By King Montgomery
Fishing is as much about people as it is about fish. Fishing is a synergy of people, places, things and values. A microcosm of the larger society, the fishing world provides a meaningful opportunity to practice and teach the old, seemingly forgotten "Golden Rule" -- treat others as you wish to be treated. Live by the rule, lead by example and impart it to an important segment of our wonderfully diverse population -- the children. They are the ones who must face the future and be the users and protectors of our land, air and water and of one another.
Sportfishing is a wholesome, family recreation that is fun, interesting, stimulating and takes place in some beautiful places where we can appreciate the wonders of nature. And most important, it's a great place for children to learn to feel good about themselves and their world.
The small red-and-white plastic bobber rests quietly on the calm water. It is a doorway into another world, where unseen creatures swim, burrow, creep and float; some large, many medium-size, others quite small, even microscopic. The early morning sun is just below the trees on the far side of the pond, and the sky is painted in impressionistic hues of pink, orange and gray with a hint of blue. A small flock of geese in a loose V-formation fly low over the quiet water and flare their wings for a landing. Birds sing in the trees at the water’s edge, occasionally darting from their perches to catch an insect on the wing.
The fish in the pond stir too, and the bobber moves ever so slightly, gently rippling the water around it. "Watch your bobber, Sally!" The young girl focuses her attention from the geese to the plastic float just as the top of it disappears from the air into the depths of the water world. She raises the rod tip and is fast to a scrappy bluegill, one of the many freshwater sunfishes prevalent in almost every pond, lake, reservoir and river in our region.
"That's a beauty!" exclaims her proud father as Sally lifts the bluegill into the boat. She has learned how to hold the fish so the spines on the back don't prick her fingers while she removes the hook. The fish is fat-bodied, healthy and colored like the rainbow with blues, yellows, greens and a brilliant orange on the throat that looks like the morning sky. She releases this one, although these panfishes are so plentiful that anglers may keep some for the dinner table without disturbing the population.
"That was fun," she says, putting another wiggling nightcrawler onto the hook.
"Nice job. You're getting pretty good at this," says her father.
They watch their bobbers together while taking in the surroundings. And they talk about a lot of things -- her school and the friends she has made; how she likes science class the best, but geography is fun too. But just as important, they talk about the relationship between the air, land and water, and the plants and animals that are all part of the whole, one depending on the other. And how people are the only animals with the power and all too often the inclination to damage or destroy this fragile interdependent web of life. "She's ready for a good spinning rod," thought the father, remembering her birthday next month. The child's spincasting outfit has served its purpose and now it's time to replace the worms with artificial lures and plastic baits, stepping up to the next skill level of the challenges of catching fish. Her younger brother is about ready to use the spincasting rig and old enough to spend at least a few hours on the water. Their mother can join us and the foursome can make time on the pond or at the nearby lake a real family affair.
Sally was onto another bluegill and squealed with delight as the powerful little fish pulled against the bent rod. "Can we start keeping some and have a fish-fry tonight?” she asks.
"Sure," he replies. "We'll need at least 14 or 15 of that size or larger," and dropped the fish into the mesh basket hanging from the side of the boat. Fortunately, she was getting pretty good at cleaning fish as well as catching them.
Fishing can teach a lot about life -- and death. Both are part of the same equation; you can't have one without the other. The bluegill in the basket would serve the same purpose as the fish clutched in the osprey's talons. The cycle continues -- if people let it.
Our fishing editor King Montgomery believes that children who learn about and respect the outdoors can become responsible stewards of our natural resources. Shut down their electronic doodads and take a kid fishing.
Issue 3.16: April 17, 2008