Visitation School students get lessons on frozen lake

| February 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

A shout rang out from Rogers Lake just across the road from Visitation School in Mendota Heights.

“I got one!”

With a smile from ear to ear, fifth-grade student Nadia Goldman reeled in a small sunfish from the shallow depths. She was joined by 19 other students who got the chance to leave the classroom for a lesson on the ice Feb. 12. Two groups of fifth-graders and their “Montessori buddies” got the chance to walk out onto 20 inches of frozen water and try their hand at a sport that has boomed in Minnesota and has gone high tech.

The students stared down at holes watching bobbers, and also took glances at an underwater camera that revealed the presence of hungry finned creatures swimming below the surface.

“It was really exciting,” said Goldman, who was making her first foray on ice. “And, I was like, ‘Wow, I actually caught a fish.’ I did not think I would catch one.”

Turns out, there were fish aplenty for both their group and the group that followed. The guide for this expedition was Matt Wilkie, whose aunt, Helen Wilkie, works for the school. He runs his own lake weed removal business in the summer and operates a nonprofit called Big Fish and Fry during the winter to help both children and disabled war veterans experience ice fishing.

Matt Wilkie, right, holds a northern pike caught during an ice fishing outing for students at Visitation School in Mendota Heights. Leaning in to look at and touch the fish are fifth-graders Maren Kinsella, left, Nadia Goldman, Aarushi Bahadur and McCall Vickers. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“I grew up in St. Paul, and none of my friends or family ice fished at all,” said Wilkie, 32, who belongs to Lumen Christi in St. Paul. “I never got into ice fishing until my mid-20s, and I just always thought that was a shame that I never got to experience it as a kid.”

Wilkie said most of the children who take part in his events have never ice fished before, though some have gone fishing in the summer. Fifth-grader Finn Benz lives on White Bear Lake with his family. He has years of summer fishing experience and jumped at the chance to reel in a bass that hit on a tip-up, a fishing rig that pops up a flag when a fish takes the bait. Benz was part of the second group of students and, like the first group, had tip-up action in the first few minutes.

“I was really excited when my teacher told us that we were going to go ice fishing,” he said. “I think it was canceled last year, so I was really nervous. I was hoping it wasn’t canceled. I always hoped I’d go ice fishing, and this is really fun for me. It’s my first time. I would love to go again.”

The idea came from fifth-grade teacher Steve Wright, who enjoys the outdoors and was looking for a way to connect his students with nature. A lake across the street from the school presented a natural opportunity.

This was the fourth time he has taken students ice fishing. Last year’s event was canceled when employees of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources experienced equipment failure right before the event. Wilkie stepped in to run the event this year. Wright enjoys seeing the reactions of students when there’s action.

“When someone catches a fish, there’s just an excitement that runs across [the group],” he said. “Everyone runs to that person’s hole. Everyone’s cheering for each other.”

He added, “I don’t think there’s anything better — I don’t care if you’re a fifth-grader, or 53 like me, or 93 — than the tug of a fish on the line with the promise of a fish. I just think that’s pure magic.”

There’s also a connection to faith.

“At Vis, we talk a lot about the Salesian virtues from St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane [Frances] de Chantal,” Wright said. “Each year, we have a different virtue, but this year it’s patience, which is really a perfect one for fishing.”

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Category: Local News