Karch offers hands-on seminar at Hartman Creek State Park
By Greg Seubert
Greg Karch is a man on a mission.
That mission? To get kids hooked on fishing.
Karch spent a recent Saturday morning at Hartman Creek State Park giving a fishing seminar to about a dozen kids and their parents.
“Our organization is called Learn 2 Fish With Us,” said Karch, a professional angler who lives on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh. “I started it two years ago and we’ve worked with 16,000 kids to date. I did 37 events last year and we have 24 scheduled this year.”
Karch and his wife, Karen, showed up at the park’s Allen Lake Picnic Area armed with several rods and reels.
“About two years ago, I said I was going to commit myself to working with kids,” he said. “I found out that kids really relate to me. This is better than winning any tournament.”
Although some of the kids who showed up at the seminar were under age 10, Karch didn’t start fishing until he was older.
“We never (fished) as a family,” he said. “I started fishing when I was 12 or 13 with one of my best friends. We went to creeks and ponds catching suckers and we had so much fun. When I was 16, I had a Gremlin and we put the boat on top of the Gremlin. We went to Lake Michigan, we went to the Crawfish River, we caught fish all over the place.”
Karch’s seminar touches on casting, tying knots, fish identification, safety and, of course, fishing.
“The biggest skill we want to train is casting,” he said. “A lot of kids like to sidearm it. What we want to do is show them 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock over their shoulder. When you go sidearm, you don’t know what your release point is and where it’s going to go. We try to refine their skills.
“We bring our own equipment so the families can actually go fishing,” he added. “We’re going to show them live bait and that’s probably the biggest thing that the kids love. I just love fishing so much and I want to at least give families an opportunity to decide if this is something they want to do on their weekend. We educate them, then we let them go fishing.”
The Karches and the group eventually headed to Allen Lake to test their luck. Some cast their lines from the lake’s fishing pier, while some headed to other spots on the lake and a nearby pond.
“It’s relaxing, just being by the water,” Karch said. “I’m an IT guy, so I have a lot of stress. Just sitting on the dock behind my house is so relaxing. As they get older, they’re going to realize they’re going to need something that’s a tension release and I think fishing does that.”
Karch, who has also given presentations so far this year in Appleton, Neenah, Oshkosh, Kaukauna and Milwaukee, said the seminar, which lasts about an hour, has changed over the years.
“The early clinics were pretty short,” he said. “I learned from parents and kids saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to learn this’ or ‘I’d like to learn that.’ What’s amazing is how much these kids can pick up at such a young age. Third-graders actually wrote me thank you cards a week later and they remembered me telling them about a red bead or a gold hook.
“Everything is hands-on, no PowerPoint,” he said. “We’ll have them come up and put on a life preserver. We’ll have them cast with me. We’ll have them tie knots with me. A dad saw me at a sports show and said, ‘My daughter taught me how to tie a knot and you taught her how to do it.’ I had a 6-year-old who came to three of my clinics when I was first starting. He could identify every freshwater fish in Wisconsin, he could tie his knots and he never wanted to get into fishing. He did this and when we had a fishing tournament, he caught 26 fish by himself from shore.”
Fishing is the perfect family activity, according to Karch.
“Fishing is cheap,” he said. “Your parents get a license, you can go out fishing and have a ton of fun.”
Karch’s sponsors donate items that he gives away at his seminars. Some kids returned home with rods and reels, while others received T-shirts, hats and tackle boxes.
“We team up with the National Professional Anglers Association and at this event, we’re giving away rods and reels and fishing equipment, stuff to help the family get into it,” he said. “They’re my personal sponsors for fishing professionally, but they believe in our mission and what we’re doing.”
Karch enjoys seeing kids catch their first fish, even if it’s 3-inch-long bluegill.
“It could be anything like throwing the rod in the water because they’re afraid of the fish coming out of the water, but that’s what’s so great about our program,” he said. “I actually caught a 13-pound walleye and I brought it. That way, the kids can get up close to the walleye.”
Besides his seminars, Karch also has a website, www.learn2fishwithus.com, that includes videos and photos from each seminar.
“Everything that I do in my seminar is on my website,” he said. “I think more and more people are getting out there and promoting (fishing) and that’s what we have to do. We have to promote it and not only that, we have to help them get the skills that are needed: learn about the fish they’re catching, learn about the regulations. That’s what I feel our clinic does.
“Our mission statement is grow the sport of fishing by educating and inspiring beginner and experienced anglers,” he said. “If they’re an experienced angler, we still have to make sure we keep them experienced enough that they keep catching fish and want to keep fishing. People get into fishing and then they get out.”
Karch’s upcoming seminar schedule includes a visit to the 4-H Youth Tent at Farm Technology Days, set for Aug. 25-27 near Sun Prairie.
“I don’t look at myself as a fishing pro,” he said. “I look at myself more as an angler educator. These kids really follow a lot of what I do. I want them to know that this clinic is for them, not for me.”