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Classes get kids hooked on fishing

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By The Staff

Mike Lesso and Dave Morse of the Jacksonville Youth Summer Fishing Clinics can say they've taken more than 50,000 kids fishing.

“Mike, a high school teacher and avid sportsman, and Dave, a retired businessman and passionate recreational and tournament fisherman, have been teaching children how to catch fish for so long that many of their earliest pupils now have children of their own,” said Eddie Leonard of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s  Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Summer fishing clinics help kids appreciate freshwater resources and teach them skills needed to start catching fish.

“These incredible experiences are delivered completely free of charge to participants,” Leonard said. “The program started in 1993 under the direction of FWC biologists but was soon turned over to Mike and Dave. It’s apparent when observing these two that they love what they are doing.” 

Classes begin with 30-minute lectures on ethical angling, water pollution, fish biology, tackle and techniques and various other topics.

“Then the fun starts,” Leonard said. “They take the kids to the water’s edge and watch as the kids tangle lines, step in mud, worry about alligators and catch their first fish, ever.”

Some kids get frustrated easily while others seem to be miles away in thought. However, once they catch their first fish, they are all very much in the moment. And the majority are hooked.

“The expressions on the faces of the kids catching that first fish are nothing short of fantastic. There’s excitement mixed with fear, and exhilaration blended with pride,” Leonard said.

Leonard went on to explain there always seems to be that one kid who can be recognized as a true angler.

“One little girl at a recent event was so successful that she offered to show the other kids how it was done,” Leonard said. “The student became the teacher in 90 minutes.” 

The workshops host an average of 4,200 children annually. In 2003, a record 5,288 students went through the classes. With Lesso leading these events for 15 years and Morse at it for 13 years, it’s easy to see how the two have reached more than 50,000 young anglers.

The success of the program reflects a cooperative effort between several organizations. The FWC maintains several fish management areas in Jacksonville, where the workshops take place. The agency also maintains the workshop equipment and vehicles. The Fish Florida Foundation, the George M. Baldwin Foundation and several local businesses provide all of the bait, tackle, advertisements and support materials.

“This is a great program showcasing multiple partnerships and the incredible work of two dedicated volunteers,” Leonard said. “These two men have certainly created many new anglers.”

 Parents interested in getting their children into a fishing clinic can call 904-962-8560 for more information.