By John Bradley, NDWF Executive Director
Hunters and anglers are active and engaged outdoors people and spending time outside is why many of us live in North Dakota. Whether you like to hunt, fish, camp, hike, or any one of hundreds of other available outdoor opportunities, we know how to get it done. Our outdoor skills weren’t something that we were born with though, each of us had a mentor to show us the ropes and help us get to where we are today.
I grew up in a medium sized town in Minnesota, but my grandparents lived on a lake “up north.” Every trip there provided me with ample opportunities to hunt, fish and camp. The lake had plenty of crappies to catch. The woods were teeming with deer, turkeys and squirrels. The fall was spent in a deer stand with my dad or trying to put a sneak on wood ducks on the lake. In the winter I would walk through the woods with my grandpa’s Browning .22 looking for squirrels and rabbits. In the spring I shore fished, filling a five-gallon bucket with hungry crappies. When the weather wouldn’t cooperate, you could find me on my Grandparents’ couch reading the old Fur Fish & Game magazines cover to cover. It wasn’t all fun, I spent my fair share of time working up there – pulling logs from the woods and splitting firewood, but for someone that spent most of his time in a town, the lake up north was paradise. It wasn’t until I grew older that I really thought about the amount of instruction I had received in outdoor skills from my dad, uncles, and grandfather. Without them as mentors, I wouldn’t be able to read sign left by game, know how to process a deer and filet a fish, or determine where to hang a deer stand. I spent hours in those woods with my dad and uncles learning the outdoor skills I never would have picked up on my own.
Although I don’t get back to the lake as often as I would like, I’ve tried to pass my love for the outdoors on to my younger cousins and anyone else that is interested when I’m up there. Anyone that goes to the lake has an open invitation to fish and will probably reap the rewards during the fish fry. I’ve taken friends who have never touched a fishing pole out. I’ve had little cousins willing to wake up at 6 o’clock and go out fishing before breakfast. Regardless of age or experience, I’ve tried to get them excited about spending time on the waters.
When taking anyone new fishing, especially kids, the primary goal should be to keep them from getting bored. The best way to accomplish this is to consistently catch fish. Keep it simple and fish for an abundant species. Ponds and small lakes that are full of bluegills, crappies, and bass are always a great bet. My grandparent’s lake is perfect for this, plenty of panfish to keep the rod tip bending. Don’t be discouraged if they want to check their phones or taking pictures of themselves fishing on Snapchat. If they enjoy what they are doing and want to show their friends, count it as a win!
Beginners are going to tangle lines and screw up poles. Your job is to keep them fishing. Having multiple rods rigged and ready to go helps. When you’re taking more than one kid fishing at a time, you might have to give up on the idea of fishing yourself. Focus on helping them and being ready for the next tangle. At the end of the day, if they had fun, you won’t mind that your livewell or bucket is short of a limit.
As hunters and anglers, we owe it to the next generation to pass on our love for the outdoors, as well as teaching good stewardship and wise use of our resources. We should be actively looking for mentoring opportunities, not only within our own families, but for others who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy the outdoors. With young people increasingly insulated from nature, absorbed in screens and video games, it is more important than ever to give up some of our time afield to take someone under our wing and show them the wonder that is all around us. It may mean we have to give up a day of fishing or hunting alone , but if we don’t get involved and bring up the next generation to respect nature and our environment, there will be no one to speak for the future of our natural resources and the rich outdoor heritage we enjoy.
If you’re concerned about taking on the task of being a mentor yourself, there are plenty of resources available to help. Scheels has several events each year that give kids a chance to catch their first fish or learn an outdoor skill. The ND Game & Fish Department has workshops throughout the state to help novice outdoors people learn new skills. You can find more information about dates and times at their respective websites. Spring is almost here. Be sure to get outside – and take someone!
John Bradley is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and a Dakota Edge Outdoors Contributing Writer.
Featured Photo: Spring Smiles. The warming days of spring provide a chance for experienced individuals to share the joys of fishing with new anglers. Simonson Photo.