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Organization takes people fishing on the St. Croix who otherwise wouldn't have the chance

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Let's Go Fishing means a lot more than just a mere invitation to go fishing. For a group in Stillwater, Let's Go Fishing is the name of their organization that takes people fishing on the St. Croix River who would otherwise not have the opportunity to go.

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Formerly known as the Stillwater Chapter, the group became the 27th Let's Go Fishing chapter in Minnesota in 2010. However within the last month the group has changed its name to the St. Croix Valley Chapter, reflecting the interest and support it has been receiving from both sides of the St. Croix Valley since the beginning.

"From day one we have been taking guests from both sides of the river," said Bob Bailey, vice president of the St. Croix Valley Chapter.

Let's Go Fishing is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to helping those who would not otherwise get a chance to go fishing. Guests are seniors, persons with physical or developmental disabilities, military members and families of servicemembers who are deployed, veterans and intergenerational youth groups.

"In the last year we took out about 1,400 people," Bailey said.

The St. Croix Valley Chapter owns a 25-foot customized pontoon boat that is docked at the Bayport, Minn., Marina. Groups go out for a two hour fishing trip or in some cases, depending on the desires of the group, a two hour boat ride on the scenic St. Croix River. The pontoon boat has been modified with higher guardrails, as well as wider door access to accommodate wheelchairs.

The service is free and, in addition to providing a pontoon boat, captain and volunteers to help their guests, life vests, water for guests, fishing equipment and bait are provided.

All a group needs is transportation to and from the marina and fishing licenses if people are going fishing.

"We operate from the middle of May through the middle of October, weather permitting," Bailey said. "And we go every day except Sunday."

According to Bailey, several trips a day are made if needed.

Let's Go Fishing began in Minnesota in 2002 and today there are 30 chapters in Minnesota and one chapter in Wisconsin. The goal is to eventually have chapters throughout the country.

Members of Let's Go Fishing look at their mission as more than just going fishing. Their website states their programs "returns a sense of freedom to the lives of our guests, provides a safe opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and offers time to socialize with peers and meet new friends."

Two guests from last year, Andrew "Andy" Slater Jr. and his wife Barbara, formerly from New Richmond, went on two Let's Go Fishing excursions in August and September that were arranged by their assisted living facility, Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights.

"Andy very much enjoyed the trips," Barbara Slater said. "It was beautiful not only for fishing but just going on the river."

Six months after his last trip Andy passed away and his family asked that memorials be sent to Let's Go Fishing.

"He really wanted others to have the same kind of experience that he had," Barbara said. "He knew others would enjoy it as much as he did."

The maximum number of guests per trip is 10 people, not counting the Let's Go Fishing volunteers that work as the boat crew. Currently the St. Croix River Chapter has at least 40 volunteers.

"If is wasn't for our volunteers and sponsors we could not do this," Bailey said. He also pointed out that they could always use more volunteers and sponsors.

In addition to still paying off their pontoon boat, the cost of gas and bait is a recurring expense for them and they are dedicated to providing their trips to their guests for free.

To book a trip with Let's Go Fishing, contact Let's Go Fishing and sign up. The organization can be contacted either by calling the business office at (651) 707-5181 or email at infor@letsgofishingstillwater.com. The websites is LGF

Signing up for a trip is as easy as calling or going to the website according to Bailey. Businesses, organizations, and individuals who would like to become sponsors or wishing to donate are also asked to contact them.

According to their website "Let's Go Fishing was created to enrich the lives of people through free fishing and boating excursions that strengthen communities, build relationships and create memories."

That is exactly what they are doing; one fishing trip or boat ride at a time.

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