Free Family Fun At The Fishing Pond

The image of kids loping off to the community fishing hole, bait in one hand, fishing poles in the other, brings to mind the long, lazy days of summer. It’s such a classic image that it’s practically sepia toned, enshrined in nostalgia alongside other icons of days gone by, like the soda fountain and the neighborhood five and dime.

Except community fishing ponds aren’t just a thing of the past. There are local fishing spots all over the nation, including in my home state of North Dakota, just hiding in plain sight.

I’ve waved to many folks who were relaxing in a lawn chair with a line in the Red River or the Missouri River, but the fact that there were accessible, free, kid-friendly ponds dotted all over the state was a revelation. Until I started researching all the public fishing ponds in North Dakota for an article in North Dakota Outdoors Magazine, I really didn’t have a clue how easy it was to get on the water.

See, I grew up in Minnesota, where lake fishing is king. (We have thousands of lakes to choose from, so it just makes sense.) But often lake fishing requires a boat (or at least a dock or fishing pier).  I’ve always associated lake fishing with expensive toys, big boats and weekend getaways. All of that takes time, money, access and a vehicle, which not everybody has.

But community fishing ponds are a great equalizer. They’re designed to be a walkable distance from towns of all sizes, so even the oldest and youngest residents of even the tiniest towns can get a line in the water. In North Dakota, you can fish off a pier in Fargo, walk from a neighborhood playground to the banks in West Fargo and roll a stroller or wheelchair to a prime fishing spot in Bismarck. You can learn how to cast and bait a hook at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot or have a picnic along the trail after an afternoon of fishing in Grand Forks.

You can even go ice fishing in the winter. I found Josh Lewis, KeerieAnne Bruce and their kids Rhiannon Lewis (3) and Easton Lewis (2) relaxing in an ice house on North Woodhaven Pond in Fargo last February. I had no idea that you could go ice fishing right in the middle of North Dakota’s largest city. On the south pond, 12-year-old Akira Ott (shown at the bottom of this post) sat waiting for a bite, looking every bit the veteran angler that she is.

When the snow melted and the weather warmed up, I got to tag along with Jerry Weigel (shown below), who stocks the ponds with bluegill, perch, catfish, white bass and rainbow trout for North Dakota Game and Fish Department every spring. He hadn’t even pulled away when the neighbors walked up and started inquiring about fishing.

I learned a lot researching this story. I was surprised to learn how many fishing ponds there were in North Dakota. (The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is involved in maintenance of almost 450 waterways with some kind of public access.) And I was shocked to realize that all of the ponds the Fargo metro were literally just a few minutes from my house.

I was also happy to learn that it’s really affordable to take a family fishing. Not only can you save money and time by fishing close to home, but if you’re fishing with littles who aren’t quite ready to try it on their own yet, only a parent needs to buy a North Dakota fishing license.

Kids under 16 always fish for free. It’s all part of the plan to foster that sense of independence, get kids off the couch and introduce them to a hobby they can enjoy for life.

That’s a plan I can definitely support. Maybe we’ll see you out on the ponds this year.

What about you?
Are there fishing ponds near you? Tell us about them so we can check them out!
What’s your favorite fishing spot?
What did fishing alone as a kid teach you?
What hobbies do you want to introduce to your children?
What tips do you have for fishing with little ones?
How do you show your kids the outdoors?
What free, fun attractions do you make use of in the summer months?

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Alicia Underlee Nelson

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