Goodhue trout anglers descend on Rushford

By : 
Scott Bestul

If you saw a bunch of trout fishermen in purple shirts last Thursday you weren’t imagining things. Those were members of the Goodhue High School Fishing Club, visiting area streams thanks to a leader with strong ties to Rushford. Many of those young anglers had never before fished for, much less caught, a trout. But thanks to some capable mentors, the kids not only had a great morning, but also landed dozens of trout on a cool April day.

That the club chose Rushford area streams for their expedition was no accident. Their leader is Robby Ebner, a 2007 R-P grad who was not only a standout student-athlete, but also an avid sportsman. Ebner is now in his ninth year at Goodhue schools, where he teaches language arts and social studies to sixth graders, as well as coaching football and basketball.

Awhile back, one of Ebner’s students approached him, noting that he’d read an article about a northern Minnesota high school that had formed a fishing club. “He told me ‘We should do something like this,’” Ebner recalled. “And that got me thinking. I’d been doing an elementary fishing camp for second-sixth graders for several years, and it always seemed pretty popular with the kids. So I figured there might be enough interest. So I looked into it, and we started the club.”

Last year was the club’s rookie season. And while the kids get a cool purple jersey, Ebner said the program is not a sport, nor is it competitive. “We actually run it through the community education program,” he said. “The kids sign up and pay a $50 fee. They get a shirt, and pretty much everything after that is free.”

Ebner and the students work together to solicit sponsors for the club. “I work on the major corporate sponsors, like Abu-Garcia and Rapala, who give us very generous discounts on gear and equipment,” he said. “The kids work on local businesses and individuals, who have been pretty amazing in their support of the club. We get donations from $100 to as much as $2,000, which pretty much pays for events like this.”

In addition to trips like the Rushford trout outing, Ebner has set up journeys to Lake Pepin, Lake Zumbro, Frontenac Pond, and Chester Woods for a range of experiences, including ice fishing. “We’ve just had great support from parents and others,” he said. “Fishing clubs will take us out in their boats, parents want to come along. We have friendly competitions and prizes for biggest fish in each species. Then we usually have a meal. Most of the outings we release all the fish, but when we fished Chester Woods we kept some panfish and did demos on cleaning and cooking fish.

“We also do online tournaments on some weekends, where the kids can just take a picture of their fish and enter it on a special app we set up just for that tourney. Anyone who enters a fish gets a prize, just for participating.” Ebner also keeps fishing gear stored in his classroom, and kids wanting to fish over the weekend can check items out, just like a library.

Ebner brought 39 young anglers to Rushford last week. They were guided by 13 mentors from the area, 10 of whom were members of the Win-Cres Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU). All were veteran trout fishermen, helping the young trouters find fish and offer tips on gear and technique.

“We had an instructional day a couple of weeks ago up at Goodhue,” Ebner said. “Where the TU guys gave demonstrations on fly-tying, spin-fishing, and fly-fishing. Last year we tried to do it all in one day, doing the demos first and then going fishing. I think dividing it up into a couple days like we did this year worked better. The kids could just come down here and have a good time and concentrate on fishing.”

Ebner noted the group got an early start, with the bus leaving Goodhue at 5 a.m. and kids fishing by 6:30 a.m. “It was a pretty quiet bus on the way down, and I expect it’ll be quiet on the ride home. Some of those kids had to get up at 4:15 a.m. today. But it was worth it. I think they caught about 90 fish, and while there were a few kids who got skunked, there were several who caught the first trout of their lives.”

Though Ebner is pleased with the fishing club’s popularity, he’s not entirely surprised. “I think kids are curious about the outdoors and are interested if you create an atmosphere of opportunity like I had here growing up,” he said. “My dad and uncles got me started and took me out, but there were great teachers like Mr. Colbenson, Jeresek, Thompson, and Reinhardt who were always encouraging us and creating that environment.”

Ebner is modeling that same behavior in Goodhue, where his fishing club is growing in popularity in only its second year. “Last year I had only one girl in the club,” he said. “This year we have 67 club members, and 21 are girls, which I think is pretty cool. Minnesota is the only state in the Midwest that doesn’t have declining angler numbers, and I hope we can continue that trend with clubs like this that involve kids. I think half the battle is getting kids involved at a young age. If they start fishing before they get distracted by all the other things they can do, they’re probably going to stick with it.