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Minnesota angler battling health issues gets overwhelming response for fishing assistance

WOW volunteer Todd Kniefel high-fives Darla Olson as she catches the second of three northerns. Special to Forum News Service 1 / 3
With the help of Walking on Water Outdoors, Darla Olson caught her bucket-list fish on Dec. 29: a northern pike. Assisting her were Brenden Mattson, at left, and WOW founder Tim Schmid. Shannon Geisen / Forum News Service2 / 3
In the comfort of an ice house, Olson caught sunfish as well. All the WOW members, like Schmid and Sarah Mattson (seen in the background), volunteered their time and their equipment. Shannon Geisen / Forum News Service3 / 3

MENAHGA, Minn. - Darla Olson’s online request for ice fishing assistance was answered.

The Menahga resident has Stage II emphysema and loves to fish, but needed a helping hand. She posted her inquiry on Park Rapids and Menahga/Sebeka “swap and sell” Facebook pages. Her appeal was then shared on Minnesota fishing forums.

Tim Schmid, a lifelong Park Rapids resident who founded Walking on Water Outdoors, was called into action.

“I had over 30 personal messages, texts and tags from people about this,” Schmid recalled. “My phone’s just going crazy from people throughout the community, saying, ‘Have you been on Facebook?’ After 10 of them in under a minute, I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Anglers in the Twin Cities were even contacting Schmid, saying WOW was the perfect fit.

WOW is a nonprofit organization whose ministry helps local veterans and the elderly go fishing.

“Every one of us donates our time, our gear to do these types of trips,” Schmid said.

This is Olson’s first year of ice fishing. Spirit Lake is about five blocks from her Menahga home.

“I went a couple times on my own, but it was so hard for me to do it on my own,” she explained. Her hand-powered ice auger and the thick ice proved too difficult.

Olson thought a few people might reply to her Facebook post, inviting her to tag along as they fished on Spirit Lake or Stocking Lake. She told Schmid, “I wasn’t expecting it to blow up like that!”

Schmid said it was “awesome to see that many people from the community step up and say, ‘We’ll take you.’”

“I thought it was really special,” Olson agreed.

On Saturday, Schmid and his group of volunteers arranged transportation, set up a fish house, bored holes in the ice and provided fishing equipment and live bait for Olson’s “little Arctic adventure” – with the temperature at a brisk 23 below zero.

They selected a spot ideal for catching northern pike, which were on Olson’s bucket list.

CORE ICE gave her free rod and reel, plus donated the use of a warm, comfy fish house for the day.

“I feel like a kid in a Christmas store,” Olson said as she entered.

Olson loves fishing. She started a couple summers ago, casting off the Spirit Lake fishing pier.

“I got hooked. I can’t stop,” she said. “I drive my scooter down there and fish off the dock at night because during the day there’s too many people.”

She says she bought a lot of lures.

Her best catch was a 4-pound bass, “but it’s few and far between on that lake.”

Olson said she wanted to go ice fishing while she still can. “I don’t have to be on oxygen yet. Once that hits, there’s no way I’d be able to do this,” she said.

On Saturday, with WOW’s guidance, Olson broke her personal best – twice. She caught three pike, the largest 27 inches, along with lots of crappies and sunfish.

“What an honor it was for us to be able to help get Darla out fishing again,” Schmid posted on the WOW Facebook page.