Much talk circulates nowadays about recruitment of young hunters and anglers to carry on our hallowed traditions, and I am learning firsthand that the most important factor in assuring that recruitment is you and me.
Nothing beats in-field or on-water experience with a dad or granddad, uncle – or mom, grandma, aunt – or trusted neighbor when it comes to firing interest and keeping that fire alive into adulthood. And while a healthy dose of common sense is crucial when it comes to how young an age such outdoors activities should be introduced, youngsters certainly need to be “on board” well before the distractions of teenage years.
Last fall, grandson Michael, 11, joined the Pollick Clan’s annual gun-deer camp in southeast Ohio. He was carefully tutored in the art and science of shooting by his father, son Andy, a national champion in his teen and college years. Then Michael successfully passed his hunter education course in North Carolina. His Dad took him to the range multiple times last summer and early fall, and by deer camp, Michael was ready. He did not get a shot at a deer, but behaved responsibly and properly at all times afield.
This summer I have taken my own advice during visits to our place at Froggy Bottom by all three grandkids who live in North Carolina. They already have been indoctrinated into fishing, and ask to go soon after arrival. Just watching them, laser-focused, as they angle for bass and bluegills on the edge of my neighbor’s pond, seals the deal. They are hooked.
Then, on a more recent stay by our eldest granddaughter, Clare Pollick, 13, I expanded the outdoors experience beyond fishing. I asked Clare if she wanted to go kayaking with me. Big eyes and an enthusiastic “yes!” were all that I needed to hook up my trailer of two boats and head for Aldrich Pond.
Aldrich is a wonderful, little-used 40-acre former borrow pit for building the Ohio Turnpike in the early 1950s. It is managed now by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and has a primitive mud-and-gravel launch site. It is mostly shallow, and often overgrown with aquatic vegetation by late summer, but lots of rain this spring and early summer has its level a good foot higher than normal. Perfect for kayaking with a granddaughter.
Clare loves fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. She has taken a week-long beginner’s course in whitewater kayaking, aimed at North Carolina’s swift mountain streams, and was taught canoeing and further kayaking lessons through her school. She was ready, and eager try one of my recreational/touring kayaks, sleek 13-1/2-foot Current Designs open-cockpit boats, called Kestrel 140s, which have a retractable rudder – great for paddling and navigating in wind and big water.
As soon as I adjusted the retractable rudder’s foot-pedals for Clare’s legs, I launched her. She took to it like a proverbial duck to water. Before I even had dragged my own boat to the launch, Clare was off paddling, and at last, patiently waiting for Grandpa, about 200 yards off the launch site. It was clear to me she was totally comfortable in a kayak.
We paddled casually for an hour or so, watching Canada geese, jumping and rolling fish (probably carp), exploring around two little islands, where I pointed out some unusual dawn redwood trees, and more. She took a pile of selfies and shots from her boat with her cellphone (which was in a waterproof case), and I snapped a few shots as well.
On the way home, Clare thanked me repeatedly for the experience, which, on reflection, further bonds her to the outdoors, water and watercraft, and fishing and nature-watching. Proof that Clare had a great time was evident when we arrived home: She could not wait to tell Grandma all about it.