For the past two weeks, I’ve been instructing a course on fly tying and lure making combined with a Fishing 102 of sorts for area youth age 12 to 15 which introduced them to light tackle fishing and the basics of the fly rod. After seeing the world that this generation has grown up in (and I know I’m starting to sound old) with cell phones, Xboxes, and a multitude of other distractions, I had my concerns that it would be tough to hold their attention. After all, sometimes it takes me, with my short attention span, an entire winter just to decide what lures to make in April. But it wasn’t hard to get them hooked, and the time with them had me feeling good about the future of angling and the next generation of conservation.
After a brief introduction to the tools and techniques, the eight students were cranking out flies as if they had been tying them for years. Though the patterns were basic, the kids were quick to adapt them, try new materials, add in components and make the flies their own. By the end of the night, there were several that I would have proudly tied on the end of my line for trout or panfish.
The second night of the class consisted of basic dry flies and the woolly bugger. When I used the term “ubiquitous” to describe that favorite streamer in many fly boxes, I was amazed when one student responded – “you mean it’s everywhere, and everyone has it?”
Apparently, this generation’s English classes are still conducting Friday vocabulary quizzes like mine did. Soon, the streamer was omnipresent on the vises in the class and the kids began to amass quite an arsenal of flies.
Our first fishing day last Saturday was cut short by winds gusting up to 45 miles per hour. But the group, who had little experience with connections, had all wrapped up their improved clinch knots and were casting against the gales within moments of my example knot. Despite the conditions facing them, the group of youngsters had the patience of Job and learned how slip floats worked, how to position split shot and how to bait a hook and jig with both night crawlers and minnows. Long after I thought they would tire, especially due to the weather, the last of the group headed out, with everyone landing at least one panfish from the farm pond.
This week was an intro to standard lure making, and between the eight in attendance, an entire tackle box could have been filled. The class wrapped up trout, walleye and crappie jigs on the first night. Covering their desks with a flurry of flashabou, chenille, hair and other materials, the kids created a selection of jigs for all three species.
Finally, the group assembled spinners to get them set for the big trout opener this weekend. I could almost feel the trembling of three thousand brown trout that were stocked in the nearby state park as the commercial-quality lures came off the vises in the community room at the Senior Center. The kids talked excitedly of the weekend to come and who would catch the first and the biggest fish on Saturday.
The opener dawned much differently than the previous fishing day. The sky was clear, the wind was calm and a warmth filled the river valley of the state park just down the highway from town. One by one the anglers showed up, escorted by their parents and other family members. As I doled out the rods our local Pheasants Forever group had purchased with recent grant money, I instructed the students to just watch the river, and they’d get a good idea where the fish were.
“There’s one,” one student shouted from the bridge spanning the river, as a fish rose about fifty yards upstream.
“There’s another, and another” the chorus continued.
Within moments the group was flinging spinners, casting jigs and unfolding fly lines over the clear and low running stream. As everyone settled in for the morning, the first “I’ve got one!” rung out from the riverbank.
The young angler beamed with pride as he hoisted the 13-inch trout up in his wet hands.
“I saw a couple of fish turn away as I was jigging it slow, so I started reeling and moving it faster,” he stated, “that’s when this guy bit,” he concluded.
By learning what the fish were looking for, he converted several of his next casts into large and healthy specimens of the recent river stocking. As more and more participants hooked into their first trout ever, I smiled with a quiet confidence that members of the next generation were getting hooked on an experience that could remain with them for the rest of their lives.
At the end of the event, seven of the eight young anglers had landed fish, and six of the eight had caught trout on lures they had designed. They laughed and marveled and shared in each other’s success as fish came to hand, and buckled and sighed over-excitedly as fish turned away from their lures at just the last moment. It was exciting to watch - not just for the fast fishing - but more so for the fact that this class and this outing had restored my hope that the next generation will provide us with another round of conservationists and sportsmen. And they will be the ones who will continue to care for and preserve the knowledge and the opportunities for years to come…in our outdoors.