What's more rewarding than spending a day on the water with your son or daughter? You share something you love with someone. You strengthen family ties as you help reinforce the foundation and future of recreational fishing.
But what if you're a kid whose mother or father doesn't fish? Or what if you're that mother or father who just can't seem to connect with your child and don't know what to do about it?
As an angler, Shane Wilson appreciated the value of various state and organizational programs that introduce kids to fishing. As an educator dealing with good kids who made bad decisions, he recognized that something besides fishing was missing from their lives.
And with the creation of Fishing's Future in 2007, he seized an opportunity to not only increase participation in sport fishing but help better the lives of families.
"I founded Fishing's Future to save the family by creating an avenue for parents to engage their children via an educational angling experience," said the Texas man who traded his administrator's job for a first-grade classroom so that he would have more time to devote to his passion.
"If we do this well, and we do," he continued, "families will go fishing again together and that leads to increased sales of fishing licenses and fishing equipment, as well as an increase in health and wellness. And we will do a better job of saving the sport and caring for the environment."
How does Fishing's Future do it well? Mostly by conducting one-day Family Fish Camps via its 55 chapters in 15 states. The events are free and all equipment is provided, courtesy of sponsors. Following instruction, the families go fishing from shore, but the kids aren't competing for the first, biggest, or most fish. Focus is on the parents helping their children and sharing the joy when they hoist ashore a wiggling bluegill or catfish.
The families also pick up trash as part of their instruction on conservation and stewardship. Last year, 103,000 kids and their parents collected 18,000 pounds. "Thirty families can pick up 300 to 500 pounds or more pretty easily," Wilson said. "It adds up quickly when you have events going on in multiple communities across several states."
At the end of the camp, Fishing's Future instructors encourage the kids to hug their parents and say that they love them. Because they have spent the day together having fun, the effect is profound. Sometimes, though, it's not the first embrace of the day.
"Your program today has caused me to re-evaluate my priorities," one parent wrote Wilson. "Being a single parent and working full time is hard and sometimes I just cannot relate to my 11-year-old son.
"When my son caught his first fish today, I saw something in his eyes that I have never seen before. He was so excited, he even hugged me in public."
Another offered, "I thought that all he (son) liked to do was skateboard and play on the computer . . . I am very deeply moved in my awakening and want to thank you again for a remarkable program."
These "remarkable programs," as well as other educational and family-related fishing events, are conducted by the master angler(s) in each chapter. Volunteers achieve that status by taking the angling instructor certification course offered by their states. In exchange for a fee that helps finance the national non-profit program, Fishing's Future provides additional information and guidance, as well as liability insurance and equipment.
Bass clubs, schools, and even municipal governments have formed chapters, but just two or three dedicated individuals can do so as well.
The ultimate goal, Wilson said, is to re-establish fishing as the No. 1 family-oriented outdoor sport in America. If you're someone who already takes your child fishing, you might be thinking "re-establish?"
But an outdoors website doesn't even include fishing with camping, hiking, walking, biking, canoeing, photography, and even "BBQing" as a popular family activity.
"Collaboration with other organizations and industry leaders, along with legislative changes, must occur, but teaching a family how to fish together independently is the first necessary step," Wilson said. "America will return to fishing and spending time outdoors together if their first experience is positive, educational, and memorable.
"Fishing's Future is fishing's future."
(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)