Having chased many fish species on this planet with flies and a long rod, I can tell you that there is nothing you can aspire to land that’s more worthy than the fishing soul of a young human being. That is, bar none, the greatest catch of all.
In this job, I often find myself being swept along in the current — literally and figuratively. If I hear about new fishing rod or reel, I want to check it out and write about it. If there’s a threat to wild fish and waters, I want to fight it with all I can muster. And I’m always looking for that special new experience, or trying to coax that “bucket list” fish to tug my line.
Sometimes the quest for a new wrinkle or angle can get downright wild. Go sleep in a hammock in the South American jungle and chase swimming dinosaurs? Sure. Sign me up. Fish around the bears in Alaska, or play with dangerous sharks on a fly rod? Why not? Whether I’m scuba diving with sea turtles, tying reels to motorcycles, hiking above the treeline to find some forgotten native species, or fishing some dirty downtown water to try to catch carp, they’re all very interesting to me. And it’s fodder for good stories that make me money. I’ll admit that while writing about fishing is no get-wealthy-quick proposition, I’ve led a very rich life. And I am particularly grateful because every single time I go fishing I can still latch onto the feelings that make me feel like a kid. In some ways, I think that’s the real essence of fishing, don’t you?
But nothing — no fish or place — trumps the satisfaction of seeing that pilot-light of enthusiasm get lit in the hearts of the next generation.
I spoke to the 5th grade classes at Mt. Carbon Elementary School in suburban Denver the other day. My wife, Sarah, happens to teach there. I will acknowledge that there was a certain dinner arrangement offered as an incentive to get me to talk to a group of 50 or so… um… “energetic” pre-teens. The real mission was to speak about the importance of good writing, and how things I started to learn in grade school still stick with me to this day, and they’ve literally taken me around the world. “Mrs. D” can talk about metaphors, but when “Mr. D” talks about tarpon rocketing like molten-silver lightning bolts over the flats, well, that stuff sticks.
You should have seen the faces when we started talking about fishing and showing the pictures. You should’ve heard how many questions these kids asked about fishing. I am always amazed by how predisposed and genuinely interested kids are in fishing. Some of them fish with parents and grandparents, and they already love it. Others don’t have fishing mentors in their lives, but you can just see in their eyes that they are ready and willing.
Speaking of eyes… my eyes welled when I got a stack of handwritten, hand-drawn thank you notes, all of which displayed beautiful fish, and great writing. Thank you, Elly, Taylor, Ella, Chase, Carter, Ava, Adaleine, Reese, Sophia, Ben, Jerry, Brock, Ella, Hailey, Keyana, Zach, Sammy, Erik, Jonah, Tatum, Katie, Sydnie, Nicole, Teagan, Peyton, Abby, Chloe, Emmi, Lauren, Annika, Erik, Tyson, Stella, Spencer, Sasha, Faith, Tyler, Jacob, Olivia, Kailee, Hannah, Danny, Alexis, Ryley, Emma, Matt, Sonya, Isaac, and Jaycove. I read everything, over and over. Great writing is about making people want to read things more than once, and you all did that. Nice work.
Some adults talk about how video games wreck kids. Richard Louv eloquently explained the threats of “Nature Deficit Disorder.” We worry about breeding generations of couch potatoes, and people who never walk on any surface other than pavement. And we should.
But I would also like to tell you that a fascination with the outdoors is already there. The kids I talked to would rather catch fish in wild places than play video games. And the only thing standing between them and the water is us. We adults who love to fish have an onus to make that connection happen. The problem — and the obligation and opportunity to fix it — is entirely ours, not theirs. Don’t blame a kid for sitting on his/her butt and drifting off into videoland. And don’t blame the video makers. Blame the people who don’t capitalize on that natural passion for the outdoors.
So for those of you who regularly take kids fishing, thank you. Let’s all do more. Taking your own child or grandchild is one thing. But make a point to look for the neighbor kid, or the little guy or gal who might not have the opportunity unless the opportunity finds them.