Dennis Vanden Bloomen opened a large, red tackle box that was packed with silver-and-black Zebco 303 closed-face fishing reels, some of them nearly 20 years old.
He opened another large tackle box that was also packed with Zebco 33 fishing reels. He has 70 of the reels to go with 70 fishing rods.
Vanden Bloomen isn’t trying to corner the market on Zebco reels. But he has found over the years that Zebco 33s hold up well under the kind of punishment that kids and novice anglers can inflict on fishing equipment.
Vanden Bloomen needs all of those durable fishing reels for his work as a volunteer fishing instructor for children, novice anglers and disabled adults. He used to borrow rods from state Department of Natural Resources offices that loan them out, but he decided it was simpler and less time-consuming to buy his own.
“I just didn’t like borrowing after a while,” he said.
In addition to their durability, the reels, operated by a push button, are simple to use, he said.
Vanden Bloomen said he was able to buy the reels at a good price. Many fishing tackle makers may have realized that it’s in their long-term best interest to encourage a guy who is teaching people to fish, he said.
On Monday he was rigging up for another season of angler education. He tightened screws on reels, adding fresh line to each reel — he goes through about 1,000 yards of fishing line each year— and attached reels, stringing the line through the rod guides and tying on hooks.
For hooks, Vanden Bloomen uses No. 8 or No. 10 size. Rod kits often come with larger, No. 4-sized hooks, but those are too big for panfish, he said, and people will catch more fish using smaller hooks. The tradeoff is smaller hooks are more likely to be swallowed.
Anglers should have forceps available to extract hooks fish take deeply, Vanden Bloomen said. But if the hook is so deep it can’t be removed without damaging the fish, and if the fish will be released, clip the line and leave the hook in the fish, he said.
When fishing, Vanden Bloomen always wears a lanyard with a nail clippers that can be used for clipping line or clipping the tag ends off of knots.
The fishing rods Vanden Bloomen lets children use go into racks built for them, which he will use to transport and hold them through the summer season. When the fishing season ends, the hooks will come off, and the reels will be packed away for winter.
Vanden Bloomen prefers to use stick bobbers, particularly a brand called “Rocket Bobbers” that are relatively heavy so they can be cast without sinkers. He generally doesn’t use sinkers. Lead sinkers are not good for the environment, and putting them on is an extra step he likes to avoid when rigging 70 rods or when replacing hooks on lines that young anglers have managed to lose on tree branches or submerged logs.
He does periodically use sinkers for bottom fishing. To catch those fish, Vanden Bloomen fishes without a bobber and with a heavier bell sinker to get bait to the bottom in a hurry.
With those setups, Vanden Bloomen uses a bigger hook, typically a No. 4 circle hook. The circle hook has the advantage of having the fish hook themselves. That is important as many anglers miss fish when they try to set the hook themselves.
In addition, Vanden Bloomen said, fish are usually hooked less deeply with the No. 4 than with a conventional hook.
He puts the bobber about three feet above the hook and the worm drifts down slowly once the bobber hits the water, a motion that often attracts fish. When the angler cranks the line in a foot or two, the worm is raised back up, then drifts down again.
Vanden Bloomen recommends letting the worm settle for about 10 seconds before reeling in a few more feet. That practice not only helps kids catch more fish but allows them to practice their math skills, he said.
This technique also helps keep children anglers busy rather than simply watching a stationary bobber, Vanden Bloomen said.
For bait, worms or nightcrawlers are hard to beat, he said. If fish are getting away with the worm and aren’t being hooked, smaller worm portions can be used, he said.
Keep it short
For children ages 10 to 12, 15 to 20 minutes of fishing is plenty. Vanden Bloomen said he then moves on to another activity or stops for a snack. Braun’s Bay is a good spot for fishing with kids because there is a Dairy Queen nearby.
Having a youngster fish for a couple hours in a boat may tax their attention span. If people do take a young angler out in a boat, Vanden Bloomen said, they should move frequently and stop to get out on a sand bar and wade or splash around, if possible, to make the trip more enjoyable for children.
In addition, Vanden Bloomen urged people who are fishing to wear sunscreen and caps to protect against sun damage while fishing. Polarized sunglasses work well when fishing, he said, as they prevent headaches from reflected light from the water surface and allow users to see deeper into the water. They also offer eye protection from errant casts.
Tuesday night was the first outing this year for the Chippewa Valley Fishing Club at Braun’s Bay in Carson Park. The club, which Vanden Bloomen and his daughter Gretchen started, is for disabled anglers.
Four or five volunteers regularly help during club outings, which typically are at Braun’s Bay, although sometimes they occur at Lake Hallie or Lake Altoona.
A spinoff group has started meeting in Menomonie on Thursday nights, and Vanden Bloomen attends those outings. A fishing group for disabled anglers is also forming in Chippewa Falls, he said.
Vanden Bloomen keeps busy meeting with various groups of anglers. Today he and Gretchen will be in Menomonie for a fishing event for people with physical disabilities put on by the Dunn County Sportsman’s Alliance. On Thursday Vanden Bloomen will meet with students from Eau Claire’s Lakeshore Elementary School, some of whom fish at Carson Park at the end of the school year.
This weekend is free fishing weekend, an event organized by the state Department of Natural Resources to promote fishing and the outdoors. Vanden Bloomen will participate in that event too, spending Saturday morning at a pond in the Dunn County village of Knapp. Similar youth fishing events are planned for Braun’s Bay and Lake Hallie Saturday morning and in at Marshall Park in Chippewa Falls Saturday afternoon.
People who develop an interest in fishing have a vested interest in clean water and natural resources, said Vanden Bloomen, an advocate of children spending time outdoors.
“You can have a good time and not have to be connected to the Internet,” he said.
That doesn’t mean Vanden Bloomen is opposed to technology. For example, smartphones allow young anglers to easily send photos of them catching fish to family and friends.
After 32 years at UW-Stout as a professor of international business, Vanden Bloomen is retiring this summer. But he plans to continue teaching his most popular class — a fly- fishing class.
Being retired will allow Vanden Bloomen to spend even more time educating people about fishing, he said.
He also teaches four hunter education classes and serves on a couple of committees for the Conservation Congress. In addition, he teaches classes to certify other angler educators in fly-fishing and general fishing.
Now that he is retired, Vanden Bloomen may even fit in a little more fishing himself.
Knight can be reached at 715 830-5835, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.