MDC welcomes outside partners in St. Louis area to its Discover Nature—Fishing program

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Saint Louis
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BELLEFONTAINE NEIGHBORS, Mo.— Seven kids from Bellefontaine Neighbors were the first to pioneer a different approach to fishing education on a warm Saturday morning earlier this month at Bellefontaine Conservation Area in North St. Louis County.

Of course all that mattered to them is that they were catching fish after fish.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is presenting its popular youth angler education program—from a different angle.  It’s advancing Discover Nature—Fishing (DNF) with the “teach-the-teacher” technique.  The agency is now inviting outside partners to be part of the DNF teaching team.

DNF consists of four progressive lessons that teach kids 7-15 years of age all the basics of the sport, and gives them the knowledge and confidence to go fishing on their own.  The free program also emphasizes family involvement and encourages parents, guardians, and youths, ages 16 and over, to participate with the kids as well.  Currently DNF is taught by MDC staff and volunteers at Forest Park in St. Louis and the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area in St. Charles.

“However, we’d like to see the program expand to the complete metro area,” said Ed Horack, DNF Outreach Coordinator. 

Horack’s job is to engage communities, municipalities, counties, faith-based organizations, scouting groups and other non-profit entities who would like to introduce kids to the fun of fishing.  He provides them with the tools to accomplish this in the form of the DNF four-lesson curriculum, along with all the rods, reels, and tackle instructors need to teach the program. The gear is provided on what Horack calls a long-term loan basis for as long as recipients continue to teach the DNF program.  

Horack also gets new instructors off to a good start by offering training and assistance, as well as sitting in on the first lesson.

The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors was among the earliest to bite at the opportunity to teach youth in the area how to fish.  The very first Bellefontaine Neighbors-taught DNF lesson was held on June 3 with the first seven youths.  Horack was on hand to assist, but turned the helm over to David Cross, a resident of Bellefontaine Neighbors and a volunteer for the community’s youth program.   Cross, an enthusiastic angler himself, acted as lead instructor after being trained in the DNF program.

“I think it’s a great program and the more we can get involved in it I think these kids will really like it,” Cross said.

The first half hour of the session covered some basics of fish, fishing safety, and concluded with the youths practicing rod and reel dry casting at hula hoops.  With the introductory material covered, the group moved to the area’s Hybrid Pond to learn by doing.  MDC stocks the pond, but restricts use of it for aquatic education programs only, guaranteeing new anglers the experience and confidence-builder of catching fish. 

All seven youngsters were able to hook multiple fish, and seemed to really enjoy the close-to-home fishing experience provided by the program.  “Once they get down and start fishing you can just tell the excitement on their face, especially when they catch a fish,” said Cross.

Cross said he feels the new approach to DNF can be especially effective for kids because members of their own community are teaching them, which gives the whole thing a local connection.  He strongly encouraged parents to come and work with their children, too.

Horack has also worked with other communities like Ferguson, Florissant and Jennings, and looks to expand to other municipalities in time.  However, he stressed the invitation to join the DNF team extends to any educational or non-profit group.

Horack’s future hopes for the program include a day when DNF partners might move on to teach more advanced enrichment fishing courses beyond the initial four lessons.

 “We can reach hundreds more kids when we have all of these outreach partners out there than what MDC staff and volunteers could on their own,” he said. 

For information on becoming an external DNF teaching partner, contact Horack at  Or to learn about the DNF program, go to