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Pay It Back, as Well as Forward; Take the Elderly Fishing Too


When I was 15, I would do anything for the chance to go fishing. That included taking my elderly neighbor, Mrs. Smith, with me.

Her daughter's family owned a farm with a pond, but no one had the time or interest to walk with her down to the water, help her set up her lawn chair, and then keep an eye on her as she fished with her Zebco for bluegill and bullheads.

Such a job, though, was right in my wheelhouse. The only real work was getting her to and from the pond. After that, all I had to do was check in from time to time to make sure that Mrs. Smith was okay as I walked the banks, casting for bass.

That was all I had to do. But, as it turned out, that wasn't all I did. Bullheads aren't easy to get off the hook, especially when they swallow it. And bluegill will steal the bait in a hurry, if you just let it dangle instead of threading it on. In other words, by our second trip, I was spending nearly as much time helping Mrs. Smith have a good time as I was fishing. I certainly hadn't planned for that. I was the kid. People were supposed to take me fishing, not the other way around.

Yet I don't think that I could have enjoyed our trips together more if I had caught a 5-pound bass on every trip. It was my first experience with giving back, and it felt really good.

In the years since, I've shared my passion with many more. Until I received a note recently from a friend in Tennessee, however, I didn't realize that I had tunnel vision. I had forgotten about that summer when I was 15. For me, sharing fishing had been all about kids, about instilling a love for the sport in the next generation.

But what about all those Mrs. Smiths out there who would love to go fishing but can't without our help? And what are we missing out on when we don't pay it back, as well as forward?

Here's what:

This past fall, my friend and his wife helped take Granny, Dot, and other residents at an assisted-living facility fishing for panfish at a dock on J. Percy Priest Lake.

The bite was slow, my friend said, but finally someone caught a small bluegill and "everyone got excited."

Seeing the joy derived from one little fish, my friend had an idea. "I told Dot that I was going to put some fresh bait on and handed her the pole with the bream," he recalled. "But she did not know the bream was on the hook.

"A few seconds later, the float started moving and Dot got excited, hollering that she had caught one. Words cannot describe how excited she really was. After getting her calmed down and swapping poles with her, I passed the little bream down to my wife and she pulled the same trick on Granny.

"After that, we released it. If only this little bream knew who much it had given to three ladies and also the helpers."

And it gets better.

Later during a Halloween party at the assisted-living facility, my friend talked with Dot about the outing at Percy Priest. "Dot told me how much she had enjoyed that fishing trip," my friend explained, adding that she said the bluegill was the largest she had ever caught.

And when he asked her how big, she said, "Almost 5 pounds."

He also learned that she had been telling all who would listen about her "big fish."

"You cannot imagine the good feeling inside after that trip with these elderly folks," my friend said. "One of the ladies is at a very low point now and may not be with us long.        

"We often do not appreciate what we have until something like this slaps us in the face. I am just proud that my wife and I are able to assist in some small way to make their remaining days just a little brighter."

By all means, we should keep taking kids fishing. In fact, we should do more of it. But also we shouldn't forget Dot, Granny, and Mrs. Smith. We should  spend some time with those who love the sport just as much as we do but can no longer enjoy it without a little assistance.    

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Don't Be Fooled by the Hype: Give Locally to Help Dogs

Once again it's time to warn anglers, hunters, and other dog lovers about deceptive advertising campaigns. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is running tear-jerker commercials intended to garner national donations for its New York City-based organization.

 In terms of dishonesty, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which does the same thing from time to time, is an even worse offender. Some have likened it to the radical People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, only with "deodorant and suits."

If you really want to help the abused, homeless, and starving dogs and cats portrayed in these advertising campaigns, please, give to your local no-kill and municipal shelters.

Some state and local shelters might have "SPCA" (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and "Humane Society" in their names, but they are not affiliated with those national organizations.

"Both ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and HSUS (the Humane Society of the United States) spend a great deal of money advertising on television and sending mail throughout the nation asking for charitable funds. Neither the ASPCA nor HSUS, however, are YOUR local animal welfare organization. They do not operate the shelter for homeless animals in your community. They are not 'parent' organizations and the local humane societies and SPCAs are not their chapters," said Ken White, president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA."

"I won’t and I don’t criticize the work done by these national organizations. You should take the time to form your own opinions about the programs and services of any charitable organization you are thinking about supporting. What I do take exception to is those organizations making statements about their work designed to lead to questionable conclusions."

Help Pet Shelters, a new spinoff of HumaneWatch, however, is not reluctant to criticize:

"HSUS raises millions of dollars from American animal lovers through manipulative advertising but doesn't run a single pet shelter, and isn't affiliated with any pet or local humane societies," it said.

It also pointed out that "a poll of self-identified HSUS donors found 80 percent thought HSUS 'misleads people' about its connections to pet shelters."

In reality, HSUS is an anti-industry lobbying group, opposed to using animals for medical research and many farming practices. Most of its money is spent on lobbying, litigation, fundraising, public relations, and marketing.

In full disclosure, HumaneWatch also has "a dog in this hunt." It's a front group for Center for Consumer Freedom, which represents mostly restaurant and agricultural organizations. But the information that it uses to point out the deception by HSUS and ASPCA is accurate.

Again, if you want to help dogs and cats, please give locally.


The Real Value of Fishing

Fisheries leaders long have known that successful advocacy depends on economic justification. They recognize that recreational fishing’s worth must be proven by the numbers to state and federal decision-makers who authorize and appropriate funds for fisheries and conservation programs.

I understand and support that strategy. Recreational fishing generates more than $125 billion annually in economic output and more than one million jobs. It clearly is worth the money that we invest in it, and that is something that politicians understand.

But you and I both know that angling’s intrinsic value is what keeps us going to the lakes, rivers, and oceans. We fish for fun, to relax, to compete, and to spend quality time with friends and family. We fish to forget. And we fish to remember. We fish to lower our blood pressure. And we fish to raise our adrenaline.

Did you know, though, that fishing also is magic? That probably doesn’t mean much to the politicians who control the purse strings, but parents and volunteers will tell you that fishing works in ways that we can’t quantify to enrich the lives of millions who endure illness, injury and disability. As much as we might think angling means to us, both economically and inherently, it can mean even more to them.

“Fishing and other outdoor activities are a diversion from the reality that they have life-threatening illnesses,” says B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland, a long-time supporter of an annual day on the water for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses at Camp Cavett on Lake Texoma.

“This gives them a chance to be a kid again. It’s amazing how fired up they get to go for a ride in the boat and to go fishing.””

Fishing makes a difference, too, for war veterans who have been wounded and are struggling to adjust to the new reality of their civilian lives.

“We see the benefits over and over,” reports Heroes on the Water, an organization that takes injured warriors fishing in kayaks. It adds, however, that “the rehabilitation aspect was an unintended consequence of helping injured service members.”

Realization of that aspect of the magic occurred with a veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. He stuttered, would not talk, and wanted to be left alone. He had to be persuaded to get in a kayak for a four-hour outing.

“When we were helping him out, we asked how his morning was,” Heroes says. “For 30 seconds, he was jabbering away, talking about how great kayaking was, how he caught five fish, and how he really enjoyed the time on the water.

“Then he --- and we --- realized he was talking normally.”

For the first time in two years.

The stuttering eventually returned, but the soldier said, ‘Now I know I can do it (speak normally). Now I have hope.”

Fishing and other outdoor activities provide hope for children with autism as well.

“What I’ve discovered about people on the (autism) spectrum is that they are highly institutionalized,” says Anthony Larson, owner of Coulee Region Adventures and father of a child with the disability.

Such a lifestyle, he theorizes, puts to “sleep” the part of the brain that makes maps and encourages creativity. Additionally, those on the spectrum often have issues with their body placement, as well as linking their body with their emotions and estimating where they are in time and space.

“So, when children participate in the outdoors, they are using parts of the brain that normally don’t get used, as well as utilizing muscle groups that don’t get used.

“Another benefit to being in the outdoors is exhaustion!” he emphasizes. “It’s a lot of work to be outdoors. And, like I tell my son’s therapists, he can’t fight if he’s tired.”

Eli Delany also noted the therapeutic value of fishing for his son, and that prompted him to found My Little Buddy’s Boat, an autism awareness program now promoted by many of the top professional anglers.

“He loves nature and the boat’s movement and the sensation it gives him,” says Delany. “He really is starting to enjoy the fishing part of it, casting his rod and holding the bass after we catch them.”

And Katie Gage, the mother of two sons with autism, adds this:

“Fishing has proven to be great therapy. They can find peace on the water, and they can connect their love of science and nature and stewardship. No pressure, just fish!”

So . . . you can tell the politicians that angling is worth more than $125 billion annually if you want to. I say that it’s priceless.


Obama's 11th Hour Edict Labeled Anti-Fishing

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On the day before President Barack Obama left office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued an edict to ban lead fishing tackle and ammunition from hundreds of thousands of acres of land and water managed by that agency. Executed without stakeholder input, the controversial action has sparked outrage from fishing and hunting communities.
National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland said that B.A.S.S. “joins our state fisheries management agency partners and ASA (American Sportfishing Association) in calling on the new administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put a hold on the order.

“This 11th hour order, just hours before the new administration was to take office, was an obvious attempt to push through an order that is part of the previous administration’s environmental agenda without full consultation among all the stakeholders.”
Scott Gudes, ASA’s vice president of government affairs, added, “The sportfishing industry views this unilateral policy to ban lead fishing tackle, which was developed without any input from the industry, other angling organizations and state fish and wildlife agencies, as a complete disregard for the economic and social impact it will have on anglers and the recreational fishing industry.”
Signed by FWS Director Dan Ash, Order No. 219 requires “the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to the fullest extent practicable for all activities on service lands, waters and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement and safety uses, as provided for in policy.”
Fortunately, action was taken by the new Trump administration the day after the rule was issued that could hinder its effectiveness. A memorandum issued from the White House to departments and agencies announced a freeze on implementing new regulations, pending review. Still, individual jurisdictions within FWS might choose to enforce the rule.
For years, environmentalists have attempted to gain a complete ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle by filing lawsuits. They’ve done so, Gilliland said, “despite the lack of a clear connection in many cases of negative population-level impacts on fish and wildlife.” But their arguments have been rejected by the courts. At the same time, selective bans have been implemented where research suggests a need for them, such as in some northern waters, where loons ingest lead shot.

“In the limited instances, where lead fishing tackle is demonstrated to harm local wildlife populations, the sportfishing industry supports actions to minimize or eliminate these impacts,” Gudes said. “However, unnecessary and sweeping bans such as this Director’s Order will do nothing to benefit wildlife populations and instead will penalize the nation’s 46 million anglers and hurt recreational fishing-dependent jobs.”
If not rescinded, it also will damage the partnership between the federal agency and the states, according to Nick Wiley, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “This action flies squarely in the face of a long and constructive tradition of states working in partnership with the service to effectively manage fish and wildlife resources,” he said.
“The Association views this order as a breach of trust and deeply disappointing given that it was a complete surprise and there was no current dialogue or input from state fish and wildlife agencies prior to issuance. It does a disservice to hunters and anglers, the firearms and angling industries, and the many professionals on staff with the USFWS who desire a trusting and transparent relationship with their state partners.”

For further information or to arrange an interview with Gene Gilliland, contact JamieDay Matthews, B.A.S.S. communications coordinator, 205-313-0945,

About B.A.S.S. Conservation
For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. Conservation has focused on issues related to fisheries and aquatic resource conservation. We work with government agencies to develop sound management policies that protect and enhance aquatic resources. We partner with others to ensure government policies provide for these resources without compromising sportfishing opportunities. And through the B.A.S.S. Nation, we provide volunteer efforts to enhance fisheries resources and protect our sport. B.A.S.S. is world-renowned for state-of-the-art tournament fish care.

(I wrote this press release for B.A.S.S.)


Catch-and-Release Proposed for Stretch of of Texas' Devils River

Increasing angler pressure has prompted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to propose catch-and-release regulations for largemouth and smallmouth bass on a portion of the Devils River, which feeds into Lake Amistad from the north.

 “The pressure has increased over the last 10 to 15 years,” TPWD's Ken Kurzawski said.  “In 2013, we began requiring access permits from any TPWD property. In the first year, we had 780 permits. This year, we expect at least 1,300.”

“What we are proposing in January is to institute catch-and-release for largemouth and smallmouth bass on the Devils from Baker’s Crossing to Big Satan Creek, a distance of 38 miles,” he added. “This is where the river becomes wider and more lake-like. It is the downstream boundary of the state natural area.”

The biologist added that smallmouth have been increasing in the river, while the overall size of largemouth has declined.

If the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves the regulation, it then would be open for public comment, with implementation possible in September 2017.

One of the most remote and unspoiled waterways in Texas, the Devils is part of the Rio Grande drainage. It is fed by numerous clear springs in the region's karst topography, which includes rugged ridges, canyons, and grassy banks. While it features white water, a portion also flows underground, where gravel, sand, and limestone filter to help maintain high water quality.

TPWD's Devils River State Natural Area consists of 37,000 acres in two units, including the original 20,000-acre portion called Del Norte and newly acquired 17,000-acre Dan A. Hughes Unit. Del Norte offers primitive camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and camping, as well as fishing. It also features a group barracks that can accommodate up to10 people.