I became “At Risk” myself at the age of 14. Moving from one group home to the next, I learned a great deal from the experience. Not sheltered by the foundation offered by a “wholesome” (for lack of a better term) upbringing, WE (these kids and I) were thrust into the real world forcibly to figure it out. Whether or not the reason for the push was of our own making with our behavior or due to factors beyond our control – one thing remains: the lessons learned by taking the road less traveled is going to be the norm.
Some time back, a friend through the Facebook Page got in touch and asked if I would be willing to come to teach fly fishing at Marshall High. I didn’t hesitate. For me, this was a no-brainer for the BCC or Trout Unlimited. This is our opportunity to message youth in a way that can provide a profound impact – period.
It so happens that Scott over at Fly and Field Outfitters donated a mess of rods and reels to the school a few years back, and they had been collecting dust in a cargo container. Classes were broken into the 2 P.E. classes each morning and varied in attendance from 10 to about 16+. By the end of Friday, we had about 20+ kids out on the water. Tye Krueger over at Confluence Fly Shop helped us get these prepped for the kids with leader and flies. An Orvis rod did get broken off the 6 they let us borrow, SORRY TYE!!!! Our group purchasing annual licenses for about 17 kids in total.
We decided to simplify the program and get down to the nitty-gritty with these kids. Do some simple Fly Fishing 101 around technique and aspects of handling the fly rod. We only had a short week (Tuesday through Friday) due to the Memorial Day holiday. The kids worked out for the first 3 days with fundamental pick-up and lay down the line, overhead and false casting, and even roll casting technique. Friday was going to be the day we took them to the water.
Teaching, and in some cases re-teaching, the fundamentals of knots and casting technique – these “At Risk” kids apparently started asking questions and seeking more information. I did not realize they would do this. I figured, “Meh, if I can just reach ONE of these kids and get them stoked on fly fishing while providing a means to teach the conservation ethic – I win.” I wasn’t prepared to learn that many were plugging away on computers learning about bugs and visiting shops to get licenses and supplies independently after I left.
Each day we practiced, they got better at casting. I doubt I could have handled this task on my own. The school instructor Kurt, along with Kim Brannock and Caleb Rieder, helped a ton each day they could be there. Thanks for your incredible efforts, you too – seriously. I feel blessed knowing that this group has attracted volunteers such as you, especially to the school instructor: Kurt Taylor.
Did anyone catch fish? Nope. Did they care? Nope. Why? Because it got them out of school for a couple of hours – DUH! Did they see fish and get pissed when they couldn’t catch them? You bet your ass they did. Did they perfect the casting technique? Some of them got a WHOLE LOT BETTER once they had the line on the water. How many knots did you have to re-do, undo, or otherwise replace? Not as many as I figured. How many flies did you go through? Again, not as many as I figured. Enough of the Q&A – back to the story…
The opportunity to be involved in these kids is the story. What makes this slight effort to interact with these kids important? More often than not, all they need is some of your time. Spend the time to get to know them and offer them an escape from their lives. What better way than providing them an opportunity to pick up a skill and learn some valuable life lessons too?
Are lessons other than casting and hopefully catching fish? How about rejection, concentration, problem-solving, dedication, and of course, patience. Who needs more help to learn these things than teenagers? C’mon, I dare you to comment at the end of this article with some suggestions on this – because I need new material for next year!!! The conservation ethic of catch and release, fundamental “Leave No Trace” message, and safety were also introduced and discussed.
Exhausted, frustrated, and even annoyed they may have gotten – it didn’t stop them from enjoying being outside and giving it a try. Courteous, respectful, and willing – I can’t thank those kids and the staff enough for that. I think I’ve reached a milestone personally because of this program. I want them to know that they caused this to happen and how grateful I am.
These are future innovators, business owners, leaders, and parents who will call Central Oregon their home. Their fire will burn bright no matter which path they take. I wish the escape/distraction I provided has brought them closer to this place they may eventually grow out of. If they stick with fly fishing, the lessons learned will influence them forever. Years from now, seeing them in a life where those lessons were used to make their lives better, that’s the “perfect cast” I would want to see.