This past weekend, I had the extreme honor of being invited to participate in the Club for Boys Hooked on Hardwater event. Most of us across the Ice Belt, have become familiar with the Hooked on Hardwater event that takes place in the Black Hills of South Dakota, thanks to coverage on fishing shows and across social media over the last seven years.
Ice Team Pro, Craig Oyler and his dad, created this event several years ago, where 60 ice fishing pros from across the country are paired up with one boy, sometimes two, from the local Boys Club and spend an evening playing games at the Club and then a morning ice fishing together. What the event does and what it means to those involved is far from that simple of an explanation.
For these boys, many who may be coming from less-than-desirable conditions at home, Hooked on Hardwater presents them with the chance to do something they probably haven't done before, which is to experience the outdoors with an ice fishing trip. And more importantly, their pro offers them a chance at having a mentor, a friend, or a positive light for them, someone who wants them to succeed both on the trip and in their lives.
They can have fun outside with no cares or worries about what is back home for a few precious hours, enjoy a fresh meal of fried fish or a sandwich, run around, have snow ball fights, visit with other kids, and enjoy the camaraderie of catching and bringing up their fish with someone who is there that will gladly shower praise on them, no matter the size of the fish. Many of the boys only reluctantly go back to board the bus to head back to town, reliving their positive experiences from the day and not wanting it to stop.
For the pros, their kid becomes their friend, someone who they want to help out and talk to, who they genuinely care about and want to be a positive influence in their lives, and, of course, showing them the fun and joy that is ice fishing.
The pros show them how to run their Vexilars, jig a rod, set the hook, and get the fish off the lure to either release or keep for the fryer. But the best part is seeing the smiles and the joy on their faces after catching a fish, no matter the size. It puts things into a proper perspective for those attending. Really, there are no words that can really describe the event and what it means to both the boys and the pros.
My new buddy Kael, who was a bit quiet to start with, was a quick study on using the rod, the jigging technique, and reading the Vexilar screen. Heck, less than one minute after dropping the Clam Drop Kick jig down, he already had his first ever iced fish up through the hole and on the ice, which was a beautiful 17" rainbow trout.
Less than 10 minutes later, he had another rainbow on the ice. Arctic Warrior setups gave him his next few fish and he insisted on hole hopping on all the holes I had drilled earlier. After a while, a school of perch was located nearby and we, along with others there, moved into the area and he proceeded to pull up several perch along with some rock bass, the one species he was trying to catch after seeing some of his buddies with them.
The smiles said it all and he quickly had become the pro! After many photos and fist bumps, we said our goodbyes and he headed back to the bus with the others. About the only thing I could think of to summarize the day was........wow! And really, that's about the best word to summarize this event and what Craig and his dad have done with it since its inception and what it provides to the Club in funds raised, to the boys who will always remember this event and their time with their Pro, and to the Pros who will never forget what a truly wonderful experience it is to be with these boys on the ice. Just.......wow!