FAIRMONT - Since beginning in 2008, the Fairmont chapter of "Let's Go Fishing" has been a regular draw for seniors, and an opportunity for them to cast a line or just enjoy a cruise on the local lakes.
"We have about 500 people a year, but we do limit the number of days we go out, and we're sometimes hindered by the weather," said Steve Schmitz, chairman of the Let's Go Fishing Fairmont chapter. "Last year, it was too rainy, this year we had high water, and the year before last we had the extreme heat in August. We only have June, July and August, so we do try to have some make-up days if possible."
Joe Holm of Willmar originated the Let's Go Fishing program. Now there are 30 chapters statewide.
Craig Lerum, left, holds the pontoon gate open for Marie Wenzel as she is escorted by Let’s Go Fishing volunteer Mike Katzenmeyer.
"John Welchlin and I met with Joe in 2007, and we formed a board for a Fairmont chapter," Schmitz said. "It's such a great program to get seniors out and back on the lake. The main story is that it gives the elderly a chance to go back on the lake, when some probably thought they wouldn't have a chance to do that again. Our pontoon is handicapped-accessible, and the chairs are accommodating and comfortable, and all of our volunteers are trained in safety."
The Let's Go Fishing pontoon is open to groups of seniors age 55 and older, with a maximum group size of six for fishing and eight for a pontoon ride. Groups must register for a date to ride, with the pontoon in operation on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The entire event is free, except for those who need a fishing license.
"We try to make the fishing trips in the morning, because the fishing is just better then," Schmitz said. "And then in the afternoon if there is a group that wants to cruise, we do that then."
Because Let's Go Fishing is a non-profit organization, it relies heavily on donations. Fortunately, businesses and individuals have been more than happy to help.
"Fairmont has been so supportive of the program with donations," Schmitz said. "It costs about $7,000 to $8,000 a year to operate. From memorials to checks, it's amazing what Fairmont has done. They believe in this as much as we believe in it ... You don't pay off a $35,000 pontoon, a $5,000 lift and two new docks without a lot of support. We've been blessed by so many people and organizations. The support is overwhelming."
There are also up to 70 volunteers who aid in loading and unloading boat passengers, along with acting as captain on the boat rides.
"We've never had any problem getting volunteers," Schmitz said. "There is an excitement and reward to helping these people. They know they are touching someone's life. Is there any better reward?"
"It's a great way to meet new people, and I think I have more fun than they do," said volunteer Tony Roesner.
There are many stories that come from the rides on the lakes.
"There was one time we went by an area where an old park used to be, and one of the ladies started giggling, because she remembered she and her friends would go skinny dipping there," Schmitz said. "But there are some special stories, such as a 92-year-old woman who lived here all her life, but had never been out on the lakes."
One of the most heartwarming stories shows how something as simple as a few hours out on the lake can make a world of difference.
"There was a man who had just given up," Schmitz said. "He told his family he had no purpose in life or to go on living. One of our volunteers heard about this and got this man out on the pontoon. It totally changed his attitude. He had a daughter in California, and when she came to town she tracked us down just to say thank you for helping her father. Those are the stories that really stick with you."
For more information or to sign up for a pontoon trip, contact Let's Go Fishing at (507) 848-5069, or go online at www.lgffairmontarea.com