Our Outdoors: First!

By Nick Simonson

While sitting in the waiting area of the dentist’s office last week, wistfully staring at the nice day setting up outside and dreading the usual scraping and poking to come, a quote flashed on the screen of the television on the wall.  Fittingly, it had been awhile since I had read it or one of the various versions of it floating around out there, but it remained thought-provoking nonetheless, even if it was Hoda and Kathy Lee that were debating its merits over their morning wine.

“When was the last time you had done something for the first time,” – John C. Maxwell.

The quote reminds us of the power of variety, of learning new things, and growing as a person, and nowhere is that more important than in the outdoors.  Each season brings with it a number of opportunities to try out something new, or to help others do the same. For me, the answer was easy, as the opportunity to expand my own angling horizons was recent, trying salmon trolling out for the first time just a few weeks ago.  This weekend, portended by the quote perhaps, I had the chance to provide another young person with his own “first” and expand his experiences.

Rylan, a six-year-old extended family member, was a bit reserved in the face of my family’s vocal yelling, splashing, playing and jumping in the warm late-summer conditions on the lakeshore and quietly set to his digging in the sand as my son AJ ran and jumped full throttle off the dock with such reckless abandon, I did thigh-burning water sprints on each reset to make sure I could be there to catch him. When we wrapped up our third set of swimming activities, I asked Rylan if he’d like to go fishing.

“I’ve never caught a fish before,” he replied, to which I did everything short of putting my hand under my chin to keep my jaw from dropping.

“Well, we’re going to take care of that right now,” I said, as I untangled my ultralight combo from my son’s Spider-Man rod and grabbed the foam box of nightcrawlers from the deck railing.

In endless summer fashion, still in our wet swim trunks, AJ, Rylan and I headed to the one place I knew a first fish would be waiting as it had for AJ two years ago, and for me some 38 seasons before – the end of the dock.  I pinched a chunk of crawler off and threaded it on the tiny pink jig and explained the button-bobber-bite process to Rylan, and within a moment of the click of the blue spincast combo and the splash of the orange-and-yellow slip float on the surface, a fish was on.

Rylan’s eyes lit up as the red rod bent toward the surface of the water and a huge bluegill began that circular spin that has enthralled so many young anglers in the early phases of their journey.  Reeling all the way up in that fashion that youngsters do – until the tip of the float lodged in the last eyelet and the drag began to whine – Rylan laughed and shouted as the chunky panfish flipped and flopped at the end of the line hanging over the dock.  From that point on, the quiet boy in the sand at the start of the dock became a non-stop font of shouts, cheers, advice and questions as bluegills big and small came to hand and went back into the water below us.  In all, between the two boys, 50 fish or more came up and went back down in just over half an hour, until the crawler supply began to run low and we finished out the last available worm which produced another five or six panfish for the duo.

It was one of the more exciting “first times” in the outdoors I had witnessed in a while as the quiet kid in front of me found an energy in each fish that broke the surface. With his reaction to every catch, I was was glad to have had the opportunity to help another young person find his way into the world of angling for the first time. Because it is a realm so far and wide reaching and has so many firsts awaiting, it couldn’t possibly be explained and has to be experienced; and it is made all the richer by those initial moments – fish caught and lost, species landed and bested – that happen to anglers young and old throughout their time spent…in our outdoors.

(Featured Photo: Rylan Caldwell, 6, of Moorhead, Minn. with his first bluegill. Simonson Photo.)

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