At the beginning of the flyfishing class each semester at Clemson University, I ask the students individually about their fishing adventures and experiences. Within each class are different levels of skills and backgrounds. All students have the same common denominator, they want to catch a fish.
Sadly, there are always a few students that have never been fishing. During the brief time we are together, each semester provides a remedy for this ailment. They have never experienced the outdoors in a manner that requires a tug on a rod, the lake at sunset, the smell of the salt marsh, heard the popping noise of a receding tide in the soft mud or felt the life of a river through there legs while wading.
Are we too busy or caught up in life and making a living, fighting a pandemic, or what? I don’t know the answer but I try hard to share my fishing experiences with each student.
I often think about the first fish my 3-year-old grandson caught. We decided to use nightcrawlers, and he loved sticking his fingers in the bait can and feeling the wormy squiggles. He was totally fascinated and would hold a nightcrawler in his hand loosely, giggle and gingerly place them back into the bucket. Then, of course, wipe his nose with the same hand. He was off to a good start growing from a toddler to a little boy. Teaching him to spit would be next on my list!
The little fellow was upset at first when I put a long, juicy nightcrawler on the hook. I assured him the hook was only temporary, and these were magic fishing worms. When submerged, they could talk the fish into biting them. His facial expression had a moment of skepticism. Once underwater, I said, these magic worms would speak fish talk, and I promised we wouldn’t have to wait long for a fish to bite.
I had bought him a small 5’ ultra-light spinning rod that almost bent down to the handle. He said goodbye and dropped the worm off the side of the dock, and within seconds a fish was on! As I settled his level of excitement down to where he could listen, I reminded him always to believe his Papa when it came to fishing.
“Papa, Papa,” he hollered. “What do I do now?”
Together we began to land the fish. I lightly held the rod with him while he gritted his teeth and reeled like there was no tomorrow. He exclaimed with bubbling enthusiasm that the magic worms really worked! An excellent 2lb. Catfish was landed, pictures were taken, fish rubbed, the interesting whiskers on each side of his mouth pulled, and then he was released. What a wonderful memory and reward that will forever be with me.
Every student that desires to learn deserves a chance to catch a fish. From casting on ponds to wading rivers or easing along in the coastal marsh, once that experience happens, in most cases, it really becomes more than just catching fish.
Most states that I have researched have programs that promote the “Take a Kid” philosophy which is great. There are numerous other websites on Google I discovered promoting those programs also.
During the last 17 years, I have had students sit on the riverbank and cry after catching their first fish ever, and on a fly rod. Emotions were overrun with tears and joy. I once accidentally stepped in neck-deep in a river trying to net a fish for another young lady that hooked her very first fish but couldn’t coerce it towards the bank. Wet and smiling, together we landed the fish and took pictures. I learned a valuable lesson many years ago always to take extra clothes when wading a river. The stories could go on and on.
It’s all the smiles and excitement from being alongside a “fish newbie” when they land that first fish and begin a contagious journey that I hope will last a lifetime. The importance of teaching young people about fishing, the fragile environments where they live cannot be stressed enough. My class has started pond fishing now as casting practice continues. Soon we’ll be in the river. There’s a child in all of us every time a fish is caught. I am blessed to be part of this experience with so many great young people.
I received a text from a former student of mine from 10 years ago. He stated, “Best lesson you taught me in class was to teach someone else to fish. I taught a friend how to fish today!” “And he a caught fish!”
Teach or take someone fishing with you that has never been before. Make it fun for them first, and the rest will follow. The satisfaction and thrill you will experience are priceless.