The Let’s Go Fishing pontoon took off on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon July 31 from Flickabirds Resort on Rush Lake in Rush City. Military veterans and fishing guides Steve Balfanz and Ken Miller took six excited anglers fishing, who caught over 40 sunfish and one lone perch.

Anglers used worms and wax worms donated by Fish Lake Bait Shop in Harris. The launch also provided life jackets, fishing rods, bait and water.

“We’re just fishing for pan fish today,” Miller said. “But you never know what you’re going to catch.”

Sharon Stueland, from Rush City, caught the first fish and was reeling them in consistently.

“It’s beginner’s luck because I haven’t fished in years,” Stueland said. “My husband (who died two and a half years ago), and I used to fish all the time.”

Veteran of both the Navy and the Air Force, John Hancock said he hasn’t been fishing for a while and thought it would be fun to get out and enjoy being on the lake.

Dale and Sue Kuzel, from Pine City, said they enjoy the Let’s Go Fishing launches because they are retired and they can meet interesting people. The couple raised seven children, have 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Dale Kuzel was not having much luck catching any fish, so he decided to bring out his good luck charm — a harmonica. He played “You Are My Sunshine,” and sure enough, afterward, he caught two sunfish.

Sandstone resident Joyce Carlson said she took a class at Metropolitan State University in freshwater fishing back in the late 1970s because she loves to fish.

“Al Linder was a part of the class, and all we did was sit in the classroom,” Carlson said. “We did no fishing.”

When Carlson caught her first fish of the day, she said, “Hip, hip, hooray!”

Balfanz said when the launches go out, if an angler catches a “keeper,” it is up to the angler whether they want to practice catch and release.

“Whenever anyone gets weeds instead of a fish, I tell them, ‘You usually have to have a little salad with your fish,’” Balfanz said.

Stanchfield resident Meta Mickelson made a last-minute decision to come out on the launch.

“I just love to fish. I did buy a fishing boat, but I can’t get it out on the lake all by myself,” Mickelson said. “I went fishing three times last week here, and I just love it.”

The East Central Minnesota Chapter (formerly North Branch Chapter) has been around for 15 years and was established in 2004 by a group of dedicated volunteers who have been taking seniors, veterans, youth and disabled individuals out on an accessible pontoon.

According to Balfanz and Miller, most of the anglers who come out to fish are residents of nursing homes, assisted living residents, group homes and individuals from the North Branch, Cambridge, Forest Lake, Chisago City, Pine City areas and beyond.

This year the East Central Chapter was able to purchase a new pontoon due to the grants and donations of Let’s Go Fishing sponsors.

The new pontoon is docked at Flickabirds Resort in Rush City.

According to the Let’s Go Fishing website, the generosity in allowing them to keep the pontoon at the resort makes it easy to access for guests and is convenient for the volunteers. It also provides a place to eat before or after a trip for those interested.

The original pontoon serves the Chisago Lakes Area. This boat is available for outings Monday through Thursday to serve seniors, veterans, people with disabilities as well as youth.

Let’s Go Fishing is a nonprofit corporation with over 20 chapters in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The program is funded through donations and business ads (placed on the side of the pontoon), and the organization’s annual waffle breakfast and silent auction fundraiser. All of the work is done by volunteers.

The Rush Lake boat has scheduled outings Monday through Thursday from 9-11 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with two additional trips on Wednesdays from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. The Chisago area boat has scheduled outings from 9-11 a.m., and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Those interested in participating in a launch or an outing can sign up as a group or as an individual.

“Whether you like to fish or just want to get out on the lake, we would love to have you join us,” Balfanz said. “It’s for anybody who wants to go.”

To schedule a trip and for more information call 651-402-5960.

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