Elementary school club takes to fishing: hook, line and sinker

Students write essays for a opportunity to fish at school

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009

The rain fell in sideways sheets. Whitecaps rolled down Gastineau Channel near the base of the Douglas Island bridge. It was a typical Southeast Alaska day. But members of Dirk Miller's Gastineau Elementary fishing club stood fast on the water's edge in the inclement weather. Each student clutched a fishing pole, wore safety glasses, a neon life jacket and was eagerly tossing their line into the fray - again and again.

This was the club's final day in a series of three Tuesday meetings. The first two had included instruction on how to tie or construct a fly or lure. Now, members tested their creations in the salty brine.

Miller, a physical education teacher at Gastineau Elementary, started the club with the help of Dick Callahan, a Department of Fish and Game employee, and Mike Undurraga, of Juneau Fly Fishing Goods. Miller said he's started a lot of local clubs over the years - jump roping, marathon running, basketball - but with this endeavor he wanted to make a lasting impression.

"I just wanted some club that, when it's all over, they can keep doing it," he said.

But that's not the only reason, according to Miller.

"Kids just don't get outside enough these days." he said. "They go home and play their video games, watch TV and they're missing out on natural education. ...If I could get kids hooked on fishing at the start of the summer, it could mean a great few months for these kids."

To be a part of the club students were asked to write essays on why they wanted to be included (view some of the essays by clicking on the images to the right). Miller said some wrote that they've never been fishing, or that their dad never takes them anymore. Others were more practical. Twenty-six students signed up, Miller said, and even more wanted to join.

Dawson Dune wrote: "I am a really patient fisher. I love the outdoors, plus I can endure harsh weather."

Nancy Darnes wrote that she has only been fishing twice, and that she is "also a good sport and will not interrupt. I will participate in everything."

Some drew pictures of their prize catch. Others wrote about the mystery and excitement of fishing.

For Sherrod Miller, Dirk's 10-year-old son, his love of fishing comes not from what he knows will happen, but instead from what he doesn't know.

"Fishing is all about the what-if," Miller said of his son's attraction to the sport. "They may catch a fish, they may see a whale. Something magical will happen."

And while the final day of the club was less-than-ideal, Miller said there were kids he had to "basically drag" away from the water.

"For some kids that was it. Then there were some kids who never came in. There was one kid who we had to drag out of there" he said.

That "kid" was 10-year-old Ben Undurraga, Mike Undurraga's son. Miller said he's flyfished all over the world and despite the wind and rain Tuesday, he hooked into a sea-run Dolly Varden. He didn't land it, but when Ben Undurraga returned to the van he had a story to tell.

"The kids got really excited after that," Miller said.

Fishing poles were provided for those who needed them with the help of Callahan and Fish and Game. Miller hopes that he'll receive a grant for next year's club so the kids can all walk away with a pole of their own and some lures.

Miller said that he couldn't have done this alone. He said without the help of Callahan, Undurraga, parent volunteers and the loaner van from Gastineau Guiding, it wouldn't have been a success.

"Kids just need this kind of experience," he said.

• Contact Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or abby.lowell@juneauempire.com

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