Best strategy: Teach kids to fish
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 03:36

This week, 200 professional anglers come to the Detroit area to compete for $2.5 million in prizes in the Wal-Mart FLW Chevy Open Bass Tournament, with $150,000 going to the top pro.

It will be hyped like mad on radio, TV and in the newspapers; it will sell some bass tackle for the local outdoors shops; it may sell a few bass boats, and a week after it's over not one person in 1,000 in southeastern Michigan will be able to name the winner.

Later this month in Traverse City, 100 high school physical-education teachers will gather to learn how to teach kids about fishing, kayaking and canoeing as part of their daily classes.

The program is called Physh Ed, and the host will be the Project Fish program that Mark Stephens runs through Michigan State University.

It's a great program put on by people who actually care about the future of recreational angling and not just immediately narrow concerns about where they can catch a trout, bass or walleye, or commercializing sport fishing.

Next to no one will know that it's going on, it may or may not make TV even in the small local market, but its influence on fishing will be far greater than that professional bass tournament.

We outdoors people often bemoan the fact that kids aren't becoming anglers and hunters like we did. And it behooves us all to encourage the sale of those licenses, because the money that pays for them is what funds most of the fisheries and wildlife programs that we think are important (and admittedly some we don't).

And while we can do something as individuals to teach outdoors activities to children in our families or neighborhoods, a big problem is that many kids don't have anyone around to teach them.

That's where programs like Physh Ed, run by the Future Fisherman Foundation of Alexandria, Va., can have an enormous influence. If you teach one high school physical-education instructor to teach fishing and kayaking, he or she can be the surrogate Outdoors Uncle who spreads that knowledge, and, it is hoped, the love of the activities, to hundreds or even thousands of kids during his or her career.

I don't think the outdoors industry is doing anywhere near enough to help.

Some years ago at the S.H.O.T. show, the national exposition for the hunting industry, a public relations guy couldn't wait to drag reporters off to see his firm's latest advertising effort to win customers for its hunting and fishing gear.

It turned out to be a race car from a NASCAR team that the firm was sponsoring for several million dollars, and the PR guy was indignant when a number of the writers said they thought that this was a dumb idea.

The company figured that the people who follow NASCAR also are the kind of people who hunt and fish. But the company's real problem is that the number of hunters and anglers is decreasing, largely because we aren't creating opportunities for people to enter the sports.

The company sponsoring the race car was one of several competing for a share of a steadily shrinking pie. And while it might not be as sexy as a NASCAR team, all of those companies would be better off in the long run putting their money into things like Project Fish to help their long-term survival.

Stephens has done a yeoman job with Project Fish at MSU, sponsoring several clinics for kids and educators each year and encouraging schools to get involved in outdoors activities.

But he has to spend a lot of time raising money for the project, much of it from federal grants that are getting harder and harder to come by.

"What we need is a sugar daddy," Stephens said, jokingly, "someone to give us $1 million so we don't have to worry about where the money for the next program is coming from."

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