Fishing program teaches youth confidence and life skills

Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS
Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

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Fisheries biologist Catherine Gatenby writes about her visit with students at a fishing derby.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I was fortunate to witness this simple, yet profound proverb at an annual Youth Fishing Derby held at the Northeast Fishery Center in Lamar, Pennsylvania, with help from the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The eager anglers were children who require a little extra help with daily routines, including, school, moving around, getting outdoors and sometimes communicating with others. What they don’t require, however, is extra help having fun, enjoying the outdoors, and being inspired by nature. These spirited children unknowingly taught me about the joy of fishing, the joy of being in a community supporting each other, and the joy of being an educator witnessing ah-ha moments and happiness. I saw everything from hugs and high-fives to netting fish out of the pond and helping each other hold the fishing pole while reeling in the big catch.

It takes a team, as Kaleb nets Kenny's fish. Credit:

It takes a team, as Kaleb nets Kenny’s fish. Credit:
Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

I asked one little girl, who was patiently watching her bobber and fishing line, what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A biologist,” she replied. Encouragingly, I told her she seems to have what it takes because biologists spend lots of time observing nature, waiting for fish and other wildlife to reveal themselves. “I can wait,” she said, which nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Kenny, Zoe and Kaleb show off their catch. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

Kenny, Zoe and Kaleb show off their catch. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

I asked a little boy named Kaleb if he was enjoying the day and what he thought about fishing. He smiled and proudly said, “fresh, healthy waters.” He continued to tell me that “fishing was a great time, being outdoors, the sun is out, it’s almost summer.” The derby was his favorite part of the day. And his wish for all kids around the world was “ a big batch of fish.”

All these children attend public schools and participate in a life skills support program. The program helps build confidence, knowledge and skills which will allow the children to enjoy independence as they grow. Learning how to fish, and visiting a federal fish hatchery research center, is part of their curriculum.

I asked one teacher from the Central Mountain High School – are kids more focused after spending time outdoors? He chuckled, “Well I’m not sure about being more focused – what I will say is that they are incredibly proud, they feel more empowered and show more confidence. They want more opportunities to explore outdoors. And when I see them outside of school with their parents, I see them behaving with more confidence, and I see parents feeling more at ease, giving their children more independence.”

I am grateful to these teachers, the children, the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Northeast Fishery Center, for reminding me that EVERYONE is a potential ambassador of conservation, and a potential partner in our mission to conserve and protect our natural resources. These children tell their stories to their parents, to their school administrators, and along the way to the outside community. We all benefit from conversations on conserving healthy fish and healthy waters. And as Kaleb suggested, maybe even enjoy a grilled trout once in a while.

One Comment on “Fishing program teaches youth confidence and life skills

  1. Pingback: Fisheries conservation begins with having fun and learning! | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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