“The Compleat Angler” Pays a Visit to the Library

by Bill Peak

My parents used to love to tell the story of the first time they ever took me fishing. For so small a novice, they decided a simple farm pond would be best. But even a simple farm pond can produce bluegill that on lightweight tackle feel and fight like a trout, so my father brought his fly rod along for the trip. Though I was probably only about five, I can still remember the thrill I felt when my parents turned our old Chevy off the road, opened a gate, pulled out onto the margins of a field, stopped, walked back, closed the gate, and then—wonder of wonders!—drove straight out across that field as if it were the most natural thing in the world, last year's grasses and weeds brushing loudly against the undercarriage of our car.

At the pond, Mom and Dad found a part of the bank unmuddied by cattle, parked and unpacked our gear. Before setting up to fish himself, my father handed me a cane pole, baited my hook for me, flung hook, weight, and bobber out into the water, and told me to pull the whole rig in should the float suddenly disappear. Then he turned to the more serious business of selecting a fly (when it came to bluegills, my father had, as I recall, a special reverence for small popper flies). But before he could even open his tackle box, I jerked in a fish.

Dad smiled, caught hold of the tiny bluegill dangling from the end of my pole, extricated hook from mouth, held the fish up for both of us to admire, returned it to the water, rebaited my hook, helped me place my rig back in the water, and then turned once more to his tackle box. And, once more, before he could even touch the thing, I pulled in another fish.

Well, you can see where this is going. As luck would have it, we had set up directly over an enormous school of bluegill, and events now proceeded at their own comic pace. Each time Dad set about preparing to fish himself, I pulled another fish from the water, and each time (patience personified when it came to children) my father dropped what he was doing and helped me handle my latest catch. After a while, even someone as young as I couldn't help noticing what was going on. I looked up at my father, down at the fly rod lying unused on the bank beside him, back up at Dad, and then—with all the gravity of a five-year-old seriously worried about one of his parents' mental health—asked, “What's wrong, Daddy, don't you like to fish?”

That my father loved to fish should never be doubted. Thanks to him, I came to love it too ... and, in the process, came to love the out-of-doors and all the rewards that come to those who know how to appreciate a quiet, apparently uneventful day spent looking out over a body of water sparkling in the sun. According to Richard Louv's “the Last Child in the Woods,” computer games, the media's obsession with tick and mosquito-borne disease, and a civic culture that unwittingly sets barriers between children and the out-of-doors have conspired to produce a generation of young people dangerously alienated from the natural world. Which should concern us. Research shows that children who spend time in natural settings engage in more imaginative, thoughtful play, while those that don't are prone to a host of social and physical ills, including, notably, ADHD.

The library is one place where we can fight back against what Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder.” There are stories here that celebrate the out-of-doors, there is Ted Suman's Living Critters display, there is the children's garden. The library itself is a sort of natural setting that encourages children to pick and choose what to play with, what to read, what to explore. And this summer there is fishing too! On Wednesday morning, July 27, I will join two specialists from the Department of Natural Resources to take a group of children fishing at the Bay Street Ponds. We'll supply the cane poles, fishing hooks, and worms; the children will supply the wonder. So if you know of someone 8 - 15 years of age who would like to learn how to fish, please sign her or him up at the library. Space is limited so sign up early. I expect to have a lot of fun on July 27 ... but I doubt I'll do much fishing.