The fine-looking fellow in the photo below is called Mr. Hawgmouth. Mr. Hawgmouth resides (temporarily) in a five-gallon aquarium in my office, along with several other small bass, various and sundry baitfish, tadpoles, water beetles, and crawfish, all of which were caught in a local creek by my son and me.

About two seconds after this photograph was taken, the mosquito fish to Mr. Hawgmouth’s lower left swam a little too close to Mr. Hawgmouth, whereupon Mr. Hawgmouth got a tasty lunch and my son and I got the kind of interactive lesson in predator-prey dynamics you just can’t replicate on television.

If you have a child and want to introduce them to the outdoors, I know of no better portal through which to do that than the front glass of a native fish aqaurium.

It’s like having your own personal Discovery Channel, but with the benefit of knowing you’re in charge of the programming. Just throw on some old clothes and a ratty pair of sneakers, grab a net or a pole and go fishing or wading. Show me a child who doesn’t like that and I’ll show you a child who needs to have their Playstations, their cell phones, and their Bratz dolls thrown in the dumpster where they belong.

Never before have we had a generation of children so utterly disinterested in the natural world. I mean the real flesh-and-blood natural world, not the Pixar version. What’s more, I have very little hope that on a societal level it’s going to change any time. It just ‘aint gonna happen.

It’s up to us as parents to do what we can to change that on the individual level. You have to have a personal interest in nature before you can give a damn about it. Putting a net in a kid’s hands is a great first step toward that, as well as a great first step toward ultimately putting a rod or a gun in those same hands.

So if you’ve never considered setting up a native fish aqaurium with your kid(s), then please do. Just think of it as boot camp for a rich, fulfilling life.

But first, a caveat: Do check your state’s wildlife regulations before setting off on a collecting expedition with net and/or kiddie pole and worms. Every state has different laws concerning the collecting and keeping of native fish and you don’t want to unintentionally give your children a lesson in the consequences of violating wildlife laws.