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Grand Forks summer school students test the waters for catfish

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Emily Grosz (center) had good reason to smile after reeling in this 13-pound, 7-ounce catfish Monday morning during the catfish excursion for Central and Red River summer school students in the Grand Forks Greenway. Helping her hold the fish are physical education instructor Alex Hedlund (left) and volunteer fisherman Mark Swenson of East Grand Forks. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 2 / 5
Volunteer Mark Swenson (right) shows Hailey Englehart how to hold a catfish after she reeled in the fish Monday morning during a Greenway catfish excursion held as part of instructor Alex Hedlund's physical education class. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 3 / 5
Physical education instructor Alex Hedlund (right), untangles a "birds nest" on a baitcast reel Monday during the catfish excursion in the Grand Forks Greenway for Grand Forks summer school students. Looking on (from left) are students Lisa Schindler, Emma Harlow and Emily Grosz. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 4 / 5
Alex Hedlund (left), a physical education instructor at Valley Middle School, baits a hook for Ali Ahler on Monday morning during the catfish excursion for Central and Red River summer school students in the Grand Forks Greenway. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 5 / 5

There were a few snagged hooks and tangled lines—that's inevitable, when fishing the Red River from shore—but that didn't dampen the fun for a group of Grand Forks Central and Red River students who tried their luck at fishing catfish Monday morning.

They even caught a half-dozen catfish, which isn't bad at all for fishing from shore in the heat of the day.

The students, most of whom will be sophomores this fall, are taking a summer physical education class with instructor Alex Hedlund. Many of the students are involved with music or classes that don't give them the time to earn their PE credits during the regular school year, said Hedlund, who teaches physical education at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks.

"I knew I wanted to find some ways to keep the kids interested," she said. "It's a six-week class, but I have the kids 2 hours and 10 minutes a day, so it gets to be long in the gym."

Hedlund's dad, Mike, an avid catfish angler, and fishing buddy Mark Swenson of East Grand Forks helped out with Monday's event, which was broken into two morning sessions of about 25 students each. Part of the crew, under Swenson's tutelage, fished from the public fishing, canoe and kayak dock below the Boathouse on the Red, while Mike Hedlund oversaw another group of students fishing from shore about 100 yards upstream.

As a summer school teacher, Hedlund says she tries to get the students outdoors as much as possible. At her dad's suggestion, fishing seemed like a good fit.

"I talked to the kids, and only a handful in each class said they'd fished before, so I thought it would be something cool to give them the experience of fishing," Hedlund said. "It's a lifetime sport, and that's kind of what physical education class is all about—showing the different activities these kids can do for the rest of their lives."

Between Swenson and Mike Hedlund, they were able to round up enough gear and bait, and Alex Hedlund got a one-day permit from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department allowing the older students to fish without a license, which is required for anyone age 16 or older.

An avid angler herself, Hedlund helped Swenson bait hooks, tend lines and untangle the occasional baitcast reel "bird's nest" for the students fishing the public dock.

The first group of students, who were at the river before 8 a.m., landed three catfish up to about 25 inches.

"They were a little nervous—are we going to catch fish?—and when that first one came, the kids were pretty excited," Hedlund said. "Everyone's phones were out. It wasn't a huge catfish, but it was still fun for the kids to be able to see."

Bragging rights

The second group of students fished from about 10 a.m. until noon. Hailey Englehart and Emily Grosz, both of whom will be sophomores this fall, were among the the second group and earned bragging rights on the morning.

Englehart's catfish weighed about 7 pounds, give or take, but Grosz's fish tipped the scales at a whopping 13 pounds, 7 ounces

Judging by the smile on her face, Grosz obviously enjoyed reeling in the hard-fighting fish, but she wasn't up for holding the flopping mass of fins, slime and fishy muscle by herself.

Flanked by her teacher on one side and Swenson on the other, she opted to stand behind the fish and let the adults do the heavy lifting. Catfish definitely are one of those "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" species, and Grosz saw nothing beautiful about her impressive catch.

"Nasty. That was gross—really gross," she said before adding, "It's the first huge fish I've ever caught."

Snags and tangled lines aside, the morning fishing excursion went off without a hitch. If she teaches summer school PE again, Hedlund says she definitely would like to offer catfishing as an option for the students.

"Fishing is a sport that works with your patience, but it's a really fun sport to be a part of," Hedlund said. "So that's what it's about—just giving our kids in the Grand Forks Public Schools an opportunity to do something they maybe haven't done or haven't been able to do in the past."

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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