The approach of National Fishing Week and the second Alberta Free Fishing Weekend of the year always gets me mulling the meaning of such events and generally ends in a further evolution of my attitude to them.
This year National Fishing Week (motto: “Catch Fishing”) is July 4-12 and, to coincide with it, the second provincial licence-free Fishing Weekend of the year is July 11 – 12.
At first I regarded blandishments to get people — particularly kids — to go fishing as totally irrelevant. Back when and where I was a kid, if you wanted to fish, you went, on your bike, and whether or not either dad or mom was interested.
As it happened, my early fishing triumphs re-kindled my dad’s interest and lured him out of the office to take us fishing at least once a week in season.
But times have rolled over us and, as parents and kids started wasting their time on trivial pursuits, mainly sitting in front of too-many of those ubiquitous screens that peddle the virtual while screening us all from the real — the natural — world, angler numbers in Alberta, as elsewhere, went into steep decline.
Gradually my attitude changed and I started to regard it important that families do something real together. In some jurisdictions the sell that I could never fully buy into was the “Get hooked on fishing, not … (street drugs, video games, whatever).”
All those are important, but my most recent attitude adjustment has led me to what I believe to be the number one reason why we must encourage people to go fishing.
What first started me on this new view was a book, fittingly touted by my son who started fishing with me when he was four, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv.
Coincidentally, in a previous book, Fly-Fishing for Sharks, Louv gives a page and a half to one of my books, The Phenological Fly, to illustrate and support a point he was making that many anglers eventually become totally connected to how all things are connected in the natural world in and around their beloved rivers, lake and streams.
Then, recently, an obviously very thoughtful reader who seemed to be missing something in his life, asked me how I ever learned some of the things I had been writing about in recent columns: how the weather accelerates or slows the progression of natural events in the angler’s world, the sequence of aquatic insect hatches on which the trout feed, and how the blooming of certain wildflowers can predict the appearance of certain of those insects.
Well, my father believed and taught me that if you try to understand and look after the land, it will look after you and applied that principle to everything he loved most, fishing and hunting, yes, but also gardening. Connections?
You went fishing for walleye when the cottonwood fluff was flying, and for goldeye when the wild roses were blooming; you did not plant certain vegetables until the lilacs bloomed. This is lore, connections, learned from Nature herself.
Mother neither hunted, fished, nor gardened much, but she loved and could perform miracles with the harvests of all of them.
She was a gifted amateur entomologist and left me her interest in the butterflies and moths of Alberta. She was years ahead of times, having assisted in pioneering dinosaur “digs” in what would later become Dinosaur Provincial Park and a World Heritage Site.
So, given all that, I have since slaved away outdoors as much as possible, fishing, hunting, hiking, foraging for the wild gifts of the gods and just poking around.
After more than 60 years of that, it is still a rare day when I don’t learn something new; make new connections about the postage stamp portion of Earth I think I know so well.
It is always a pleasure to fish with beginners, particularly kids.
Sometimes, even when the fishing has been good, kids will want to wander around, just looking at things, asking questions.
Such frivolity infuriated some dads I have known, but I love it and have always tried to join in: you never know when, or from whom you might learn something new. One wise wag has written that the least important thing about fishing is catching fish.
The concern of Richard Louv and many others is that one of the more serious threats we face is the loss of any real connection of people with the natural world that nurtures and sustains them. Nothing so painlessly nurtures and sustains the making of those crucial connections quite like fishing and that is why, I now believe, that getting people to “Catch Fishing,” is so critical.
Another wag wrote “A man should believe in something; I believe I’ll go fishing.” I’ll just do that during National Fishing Week and Free Fishing Weekend and, with any kind of luck, I’ll have a beginner, particularly a kid, with me.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.