National Hunting and Fishing Day: Creating a memory, honoring a legacy

Jennifer Stone is a fisheries biologist with the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. In honor of National Hunting and Fishing Day, she shares with us her nostalgic childhood experiences of fishing with her dad that eventually shaped her passion and desire to pursue a career in natural resource conservation.

Fish biologist work with many aquatic species, including American shad. Photo credit: USFWS

Fish biologist work with many aquatic species, including American shad. Photo credit: USFWS

One of the most common questions we are asked as adults is “so, what do you do?”  This question pops up in the most innocuous of settings– at the dog park, a neighborhood picnic, or the quarterly PTA meeting. Inevitably, my answer to this question, “I am a fisheries biologist”, leads to more questions, the most common being, “How did you get into that line of work?”

It took me until my early 30s before I could answer this second question with purposeful meaning.  I guess it took me that long to shake off the years of education, the surprise in actually finding a job, and the day-to-day amazement that someone pays me to do what I love.  When we are young, we spend so much time focused on the road ahead of us, that it is easy to lose sight of why we are on the road in the first place.

The fishing pier is a great place for families to spend time together enjoying the outdoors. Photo Credit: Ross K. Kessler, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

A fishing pier is a great place for families to spend time together enjoying the outdoors. Photo Credit: Ross K. Kessler, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

Now when I answer this question, it takes me back to when I was 8 years old living in Chesapeake, Virginia.  Our neighborhood community had a small lake with a public fishing pier.  In the summer, when the heat gave up its hold on the day, my father and I would ride our bikes to the pier and cast our bobbers into the water.  It was here, on the stillness of the lake that I developed an appreciation for nature. 

I can’t remember what we talked about, if anything.  I can’t remember what we caught, usually something.  What I do remember is that these were the times when I had my dad’s full attention as a child, my brother and I weren’t chasing each other, the TV wasn’t on, the pages of the newspaper weren’t turning. I learned how to spend time with someone without having to fill the silence with words.

A happy angler showing off her catch from the pier on Martha's Vineyard. Photo credit: Ross K. Kessler, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

A happy angler showing off her catch from the pier on Martha’s Vineyard. Photo credit: Ross K. Kessler, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

The memories of these evenings on the lake are carved into me. They not only shaped the relationship that I have with my father, they planted a seed that grew into a passion that became the foundation of a life-long career in fisheries.  So today, when I am asked the question, “so, what do you do?”, those are the moments to which I return.

Saturday, September 26 is National Hunting and Fishing Day, a day when we celebrate our legacy of environmental conservation and renew the spirit of stewardship that preserves our natural heritage for future generations.  I encourage others to celebrate this day by spending it with a child at a public fishing access site that is close to your neighborhood.  If you don’t know how to fish, I guarantee that the men and women you will run into that day will be more than happy to provide a helping hand.  If you don’t know where to find a place, the Take Me Fishing Website will help.  

Funding from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program helped build this public use fishing pier on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Funding from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program helped build this public use fishing pier on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

One of my favorite fishing access sites is off Oak Bluffs Fishing Pier on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  The pier officially opened in June 2014 and is devoted exclusively to fishing. Developed in partnership with the Service, state, and  town, the pier provides access to people of all ages and abilities. 

I am particularly fond of this pier because it’s one that the Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Program helped fund. Money from the sale of saltwater fishing licenses and taxes on fishing equipment was used to build the pier. It’s an iconic example of a “user pay-user benefit” facility.

After attending the ribbon cutting ceremony I texted a photo of the newly built pier to my dad with the message “look what I helped build :-).”

Young angers enjoy a day of fishing on the shore. Photo credit: USFWS

Young anglers enjoy a day of fishing on the shore. Photo credit: USFWS

So this year, and in years to come, celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day by creating a wonderful memory with a child.  You never know, it may be this moment in time that they choose to reflect upon 30 years later when they are asked “so, what do you do?”

Visit National Hunting and Fishing Day on Facebook

Learn more about the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program

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