Schenectady County

Schenectady camp teaches children to fish

The Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited’s fishing camp in Central Park takes place for three weeks

Believe it or not, someone caught a carp the length of a man’s arm in Central Park’s Iroquois Lake on Tuesday.

The kicker? It was caught by someone younger than 12 who had never held a fishing pole before.

“Occasionally a kid will catch a big fish, and that’s a real treat,” said Bart Chabot, 73, of Schenectady, founder of the Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited’s fishing camp in Central Park.

The camp takes place for three weeks during the summer, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and teaches children ages 5 to 12 how to fish. The camp is in its 10th year and is offered free to all who sign up.

“We have a little-bitty pole, too, and if a kid is under 5 but seems to be pretty dextrous and is willing to listen to directions, we’ll teach them, too,” Chabot said.

The biggest requirements for getting into the camp, he said, are that a person signs up at the park office or at one of the camp’s sponsors — sporting goods stores Goldstock’s, Wiggly Worm or Taylor and Vadney — and that they have a parent with them.

On Tuesday, Chabot and four other volunteers from the Trout Unlimited chapter were showing a group of children how to cast, bait a hook and take fish off of a hook on the Project Access dock near the park office. Chabot said they see an average of 32 kids per day and 200 to 300 kids a year.

A young girl, muttering to herself “icky, icky, icky,” held a fish at pole’s length while volunteer Ron Dorn showed her how to remove it from the hook.

“Stroke it down its back, like a puppy,” he said as he demonstrated, then asked her to try it. Despite her initial reservations, she did, then removed the hook and dropped the fish off the dock and back into the water.

Billy Krawiecki was taking part in the camp after his grandmother signed him up, and he thought it was fun to catch and release his own fish. He was joined by friend Matt Articolo.

“I came with Billy because I thought it’d be fun,” Articolo said. “There’s a lot of good fish, and they teach you a lot of good stuff, like how to tie knots and release fish, and they provide you with the stuff you need.”

Words of encouragement from the volunteers seemed to work wonders for the children. Leonard Tobler of Amsterdam chuckled as one of his fellow volunteers helped a child bait a hook.

“You’ll have to touch worse things than worms in your life,” the volunteer told his squeamish student.

“A lot of them don’t want to touch the worm or the fish — they want you to do that for them,” Tobler said, but they gradually learn.

Campers are encouraged by the fact that if they complete a checklist of five tasks, they have their name entered into a weekly drawing to win one of five fishing poles. The five tasks include putting a worm on a hook, tying a primary knot for fishing, casting a rod, removing a fish from a hook and putting a fish safely back into the water,

“That shows that they’ve learned the basics,” Chabot said. “The fishing poles are there to encourage them. We had a tough little kid once, maybe five years ago … he had a little beanie cap on, tough looking little kid. We showed him the worms and he said, ‘I’m not touching those,’ so I explained to him that he wouldn’t have his name entered in a drawing for a fishing pole unless he could bait his own hook, and he looked at me and took a washcloth out of his back pocket and said, ‘All right, put it in here.’ He kept at it, and he got his worm onto a hook. Tough little kid.”

The dock they fish from was built by Chabot and other volunteers in 2001 as a place for handicapped people to fish. The rails are specially designed to support a person’s arms and legs from a wheelchair, and there are fishing pole holders to ensure a person’s rod doesn’t get away.

When Chabot noticed that the dock wasn’t being used as frequently as planned, he went about talking to local sporting goods stores and the city Parks and Recreation Office about using it for a children’s fishing camp.

Kaylee Petraccione said she goes fishing with her father and brother often, but she first learned to fish at the camp.

“I think it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a good way to learn for beginners,” she said.

“The thought on all the guys’ minds is, ‘How can we keep the kids happy?’ ” Chabot said. “Safety is the primary thing we teach, and courtesy is the second, and I think most kids learn that. We’re here to have fun and make memories.”

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