When High Tech High School senior Kristin Currie heard that the school was starting to offer kayak and fly-fishing lessons to the students, she immediately thought it was a joke.
“I was really confused, because here in Hudson County, you don’t naturally expect kayaking and fishing in school,” Currie said. “I didn’t think it could be real.”
“Most of the people thought it was a big joke,” said sophomore Sameer Chauham. “I don’t know if anyone wanted to join in the beginning.”
But it was no joke. High Tech Principal Karol Brancato saw an advertisement that the American Sport Fishing Association was offering grants to high schools throughout the country, providing that the school instructed the students how to properly kayak and fly fish.
So Brancato applied for the grant and lo and behold, the North Bergen high school, part of the Hudson County Schools of Technology, received the grant for nearly $5,000 in order to purchase two regular kayaks, about seven inflatable boats of the one and two-passenger variety, and several fishing rods.
Taking the bait
The students learn how to kayak in their physical education classes with teachers Dorothy Gilmartin and James Comprelli and learn fly fishing from teacher Peter Feeney, who is a science teacher and avid fisherman.
In order to teach the fishing class, Feeney had to attend a week-long seminar last summer in Travers City, Mich. sponsored by the American Sport Fishing Association.
The students learn the intricacies of kayaking, like how to paddle properly, how to stop and turn, how to keep afloat, in the school’s pool facility, which used to be part of the old APA Trucking recreation center.
“They’ve been in the pool training since November to get ready for the spring,” Gilmartin said. “Then, in the spring, we’re going to go out with the science department and do several things, like fish tagging and water monitoring, checking for chemicals in the Hackensack River”.
Added Gilmartin, “We’re trying to offer inner-city kids a chance they would never get to have.”
The students have also received a fly fishing lecture from Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper.
The response from the students has been tremendous.
“We’ve had about 50 kids sign up and come for lessons so far,” Gilmartin said. “The kids absolutely love it. They’re having a ball. The reason why we’re practicing in the pool now is all about safety. They have to learn to paddle, learn how to reverse, to stop and turn.”
Gilmartin said she received her kayak training while vacationing in Maine last summer.
“I think I hit every single boat in the harbor while I was out there,” Gilmartin laughed. “I’m good at it.”
Currie said that getting in the kayak for the first time was a little harrowing.
“It was kind of terrifying, because we all kept flying into each other and turning the boats over,” Currie said. “But we’re all getting pretty good at it now. We have a lot of experience and it’s going to be really exciting to get out on the river.”
However, the fishing aspect can wait.
“I’m kind of afraid of touching the fish,” Currie said. “It seems a little mean to me.”
But actually, the fish-tagging project will help the fish and help other fishermen realize that they cannot keep the fish taken from the Hackensack River.
Chauhan had a little bit of experience in both kayaking and fishing, having learned both in middle school in Jersey City.
“I picked it back up pretty easily,” Chauhan said. “At first, no one wanted to join, but when everyone saw how we were having fun and that we were actually learning, they wanted to join as well.”
Chauhan’s parents are natives of India, so when he told his parents what he was doing in school, they were somewhat astonished.
“They were amazed, but they encouraged me,” Chauhan said. “Instead of sticking to tradition, I’m going out of the ordinary and learning new things.” Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com