It was a little cold Saturday at Engler Park but the fishing group Central Reelers still managed to get their poles in the water and have a great time.
Central Reelers began in October 2021 as more of an umbrella than a club.
The idea started when Central R-3’s 7th grade science teacher Juli Kline found out about free curriculum, Discover Nature Schools, and a field trip grant that the Missouri Department of Conservation offers.
“The curriculum provides authentic learning experiences on ecology using Missouri’s native plants, animals, and habitats,” Kline said. “In the curriculum, there is an opportunity for students to fish on their field trip to identify the specialized structures of local fish populations.”
Kline became certified in another of MDC’s curricula, Discover Nature Fishing, which allowed the reelers a long-term loan of the materials, including a set of fishing poles for the class. With help from fellow instructor Dr. Derek Ward and MDC Conservation Educator Sara Bradshaw, donations of poles, plugs, pole racks, and other supplies needed to tackle the full curriculum and field trips came rolling in.
“I love to fish, and I love teaching kids how to fish,” Kline said. “Any reason to get kids outside of the classroom during the school day is positive for me. On our field trip, seeing some of my students catch their first fish was so rewarding!”
Kline said when the equipment is not being used, it sits in her classroom eliciting curious inquiries from her students.
“Some students were already excited about fishing but I wanted to create a routine that would support those new anglers as well,” Kline said. “I proposed Central Reelers to our administration. The plan was to host a once-a-month meet-up at local St. Francois County ponds and streams for the purpose of cultivating community and conservation in youth, family involvement, and the therapeutic benefits of fishing. In the winter months, when weather makes it hard to schedule, we would host workshops in my classroom.”
Under the Central Reelers name, the group has registered a Stream Team, adopted a Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring location in Park Hills, collected trash in watersheds, informally met on three occasions at public ponds to fish with family and friends and, with the supplies and instruction of MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Salvador Mondragon, hosted fly-tying workshops.
Events are open to any Central R-3 School District family at no cost.
“I want every kid that picks up a fishing pole either in 7th grade science, during summer school, or at a meeting, to feel like they are Central Reelers,” Kline said. “We have the poles, hooks, lines, bobbers and instructional materials on loan from MDC and one of my classes is working on a worm farm to use as bait. Until those are ready for harvesting, a small investment in bait worms goes a long way.”
Kline said some families choose to bring their own poles and tackle, but it isn’t required, nor is any fishing knowledge.
“When new anglers show up, I go over the basic introduction lessons in casting and tackle and then support them, or their families support them, as needed,” Kline said. “I don’t know if anyone else saw a need; but I felt that I needed to encourage the excitement my students felt towards learning about nature and fishing, and support them in being good stewards of their local waterways.”
In the aftermath of COVID, Kline said, there were not many opportunities to involve and support families at school other than during parent-teacher conferences and attending sporting events.
“I hope that this gives families, grandparents, aunts and uncles an excuse to spend time with the youth in their lives while enjoying the advantages of time in nature, unplugged,” Kline said. “I also wanted to be able, as a teacher, to have a way to foster relationships with our Central families.”
Kline said fishing offers so many lessons, and studies suggest it supports social, emotional and psychological well-being.
“Fishing provides time in nature, positive social interactions, lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels relieving stress, and promotes protective factors like resilience and coping skills,” Kline said. “Kids learn to regulate emotions, problem solve, push through challenges, and develop self-confidence as they build skills and engage in physical activity. I’ve also seen so many kids helping each other, offering a chance for youth to lead, to support each other, to share their ‘expertise.’”
In the future, the group plans to have a Jug Lining class and would like to cover other topics such as fish biology, bowfishing, and trotlining.
“We will continue to monitor water quality on Flat River, conduct clean-ups, and plan to install micro-filament recycling containers at our frequent-fishing areas,” Kline said. “I would like to see our partnerships with MDC and local garden groups grow to address projects on bank stabilization and run-off abatement using native plants. These types of projects ensure that we continue to have healthy fish populations to fish. However, I think the most impactful, fun things will be student-driven and come from student ideas.”
Kline said all of the group’s past and future activities would not be possible without support from the Central administration and MDC, as well as the municipalities in which they have been fishing.
“I am grateful to work with passionate and motivated professionals that support youth and conservation education,” Kline said. “Also, it has been a sincere pleasure to see Central families attend events together. I really didn’t expect many people to show up at our first meet-up, but we had families with all ages and experience levels attend and some of those returned.”
Kline said, she has met several grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended families who attend and even has had a grandfather and his granddaughter, who is a student of hers, attend every event.
“My fondest memories of my grandfather are of him and I fishing together, so seeing these two really encourages me,” Kline said. “My daughter, a Central student, comes with me, gets to connect with other students and families, to fish and I love seeing her experience that sense of community and connectedness around fishing.”