GREENVILLE — John Winger loves to fish.
“It’s something I have done since I was little, and now I am a big kid,” he said.
Winger is a certified fishing instructor with “Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs! (HOFNOD)”, a national youth education program, developed 20 years ago. HOFNOD uses angling skill development as a gateway to teach youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and how to deal with the challenges facing them in their young lives. The HOFNOD network includes trained aquatic education professionals, in more than 30 states, with literally thousands of programs nationwide.
About 13 years ago, Winger brought the program to Darke County. He and the Board of Directors: Bob Farmer, Gabe Petho, Doug Bickley and Donny Drew, an ex-DARE officer officer, try to get the kids interested in fishing. They also have a lot of volunteers, according to Winger.
“We’ve almost lost a generation of parents, who don’t take their kids fishing,” Winger said. “If we can get the kids interested in fishing, keep them away from drugs and give them something to do other than stand around, that is our entire goal.”
HOFNOD is a free program for youth ages 5 – 15. The curriculum includes lessons on making wise decisions, taking care of the environment and many lessons about fishing, such as: tying knots, preparing the hook, casting, lures and baits, safety in and around the water and cleaning and cooking the fish. In the past, Drew has brought in the lessons about not using drugs, Winger said. In addition, some participation has come from the Darke County Sheriff’s office and some of the local rescue departments. The 501(c)(3) organization is operated on tax – deductible donations.
According to Winger, about 500 kids attend the free event, sometimes bringing in 60 a day.
“I came up here and talked to the Mayor (Gary Lee Young ) and the Wayne Lakes Council and we started out on a shoestring,” Winger said. “Now we have people lining up to help. Someone gave us a trailer, the boosters built the shelter house for HOFNOD – it has been great the way people have accepted the program. I hate to say it, but the drug problem has really helped our organization. People want to join in and stop this.” Winger said.
According to Bickley, the event costs around $4,000 a year, some of which is covered by a grant, a company buys t-shirts for the kids and donations help keep things rolling. They give away about $250 in prices every week, such as tackle boxes, rods, lures and nets, he said. Bickley’s dad took him fishing every Saturday. They took their boats out on Lake Erie.
“If you get a child hooked on fishing, they will fish for life,” Bickley said. “Once they are a teen, they are into other things.”
Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs! takes place June 7, 14, 21, 28 and July 5, 12, 19 and 26. Registration is between 8 and 8:30 a.m. The event lasts between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. Bring your own fishing equipment, if you have it. All children must be accompanied by an adult throughout the program. Limit of five children per adult. For more information, call 937-678-7864.
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