he says. “I have always loved to fish and I have a passion for outdoor opportunities. But, I was frustrated by how many of my students seemed to not be getting those opportunities for one reason or another.”
Crosby soon made it his goal to help give his students the knowledge, confidence and equipment they needed to get outdoors and go fishing. And, it didn’t take him long to put his plan into action.
“I pretty much got the idea one day, and started working on it the very next week,” says Crosby.
His plan consisted of starting a sort of after-school fishing club, made up of any interested 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students. Over the course of a five week period, the club (consisting of about 25 students) met in the school gymnasium for an hour or two after school.
At each session, they worked on a different topic featured in the MinnAqua Fishing: Get in the Habitat! Leader’s Guide. Crosby worked with fellow 6th grade teacher, Rodger Taylor, to teach topics like knot-tying, line replacement, casting, and fishing safety. He invited DNR conservation offer Eric Schettler in to talk about boat and water safety, and invited MinnAqua staff to talk about fish identification and fish senses.
At each session, students were encouraged to bring their own fishing equipment to help others learn. At the same time, Crosby was partnering with area vendors and conservation organizations to help secure new equipment for those in need.
He worked with Jim Miller and Rodger Taylor of the Fox Lake and Trimont Conservation Clubs to purchase reduced-price rods and reels from Berkeley’s. And he worked with Roger Morris’ Freshwater Bait and Tackle of Welcome for tackle and bait.
Crosby knew the education sessions were having the desired effect when students started “jumping the gun” and asking their parents to take them fishing even before the series of fishing education sessions was completed.
“Students would come back after the weekend and tell me about where they went fishing and what they were catching. They were pretty excited.”
The culmination of the education series was a weekend fishing field trip to Fox Lake. Plenty of adult helpers were on hand, as parents and siblings were invited to come along. Although the fishing success was minimal (only a single largemouth bass was caught), the day was not without its memorable moments.
“We caught one fish and one blackbird,” recalls Crosby. “Somebody’s bait floated on the water just a bit too long, and a blackbird swooped down, grabbed it and got hooked. We actually had to reel the blackbird in and take the hook out of its beak. We let it go and it was fine.”
To cap off the memorable day, Crosby and his volunteers brought some fresh crappies they had in their freezers and treated the students to a fish fry.
As for continuing this effort in future years, Crosby definitely plans to, although he is considering targeting 5th and 6th grade students every other year.“I just really wanted to get some of these kids out of their house and away from the TV and video games,” says Crosby. “You know, for some of these kids, XBox is their world. I just think the world should be your XBox.”