Students took home free rod and reel after event

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AZTEC — Approximately 200 kindergartners in Aztec received fishing poles and life lessons in the sport during an annual fishing field trip on Thursday and Friday at Riverside Pond.

Lydia Rippey Elementary School kindergarten teacher Ione Randleman, who organizes the annual excursions, said this is the fourth year local students have taken a trip to the pond at the end of the school year. The program, which started with just Randleman’s class, has expanded to include students from McCoy Elementary School.

Randleman said the school received enough $10 donations from volunteers at banquets hosted by Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife throughout the state to purchase fishing rods and reels for students to take home after the field trip.

“Our goal is not necessarily to turn them into fisherman, but just to get them enjoying the outdoors and doing something different, so that’s why we have the Riverwalk and all of that, just so they kind of get that concept of ‘It’s fun to be outside,’ not always in front of the TV or the computer,” Randleman said.

The two-day event has students visiting the pond to learn fishing basics with representatives of local organizations, including the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Carson National Forest and the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation, Randleman said. This year’s stations included rod and reel fishing, fly fishing casting and fly tying, a river walk with binoculars, species inspection with microscopes and playground time.

Students also had a special visit from Smokey Bear, who reminded the kindergartners of the importance of fire safety, Randleman said.

“When we had McCoy (students) here (on Thursday), the kids were like, ‘We wish it could be like this every day,’” Randleman said.

Kevin Holladay, a conservation education manager for Game and Fish, helped facilitate the field trip by helping teach kids to bait hooks and cast, as well as by reminding them of the importance of spatial awareness both in starting and finishing a cast, and by untangling lines.

“Fishing is a way for us to teach kids a lifelong activity that they can do in many places throughout their lives,” Holladay said. “… (The field trip) is really a model for a community event that meets our mission, which is getting the next generation of wildlife conservationists ready.”

Holladay said Game and Fish stocked the pond with more than 500 fish from the Los Ojos Fish Hatchery for the event, which helps the young anglers' success rate.

“This event has more first-time anglers who catch their first fish than any other event that we do,” Holladay said.

Lydia Rippey kindergartener Izaac Keith said he caught his first fish on Friday morning. Though he asked to cut off the fish’s head, Holladay declined and instead dissected the fish to show Keith the fish’s anatomy.

When asked how it felt to catch his first fish, Keith described it as “squishy and sticky."

Keith’s classmate Victoria Gomez said she’s been fishing with her cousin at a pond near her house before, and though she likes fishing, she had yet to catch a fish.

“It got caught in the ditch,” Gomez said of losing a fish she had on her line the last time she went fishing.

Paul Quintana of the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation showed kids how to make fly fishing ties called San Juan worms and wooly worms at the fly-tying station on Friday. He said the event offered a fun opportunity for local anglers to connect with kids, who “hopefully learn something.”

“We’ll get two or three kids that really take to it, and they follow through with it, so that’s good,” Quintana said before adding with a laugh. “The only problem with that is it crowds the river.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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