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Chickasaw County 4-H launches fishing program
HOUSTON, Miss. -- Participants in the state’s first 4-H fishing program have not wet a line yet, but they are already getting outside more often and learning life skills in the process.
Scott Cagle, Chickasaw County coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said 4-H membership in his county saw immediate growth after he started the program in February.
“We’ve been looking at different activities to keep young people involved in 4-H and encourage more of them to join,” Cagle said. “Our shooting sports program has been popular, but some parents are wary about letting their kids participate in that until they get to be a certain age. There’s been tremendous interest in fishing from young people here between the ages of 8 and 18. We ended up with 14 new members in two weeks and 20 people participating as a result of this pilot program, which has also allowed us to reach out to 4-H’ers with physical and developmental disabilities.”
Cagle researched 4-H fishing programs in other states to develop a preliminary plan and began holding monthly meetings in February. Guest speakers have taught about various facets of the sport, including regulations, baits, lures, reels and species identification. Students have also learned practical skills, such as first aid and GPS use.
After each meeting, 4-H’ers are given 10 fishing-related questions to study for a quiz competition to be held in late April. Two fishing trips are planned for May, but the locations will be secret until then. The 4-H’ers and their parents will receive GPS coordinates to help them find the fishing spots.
“We are requiring parents to be with their 4-H’ers for these trips because we want this to be a way for them to bond,” Cagle said. “This will also be useful for landowners who let us use their ponds. 4-H’ers will record the weight, length and species of each fish they catch and give that information to the landowners so they have samples of what kinds of fish are in their ponds. This will open doors to young people to come and fish some lakes that haven’t been fished in years.”
A fish fry and cooking contest is planned for June as a chance to teach 4-H’ers about food safety and preparation.
Ashley Henry said her two sons, ninth-grader Matthew and fifth-grader Joseph, have benefitted from the new program.
“Matt has always been an outside kid, but Joseph has begun to enjoy outdoor activities more as a result of these classes,” she said. “He was out fishing at 6 in the morning the Saturday after his first class. We enjoyed knowing he wanted to get outdoors more. This program has given Matthew and Joseph something to do together, and it’s teaching them practical skills young people need to learn.”
Cagle said he hopes to expand the program to other counties.
“We have been contacted by agents who want to mimic what we’ve done so far, and we’ve been in touch with professionals at a large, state-owned lake that would eventually allow us to hold fishing contests between counties,” Cagle said. “The Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks have partnered with Extension on other 4-H programs and continue to do so with what we’re trying to get started now.”