GIBSON, Ga. — At the end of a long, rutted trail through hilly pine woods sits a classroom no child has ever dreaded.
Instead of paper airplanes, dragonflies dart. Lessons involve the art of the cast and how to avoid sharp fins. There is no need for pencils, and an aced test gets stored in a five-gallon bucket.
For 20 years, Henry Olin Mathis has opened his private pond to the children of Glascock County, and the last week of school means elementary students line the banks learning how to fish.
“Even in our rural community, most of our children don’t have access to a fishing opportunity like this,” Superintendent Jim Holton said. “It will keep our outdoor heritage alive. Today there are just too many other responsibilities, and things like technology compete with activities like this.”
With this year marking the 20th anniversary of the yearly fishing trips, the school system thanked Mathis by presenting him with a stone bench and engraved plaque that sits in the shade, just up the hill from the pond.
Mathis said the Georgia Department of Natural Resources originally contacted him and asked permission to use the pond under its sponsorship for the school’s annual fishing event.
“Little did I know that we would still be having it 20 years later,” he said. “I hope the children have enjoyed it as much as I have. Judging by their squeals and giggles when they make their casts, and especially when the fish bite, I think they do.
“I look forward to the event every year. It is great fun to see the children pouring off the big yellow school bus and running for the water.”
He said each child usually brings a parent or a grandparent who helps pass along their own personal tips and tricks. DNR personnel and other adults help other children and cook out.
“There have been children who came fishing and it was their first time,” Mathis said. “What fun to watch the sparkle in their eyes when they hold up the string of fish they caught.”
Each child is allowed 10 fish, and he said sometimes the entire class catches their quota.
Mathis said he now sees parents who fished there as children coming back with their own little ones.
“Even though the children are having fun, they are learning at the same time,” Mathis said. “Fishing is a skill that could provide a meal for them one day. You never know. Most years we also prepare the fish to be cooked before the children leave for the day.”
Officials at the school said the fishing events are made possible through the contributions and efforts of the DNR, Law Enforcement Division Ranger Brian Adams, local businesses, civic groups and Mathis.
“Even though it is a learning experience for the children, it is equally inspiring for me,” Mathis said. “I am happy to have the opportunity to provide a place where they can learn a new skill or learn the virtue of patience while waiting for the fish to bite.”