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Youth fishing program gets kids off screens, into the great outdoors

Urbana, Ill. – In the past year, screen time has increased exponentially as schools, organizations, and even socializing have gone remote.  Illinois 4-H has developed a new outdoor curriculum for junior-high age youth focused on getting kids spending time outside and enjoying the proven benefits of time spent in nature through the sport of largemouth bass fishing.

Fishing license sales have been steadily declining in Illinois since 2001. 

“There are over 100,000 fewer fishing licenses sold now than 20 years ago,” says Curt Sinclair, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “Fishing gets kids outside and away from screens, and it’s a great activity you can do alone or with your whole family.  As an added benefit, it’s a naturally socially-distanced activity.”

This Bass Fishing SPIN Club curriculum, or Special Interest club, takes place over the course of six weeks and will focuses on aquatic ecosystems, fish biology, and include STEM activities relating to fishing gear.

“Fishing is the focus of this curriculum, but it’s so much more,” says Sinclair. “Kids learn and take part in the sport, but they also gain a variety of skills and knowledge as they master fishing. This program is about fishing, but it’s really about getting kids and families outside and teaching them to be good stewards of our outdoor spaces while they enjoy time away from screens.”

This program also aligns with a larger focus by Illinois 4-H of getting youth invested in environmental stewardship. 

“We teach kids about pond and lake stocking rates and what a balanced predator/prey relationship should look like in a typical Illinois pond or lake setting,” says Sinclair. “The single biggest mistake made managing fish populations in these types of ecosystems is harvesting too many largemouth bass. We teach kids to release largemouth bass unharmed, especially bass under 14 inches in length.” 

While fishing may seem more prevalent in rural areas, there is opportunity for youth throughout the state to take part. 

“4-H is focused on opportunity for all and this curriculum is no exception,” says Sinclair. “The Illinois Urban Fishing Program in Chicago highlights opportunities for urban fishing experiences and in 2018 they had close to 90,000 participants. I hope we’ll see youth in metropolitan settings take part as much as in rural settings.”

To learn more about the bass fishing curriculum, email Curt Sinclair at For more information on how to join 4-H, email

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences.4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

About Extension:  Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. 

Source: Curt Sinclair, 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialist, Shooting Sports, Environmental Education,

News Writer: Carissa Nelson, 4-H Media Communications Manager, University of Illinois Extension,