High school coach teaching the game of fishing at another level

Kelly MacDonald utilizes a broad spectrum approach to teaching and coaching the bass fishing team at Prairie Ridge High School.

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Tyler Heavey holds his personal-best northern pike, caught on a crappie rod he made in Kelly MacDonald’s rod-building class.

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Kelly MacDonald mentioned Tyler Heavey recently catching his personal best northern pike.

That’s not unusual for those vacationing in northern Wisconsin after school is out.

But the 38-inch pike came on a crappie rod Heavey built in MacDonald’s rod-building class, an offshoot of her role as the coach of the bass fishing team at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake.

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Tyler Heavey of the rod-building class works intently on his crappie rod during the rod-building class at Prairie Ridge High School.

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Then there’s Carter Haese and his dad, who built at least two other rods since the class.

“Dad was so awesome,” MacDonald said. “Carter was showing him some imperfections on the rod and his dad said, `That’s how you know it is homemade. You will hand that down to your kids.’ That was the best part.”

MacDonald’s an influencer of the right sort.

“I had an awesome in with kids in my classes who didn’t really love school but loved bass fishing,” MacDonald said.

The long-time cross-country and track coach took over coaching the bass team from John Pellikan, who coached Prairie Ridge to its only state appearance in 2017.

“I do love fishing and catching just about anything, but more importantly I love teaching kids how to fish,” emailed MacDonald, a physical education teacher who used to teach science. “That smile and excitement they have when they catch their first fish is just priceless!”

MacDonald is an anomaly. Bass fishing is an activity open to any student, but anglers, coaches and boat drivers are overwhelming male.

But fishing becomes MacDonald, who “grew up on Griswold Lake and loved fishing [her] whole life.”

During the solar eclipse, she played hooky with their daughter Kylie (who hates fishing) and went to Downstate Marshall in southeastern Illinois. In a little pond by where they watched the eclipse, MacDonald caught a memorable fish.

“On the seventh cast, a 7- pound [largemouth] bass, 22 inches, by far the biggest bass I’ve caught,” she said.

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Kelly MacDonald holds the 6-pound largemouth bass she caught at Downstate Marshall while there to view the solar eclipse.

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Then she said, “I caught a 31-inch walleye while muskie fishing, I was sorta of excited because I thought I caught a little muskie.”

The guide on Eagle Lake in Canada was even more excited because for most a 31-inch walleye is the fish of a lifetime.

To give a glimpse of how MacDonald thinks, she said, “Most exciting is the 53-inch muskie my son [Cade] caught [on Eagle Lake], just a jumbo. We were hiding in a thunderstorm and the third cast he caught it.”

I learned of the rod-building class from her proud husband John MacDonald.

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The rod-building class at Prairie Ridge High School, which included the bass fishing team and others, organized by coach Kelly MacDonald.

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“So I like to make things, I built a [cedar-strip] canoe and [tortured ply] kayak at home,” she said. “I heard of Mud Hole and called the guy.”

Mud Hole Rod Building & Tackle Crafting offered 50-percent off kits. She sent a note to the school paper for anyone to help. Darrell Cook, a lieutenant with the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department, offered to help.

“Oh my God, the rods looked awesome,” MacDonald said. “I am hoping to do this with maybe some other schools, it was so much fun. Some girls picked out the colors. It was really a great experience, the best thing I did.”

“Best thing in her career,” her husband chimed in from the background.

“It was a lot of work, took about three times longer than expected,” she said.

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Matt Moritz, Jacob Lutton, Jonah Wolfgram and Carter Haese of the rod-building class at Prairie Ridge High School.

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For $40, the rod-builders received a kit and helped pay for equipment to build the rods. Cook bought the dryer for the rods.

The kids built the equivalent of a mid-level St. Croix rod of about $150.

“If they took their time, it looked almost as good as rod as you go out and buy,” she said.

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Barrett Roberts and Trevor Sebastian working with a tape measure during the rod-building class at Prairie Ridge High School.

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MacDonald also gave a glimpse into building a team for the love of fishing.

“The biggest problem is a lot of kids are in other sports, they are required to be there,” she said.

Not to mention, as the kids get older they also get jobs.

“Lots of freshman, they know nothing, catch their first fish and get really excited, then they get a job or in a sport and can’t come,” she said.

She has tried to have classes before or after school in such things as knot tying, different types of rigging and simply what is a bass and how to fish for them.

“This year I had 12 kids who showed up regularly: one senior, one junior, a couple of sophomores and the rest freshmen,” she said. “That is almost how it breaks down every year.”

She summed up, “So my goal is that I want to them to learn how to fish and have the confidence to go out on their own.”

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Anna Borg, who recently graduated Prairie Ridge, caught a 3.6-pound smallmouth bass on the senior XC/Track fishing trip to Geneva Lake with coach Kelly MacDonald.

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