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?
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.)