Casting for memories

In honor of Father’s Day, we asked four-time father and retired Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager Don Hultman to reflect on what fishing has meant to him and his kids. His response may motivate you to grab a pole.

June is known for many things: the beginning of summer, the end of school, Father’s Day, and often, good fishing. As Father’s Day approaches, my thoughts turn naturally to my kids, and my father. My dad taught me to fish at a young age. From his teaching, I developed a skill that turned into a passion that I’ve shared with my own children.

The oft-heard quote “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” is certainly true in my case. Of course, I don’t catch or keep enough fish for my daily bread, but fishing feeds my spirit to this day. It also helps me remember the valuable life-skills of patience, perseverance, and humility.

I have passed on my angling knowledge and passion to my children. My first clutch is long-fledged at ages 37, 35, and 33. I was blessed with another child who will turn 9 this summer. Their ages and circumstances could not be more different, yet over time and distance they share a common bond: they have all fished, and learned to fish, with me, their dad.

I took my kids fishing when they were barely able to walk. Sometimes they were engaged in fishing; sometimes they got bored; and sometimes they were just happy to play with ropes over the side of the boat or minnows in the bucket. But we were together, and we were making memories and creating family stories.

Fishing involves what psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement,” which is perhaps the strongest type of motivation. Intermittent reinforcement means that the rewards of some repeated activity happen in a random, irregular way.

One day when fishing you may catch many keepers or a trophy fish. Then you may fish for days without repeating the experience. The reward is thus intermittent. It is one reason (although not often admitted) why anglers angle, hunters hunt, and gamblers gamble.

Of course there are many other “rewards” from fishing or other outdoor activities that are quite regular in nature: fresh air, beautiful scenery, mental and physical challenges, wildlife seen and heard, and the camaraderie of family or friends. I can depend on enjoying one or more of these every trip, and they are motivation enough to get outside.

With my father and my children, I caught lots of fish at times, and sometimes none at all. Each experience was different, and most have been forgotten under the layers of life and time. But there were those other times, the “ooh, I got one” moments, when the rare and unusual made for memories that last across generations.

When my family gathers, we enjoy sharing stories, those invisible threads that weave the fabric of family. And often, fishing and other outdoor adventures form the basis for those stories. We remember, we smile, we laugh, and we bond anew.

It is June again. Go fishing or do something else outdoors with your kids, your father, a loved one, or yourself. You just never know what will happen, and what memory you will catch.

To learn about fishing opportunities in your state, visit www.fws.gov/fishing.

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