Let's Go Fishing!

Put a rod in a youngster's hand and watch the fun begin. Here's how to get new anglers off to a good start.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

One of my favorite fishing quotes is "Teach a kid to fish, and that kid will never really grow old. That's because the kid in a fisherman never really grows up!"

How true that is. When anglers of any age get away for a day's fishing, a miraculous transformation occurs: Tension wrinkles disappear, worn-out jokes suddenly become funny again and that ageless eagerness to figure out how to outsmart wily fish is rekindled.

Fishing is an American tradition, enjoyed today by approximately one fourth of our population (mostly adults, about 40 million of them). A recent Harris Poll concluded that fishing is the most popular outdoor activity in the country and the fourth favorite leisure-time activity behind reading, watching TV and spending time with family. Why the appeal? Mainly because fishing is good, clean fun, whether we keep the fish we catch or let them go.

Most of us who fish today got hooked on it many years ago when, for the first time, we watched through a child's eyes as that bobber started bobbing and a sense of anticipation spread its warm glow through us. All kids deserve the chance to experience fishing as a recreational outlet, to see whether the sport meets their criteria of what entertainment is supposed to be. During my youth this process involved an intergenerational sharing, a passing along of the heritage.

**Trying Times **
The world we live in is changing, and not in altogether good ways. With regard to fishing, a steadily increasing number of kids are denied the chance to catch a fish because of lifestyle restrictions over which they have no control. With more moms and dads working, there is less time for family fishing. And with many children being raised in single-parent households, usually by the mother, the opportunity to fish and develop strong family traditions is diminished.

The overall number of anglers is bound to decline substantially if the trend continues. But people can fish or not; why should we care? Among other things, we have a responsibility to the future. Consider the long-term detrimental effects to the outdoors. Youngsters who don't develop ties to the natural world through such recreational outlets as fishing can't be expected to maintain a firm commitment to the conservation of natural resources when they grow up. The millions of dollars in license fees they might have provided to help maintain the health and quality of our fisheries will be sorely missed as well.

It would be a bleak future without fishermen, but rays of hope are emanating from caring anglers, organizations and companies across the United States (see sidebars). Through individual initiatives, state-agency campaigns and even fishing-industry programs, all youngsters can gain sustained access to fishing with the help of adults.

Any sincere fisherman can assist in this very important mission of teaching youngsters-even just one kid-the rudimentary skills required for fishing. While it might seem a simple task, it can have profound consequences for generations to come.

I've always liked children and have never needed coaxing when it comes to teaching them to fish. Often, I've come away with a sense that it was I who learned the more important lessons, lessons relating to the human condition and things that touch the heart.

Who's Teaching Whom?
Several years ago, famed outdoor videographer Glenn Lau and I were making fishing films, including one that involved teaching youngsters how to fish. Among the subjects we used were children from the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch in Florida, a youth organization with which Lau and I were familiar. The footage we shot showed me teaching a cluster of inquisitive children the fine points of catching bluegills on artificial lures, while we all squatted down on the dock of a lake.

Between my feet was a small tackle box full of lures we were usingo catch bream, and at one point I had the youngsters focused on how to tie a simple but strong fishing knot. The session went well, and one little boy in particular kept his eyes locked on mine as if totally absorbed.

After Lau had composed the video, he phoned and asked me to come and see something special captured on film. What the camera saw that I didn't while we were filming was a little hand that eased into the lure kit and swiped one of the lures we were using to catch the bluegills.

Lau and I shared a laugh and marveled over this obsessed lad who enjoyed fishing so much he felt compelled to filch a lure that was doing the job. We later gave each of the kids a lure. But the episode continues.

We decided to do something special for this group at Christmas time. We contacted several tackle companies and they donated tackle boxes, lines, rods and reels-all of which we fashioned into a Christmas tree complete with lure ornaments.

At a Yuletide get-together, each of our new fishing pals received a complete outfit with which he would be able to fish on a nearby pond. As you can imagine, they were excited. Finally, as we were leaving, surrounded by kids milling around us, I felt a pair of small arms encircle my leg.

I glanced down to see the little "light-fingered lad" looking up at me. With a smile he intoned: "Uncle Homer, could you take me home with you?" I couldn't, of course, but I took him home in another important sense. I felt great satisfaction in the part that I played in kindling in him an interest in fishing. I like to think that he is not only still fishing, but also passing along the lore to younger anglers.

"I Am a Fisherman!"
Another memorable experience took place near my central Florida home and involved the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Each year that agency sponsors fishing outings for handicapped youngsters. To make certain these kids catch fish, agency staffers stock hundreds of catfish alongside a pier, which is surrounded by a net to confine the fish where they can be caught. The object is to make sure all the youngsters go home with a bag of fish and lots of photographs to show for the day.

The rigs we used were cane poles with lines of matching length, plus bobbers, split shot and single hooks with worms for bait. Soon, kids began shouting with delight: "I got one. I caught a fish!"

My fishing buddy was an autistic lad who was visibly eager to join in on the fun. After trying several places, how- ever, his float never quivered and I could detect his disappointment. I kept encouraging him, and finally I gazed skyward and whispered: "Please, Lord, size doesn't matter, just one fish!"

Seconds later, his bobber disappeared out of sight. He reared back on the pole and with quivering arms levered in a hefty catfish. He held it high, but instead of chanting the usual "I caught a fish!" he stood tall and proclaimed, "I am a FISHerman!"

The accomplishment meant more to him than merely catching a fish. I was deeply moved and have never felt prouder of anything with which I have been involved. And I have no doubt that he is still a fisherman.

Helping Hands For Adults
If you, your fishing buddy, fishing club, civic club or church group is interested in becoming a positive force in passing along the American tradition of fishing to youngsters, there is a lot of help now available for gearing up.

** The Future Fisherman Foundation (FFF)**, a nonprofit arm of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), is principally known for its Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs campaign. It can provide literature and other useful information regarding fishing opportunities and instruction in the area where you live. Among its programs are the Fishing Tackle Loaner Program (which involves the American Rotary Club and others) and the new Camp Fishing Initiative. The FFF is involved in cooperative programs with the 4-H (the 4-H Sportfishing Program), as well as with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Contact: 703-519-9691; www.futurefisherman.org.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, also administered by the ASA, is funded with taxes on recreational equipment that are funneled through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The main mission of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation is to promote fishing and boating and to keep tabs on fishing programs throughout the country. Contact: 703-519-0013; www.rbff.org.

** Pure Fishing**, a company that includes Berkley, Abu Garcia, Fenwick and Johnson, has promoted family fishing for many years through a variety of programs. As CEO Tom Bedell views it: "There are several million youngsters in America whose lives could be changed forever during National Fishing and Boating Week." The company slogan is "We make it easy, you make it fun!" Pure Fishing provides instructional aid in the form of literature and videos. An educational package comes with a user manual, a video and guidance on teaching fishing classes. Pure Fishing also underwrites hundreds of fishing clinics and seminars each year. Contact: 877-777-3850; www.purefishing.com.

** The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society** (B.A.S.S.) created its Casting Kids program to motivate youngsters once they're ready to move beyond the cane-pole stage and use casting tackle.

With more than 2,800 bass clubs and 600,000 members nationwide, B.A.S.S. has no shortage of instructors who help teach children the rudiments of casting, pitching and flipping a lure. Casting contests are staged around the country and are open to youngsters aged 7 to 14. Contact: B.A.S.S. Casting Kids, 334-272-9530; www.bassmaster.com. others) and the new Camp Fishing Initiative. The FFF is involved in cooperative programs with the 4-H (the 4-H Sportfishing Program), as well as with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Contact: 703-519-9691; www.futurefisherman.org.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, also administered by the ASA, is funded with taxes on recreational equipment that are funneled through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The main mission of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation is to promote fishing and boating and to keep tabs on fishing programs throughout the country. Contact: 703-519-0013; www.rbff.org.

** Pure Fishing**, a company that includes Berkley, Abu Garcia, Fenwick and Johnson, has promoted family fishing for many years through a variety of programs. As CEO Tom Bedell views it: "There are several million youngsters in America whose lives could be changed forever during National Fishing and Boating Week." The company slogan is "We make it easy, you make it fun!" Pure Fishing provides instructional aid in the form of literature and videos. An educational package comes with a user manual, a video and guidance on teaching fishing classes. Pure Fishing also underwrites hundreds of fishing clinics and seminars each year. Contact: 877-777-3850; www.purefishing.com.

** The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society** (B.A.S.S.) created its Casting Kids program to motivate youngsters once they're ready to move beyond the cane-pole stage and use casting tackle.

With more than 2,800 bass clubs and 600,000 members nationwide, B.A.S.S. has no shortage of instructors who help teach children the rudiments of casting, pitching and flipping a lure. Casting contests are staged around the country and are open to youngsters aged 7 to 14. Contact: B.A.S.S. Casting Kids, 334-272-9530; www.bassmaster.com.