SPICER – There’s a magic that happens on the water.
It’s what keeps Jim Gauss going as the director for the Willmar chapter of Let’s Go Fishing.
All of the work involved with hosting thousands of people on the water, coordinating volunteers, and raising funds is rewarded by what he refers to as “pleasant transformations’’ on the water.
He’s witnessed more than a few of them. Some come quickly to his mind when asked about them. There was the veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder who flew all the way from Portland, Oregon, to wet a line on Green Lake in Spicer. His wife had insisted on it.
His multi-year funk ended after only a couple of hours on the water. He opened up, laughed, and smiled. “I’m coming back,’’ the man told Gauss after docking.
A dark cloud hung over the head of one elderly gentleman who arrived in a wheelchair for a Let’s Go Fishing trip. He was one of a number of residents from a local nursing home. Gauss purposely sat next to him and tried to engage him in conversation.
“He would not talk to me,’’ said Gauss. His guest caught a fish. Smiled. Caught another. Laughed. Caught a third. Laughed again.
The fish persisted and the conversation began, Gauss said . Soon, his guest was the most animated on the boat, laughing, talking and even doing a little bragging.
Getting their guests to open up and talk is never a problem for Let’s Go Fishing volunteers when they start their season in May. This year, as they have in the preceding 17 seasons, they’ve launched the year by hosting young students from area schools on the water.
This past week, they had 52 different outings planned with students. On Wednesday, five pontoon boats and volunteers, two of them from Belgrade and Paynesville, lined up at the Saulsbury Access in Spicer to take 120 students from the Prairie Woods Elementary School on the waters of Green Lake.
On other days, students from Renville County West, the Dream Academy, Central Minnesota Christian, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, and Kennedy and Lakeland schools in Willmar took to the water.
“We’re not catching a lot of fish,’’ Gauss said just before the New London-Spicer students from Prairie Woods Elementary arrived. “Just a few here and there. The water is cold yet.’’
Thunderclouds loomed in the distance as the pontoons with excited students took to the water. The storm clouds signaled a change was coming in the weather, but not in the fishing. The bite was slow, and most students returned to the dock not having landed a fish.
They returned as excited as they left, never mind the lack of luck on the water.
Time will tell whether the experience will prove to be a transformative one in their lives, but there’s reason to believe it might. Now starting his third year as the head of the Willmar chapter, Gauss said he’s come to realize that the great majority of the young people his volunteers host on the water arrive having never before been in a boat or fishing.
One 10-year-old boy from Willmar beamed and told him after his first trip: “I had never been fishing in my whole life.” He’s got a lot of time to make up for it.
Gauss is convinced that introducing young people to what it’s like on the water will only do good things for them. “Even if you don’t catch fish, there’s just something about being on the water,’’ he said.
Last year, the local chapter hosted a record number of people on outings. It’s on par to match or exceed that this year, with over 1,300 participants already signed up for excursions this year.
Gauss has a crew of 35 active volunteers who help make it possible, along with the financial support of many areas businesses and individuals. The biggest challenge is the fundraising. Anyone interested in helping make possible the transformations occurring on the water as a volunteer or donor can do so by checking out the chapter’s website: http://willmar.lgfws.com/