It comes as a surprise that I grew up in a family that only fished on a couple of holidays and didn’t hunt.
I can trace my keen interest in angling to my grandfathers and to having my nose in books and magazines about the topic. I did predate mainstream internet for all but the last few of my formative years so it was not so easy as using Google to find an angling topic or technique, spending hours reading or watching YouTube fishing shows on autoplay.
Dad had a tackle box and fished on occasion, but it wasn’t as if there was much time for it, growing up on a hog and dairy farm. It didn’t take long, and I was the one baiting hooks, tying knots, choosing fishing spots, running dad’s six-horse Johnson outboard motor and cleaning fish.
With no one to teach me but experience, and my best efforts to apply information I’d gleaned in books and magazines, I made plenty of mistakes. There was no fast track of learning for me. Today, I can recognize what an exception I am to the general rule of the angling class – most learn their hobby handed down from friends and family and without those experiences, do not get into the sport.
My personal observation in my story and others like me? The “want to” remains the most important ingredient in creating hunters and anglers.
The other sport that captivated me as a child was basketball. I loved going out to the garage, dribbling and shooting my basketball. I’d create imaginary games playing for both sides with running scores; I had to pump fake, jab step, hesitate, and never shoot the same shot twice and see if I could keep it a close, back-and-forth game.
There was plenty of time to take off-balance shots, dribble with my weak hand and make long shots, tough shots, soemtimes while falling out of bounds. Most coaches would say those weren’t good shots to practice, but what I was doing was making myself a better player by taking a variety of shots from all over the court and using both hands to develop the all-important basketball ambidexterity, helping me score around the basket.
Fishing is very similar when you are a kid. You don’t have the best gear and you don’t always know how to fish it, so you experiment. I didn’t use a flasher while ice fishing until I was nearly out of college. That meant a lot of days of fishing a wax worm on a jig under a bobber, six inches off the bottom.
I’d sit in the fish house with my grandfather and dance my jig every few minutes, hoping something would swim over to take a bite. I got pretty good at feeling bites through the line whenever I’d see the bobber quiver. Those skills of detection and finesse fishing translate to other techniques, like Lindy rigging, line watching for bites, or learning what jigging style works the best.
I spent a lot of chore money on lures that I didn’t learn to fish properly until I was much older. I put split shots and gumball jigs on steel leaders. I trolled spoons and crankbaits through snagging rockpiles and shed tears losing tackle. I made plenty of mistakes.
All too often, whether in fishing or in life, we react negatively to mistakes when they are the cues we need to find a path to success. It’s much easier for me to say it now than it was for me to fish long and hard to no effect as a youth.
I vividly remember catching my first largemouth bass. My grandfather’s dock on Long Lake on the Horseshoe Chain by Richmond, Minn., was on the end of a row of docks next to a bay socked with cattails and windblown slop. If you were old enough, grandpa would take the pontoon out and you could cast lures for 20 or 30 minutes. I wasn’t old enough, so I was confined to the dock.
I cast a fluorescent orange original Rapala over and over again, each retrieve bringing a tangle of coontail or other vegetation. But on one of those fateful casts, the lure ran true long enough to fool a large bucketmouth, and that persistence paid off. The “want to” won out.
That bass was on display for all the neighbors in a green plastic garbage can filled with water before it became a Sunday morning breakfast. Today, I could think of several lures and techniques much better suited to a sloppy bay, but the only way to learn is to pound away the ignorance with determination. Patience is built, cast by cast.
If you can catch fish without the best gear or always knowing what you’re doing, you’ll become much better when you put it all together.
Over time, anglers grow and develop, learn how to read water, read fish moods, choose the right presentations, and identify spots that hold fish. They understand the importance of balance in line, rod and lure, and aren’t trying to do things for which their gear is not well-suited.
All that time and repetition, whether you were doing it wrong or right, made you a better angler by hook or by crook.
I think about what I’m passing down to my children now. Will they know or appreciate the fast track they are on by bypassing some of the mistakes that some learn the hard way? Will they learn to love the sport if it comes too easily or can they show a level of interest necessary for personal growth? In short, will they have the “want to?”
The “want to” is the part we can all control in our own outdoor pursuits. Life these days may just be busier than it was for our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers. Make time to get outside and to wet a line. Keep your own “want to” sharpened and pass that love along to others.
That little kid down the street may have the “want to”, but needs a little help along the way.