WAYNE LAKES — Hooked on Fishing, Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) has become a popular activity for youth ages 5 to 15.
The youngsters and adult accompaniment gather each Wednesday morning in June and July at Iroquois Lake in Wayne Lakes, just down from the Gatehouse off of State Route 121, to learn fishing fundamentals and are taught such things as personal safety, rules and responsibility. Registration is from 8-8:30 a.m., while three hours of fishing follows.
Yes, each day at this free program, the boys and girls are shown how to cast, tie knots, bait their hooks and take fish off their hooks. And, there is a pledge they are supposed to learn.
John Winger, who is on the staff, introduced the program to Darke County 12 years ago. He had done similar work while volunteering in Dayton at Five Rivers Metro Park and thought it would be a good idea to bring one to this area.
“I retired after that business went south and I thought Darke County can use this,” he said in an earlier interview. “I became certified with the national organization.Wayne Lakes has been more than supportive. Lee Crowell was on council at the time and went the extra mile for us. Since then, the Booster Club at Wayne Lakes built us a shelter house.”
All children who participate must be accompanied by an adult throughout the program. There is a limit of five children per adult.
“The adult can be a parent or grandparent,” Winger said. “We’re not a baby-sitting service. It’s dangerous. We have 50 to 60 kids, and there are just as many girls as there are boys. We teach the kids fishing fundamentals with an anti-drug theme.”
Participants are asked to bring their own fishing gear if they have it. However, a limited amount of fishing equipment is available if they don’t.
Serving on the staff with Winger include Don Drew, Bob Farmer, Gabe Petho, Bob Martindale, Jamie Menger, Doug Bickley and Mark Giesseman, as well as many volunteers. The instructors are identifiable by the names on their t-shirts.
Each week, there is a different theme.
“We have fish identification, filleting fish, taking care of fish until they can be eaten, boat and safety, bass fishing and fishing safety,” Winger said. “Gabe Petho and Bob Farmer are great bass fishermen and Donnie [Drew], is an ex-DARE officer and talks each week about drugs. A couple of sheriff’s deputies have come out and also talk to the kids.”
He went on, “We spend our money teaching kids how to fish. We also have a drawing each day of fishing equipment, including poles, tackle boxes and other odds and ends. We try to teach the kids to fish and then seeing they have what they need to go fishing.”
Night-crawlers, wax worms and meal worms are used as bait and are furnished to the participants by the staff.
On the scene is a weigh-in station. The person who catches the largest fish of the day gets to choose a prize, and the one who caught biggest fish for the year receives a special prize at the end of the year.
The biggest fish caught mid-morning this week measured 8 3/4 inches long and was a hybrid. However, some of blue gills.
“We had 415 kids each for two years in a row,” reported Binkley. “We had 65 and 67, respectively, here on opening day the last two years. “This year we had 49. When it’s rainy and cold, we have fewer kids.”
Don Drew said the t-shirts the participating youngsters wear were bought by Sierra, a construction company out of Atlanta, Georgia, who learned about this program in Darke County.
“We have enough money to last two years,” said Drew.
HOFNOD has become a non-profit organization.
“I think we lost a generation that likes to fish a generation ago,” said Winger, who has fished all of his life. “I went fishing with my grandparents.”
According to Winger, at the end of the season, there will be a pizza party with a fish fry in between. That fish fry is held the fourth week.
“Last year, we made 500 fish fillets and there was not a piece of it left,” said Winger, who likes to “kiss” every fish before it is put back into the water after being caught.