“Teaching kids how to lie, hot spot, and load up stringers.”
It was the 2014 Pike View Kids Derby, and it was eight twenty in the morning. A buddy of mine had invited me to come along and participate in a kid’s derby being thrown at Pikeview, and despite the allure of sleep I felt I had to attend. I was on the better half of eleven years as an at-risk youth counselor, so I knew it would be a good chance to combine my love of teaching kids with fishing. Plus, I had drunk about a pot and a half of coffee, so I was pretty amped up for the task. When I arrived, however, I was sorely disappointed in what I found, or more so, the people I had not found. Despite sending a call out on the local fishing forum, there were only a handful of us who had shown up. It was a complete and utter letdown that still bugs me to this day. Up to this point I had always considered anglers to be a group of folks that were willing to sacrifice a little to give back a lot, and nobody had decided that this was important. Sure, tell a guy where you landed that nice bass or walleye, and you have thirty people in your spot at five in the morning. Tell some folks to come out and help some kids how to fish, and you get six people in attendance. Although upset, I had to focus on the task at hand and help some of these kiddos have a good day.
We all stood around a bit deciding on where to start, than we were off. Some kids were on one of the fishing docks, so I decided to head on over. As I walked over I was astonished at how many kids were actually in attendance. There must have been close to seventy or eighty kids here, all armed with push-button reels, red and white bobbers, and worms. On the dock there were about seven kiddos, all awkwardly slinging bait off the dock. It was like navigating some trap from Indiana Jones. One mother was helping her kid, while trying to politely inform another to watch where they were casting.
“Ok …ok that was good, but the hook came really close to my face, bud!”
Not knowing how to be the approachable stranger, I yelled out, “So who needs help catching some fish?” in my best kindergarten teacher voice.
A little boy shot his hand in the air. “Can you help me untie this?” He held up a very respectful and impressive bird’s nest of line, and I went about clearing it for him. I looked up and saw a little ginger kid, who I instantly identified as the tournament loud mouth. “You won’t catch any fish, not like I am going to catch fish today, that is for sure.” On each side stood one of his buddies, as he rudely addressed another little boy. My inner youth counselor kicked into action, telling the little boy to take a hike if he was going to be mean. I looked down and saw that the kiddo he was mocking was starting to tear up; looking down at the ground like the defeated little man he was. I realized that this was the reason I was out here.
“Hey kid, you want to have your own personal fishing guide for the day?”
He nodded yes, so I asked him his name.
“Well, Hector, my name is Buck, and I just happen to be a pretty good fishing guy. Let’s go catch some fish, man!”
He again nodded yes, and tried to hide a grin. It was set in stone, and it was time to nail ‘em. I looked over his gear and realized that we were doin’ this wrong. Not a person had caught hardly anything since the start, and everybody was floatin’ worms at the top. I took my backpack off and dug around in my bag, pulling out and setting up a lindy rig for the kid. He watched as I tied it on, not saying anything. I asked Hector where he wanted to start at and he shrugged his shoulders.
“I GOT ONE! I GOT ONE!” yelled a kid by the concrete embankment.
“Well, Hector, we are going over there and crashing a party.” As we walked around the water’s edge, I realized that I had just taught Hector the art of hot-spotting. I started to debate the ethics of such a thing in my head. Should I show the kid how to find his own water? I decided no, and that Hector was all of about six. It wasn't a morning to get into any catch and release debates or talk of “crimping down barbs”; it was a morning to show a kid some fishin’ fun. We arrived only to find that the kid that had just caught one was the same kid that was picking on my new buddy. I then began showing him how to cast, which in turn left a little to be desired, but it wasn't that bad for his first time. I asked him if it was in fact his first time and he said no, that his dad had taken him “once”. He had this glazed look in his eye like he was trying to recapture the memory, and I realized that Hector probably didn't have a dad in his life right now. I changed the subject fast, and started to help some other kiddos rig up. I heard a bell ringing, and looking over, saw that Hector’s rod was bent over. I looked over at Hector to tell him he had a fish, and I didn't need to. His eyes were cartoonishly large, with an expression of half shock and half excitement, probably not too different than the first time I had caught a fish. “Hector get, get it, it’s a fish!” He slowly walked up to the rod as if he expected a shark to surge outta the water. Hector began to fight the fish, but was pointing the rod tip at the water. “You gotta set the hook buddy; yank back.” And he did, like a champ. I walked Hector along and through the motions, as other kids arrived to see what ol’ Hector was pullin’ up. I reached down and netted a thirteen inch rainbow, giving Hector a high five. The derby official showed up, but as she did Hector calmly put his trout back in the water. I lowered my head in defeat as she walked up, laughing.
“It’s ok, I saw it; how big was it, Hector?” He held his hands out to about a foot, being as honest and professional as any up and coming angler. “Ok buddy, good job; I will put it down as twelve inches.”
“Wait, what are yeah doin’- you should have lied Hector; that was a fifty pound rainbow if I ever saw one.” Hector let out a smile as I realized I had taught him lesson number two: lying.
“Sir, do you think you can help me catch a fish?”
I turned around only to find a little girl standing in front of me. She was about nine and looked sassy as all get out in her fancy purple jacket. “Well, sure thing little lady,” as I set her rig up with a lindy rig. She started to look around in my tackle box, holding up a Dare Devel. “What’s this?”
“Well, that is a spoon, and a good one at that.”
“Can I have it?”
“Well, yeah sure, if yeah want.” All of a sudden, a whole torrent of kiddos started to arrive and look through my gear and taking stuff out. One after another, children started to hold up HD Trout’s, Kastmasters, Little Cleos, and Rapalas. In the mayhem I looked to my side to see some chubby kid walkin’ away with about twenty Gulp eggs in his hands, spilling them on the shore as he walked. As much as I didn't like seeing money float away, I didn't have the heart to tell ‘em no. Then again, Hector hooked into another trout, except this time he went about it like a real champ. He did exactly what I had shown him and without any direction from myself. He reeled in while dropping the rod, and then pulled back up to get the fish closer. He had this confidence in his eyes now, and I smiled as I netted his second trout.
“Is that a good one?”
“Heck yeah, Hector, that’s thirteen easy; you’re the man!!”
He again shot a smile, but it was bigger; he was really enjoying this, and part of me wondered if fishing was something that was naturally in his blood, as it is with many of us. The boy who had taunted him earlier arrived, looking astonished that Hector had caught a fish. ‘Yeah, you talkin’ smack about my boy now, Chump’, I thought to myself. “Could you help me?” he asked. “Yeah, I can help; let me see your setup, bud.” I wanted to tie a crap knot for the bugger, but then realized that would be childish, and that Hector catching that fish was probably the most fitting punishment. Then low and behold, Purple Jacket hooks into one, pulling in a solid thirteen incher. “Great job lil’ lady, you want to hold him and let him go?”
“No, I want to take it home and eat it.”
“Um, well ok; is that ok with your parents?”
“Yes, they won’t care.” I had a hunch she was full of crap, but I went along with it. I didn't have a knife handy, so an old timer was happy to loan me his. Getting Hector’s attention, we made our way across the lake so that I could clean the fish without shocking any kiddos that might not be ready for such a thing. After a short and cheesy speech about the importance of respecting your catch, I cut into the rainbow, gutted it, and scaled it in short order. We made our way back to the old timer, and I had the youngsters thank him. I asked where she was going to keep it. “I don’t want it now, I just wanted to see it’s guts.” I did a double take and noticed she had this evil look in her eye, as if her future career as a serial killer started just at that exact moment. I had inadvertently shown them the art of being a part of the bucket brigade, and harvesting fish they didn't need to. Someday, Purple Jacket was going to have a freezer of trout, or possibly human heads, with how morbid she was about it all. Fishing went on for another thirty minutes. My buddies had decided to walk over and see how we were doin’, and as we were talking, a kid stepped off the concrete ledge and into the water. My buddy sprang out like a cheetah, pullin’ the kid from the water in a matter of a second. We held him still so I could cut away all the line that was wrapped around him, and afterwards he just walked up the hill and outta sight, pretty calm about the whole thing.
The derby director made one last shout, and with that it was time for the weigh-in. My friends and I began the task of organizing all of the gear that CPW was so kind to donate. The announcer started to go down the list of who had won what category. “For the next category of most fish caught, we actually have a tie.” She rambled off some kid’s name. “And the other winner of most fish caught, is Hector with two rainbow trout as well.” Hector slowly walked to the director, took his prize, and looked around at the other people clapping for him. It truly was one of the greatest moments I have had in my time as an angler here, and one that I don’t think I will forget any time soon.
We had finally made our way to the parking lot for a final barbecue before we went separate ways. As we laughed about the morning, I turned around and saw Hector walking to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club van, and he waved at me.
“Thanks for fishing with me, Buck”.
“Not a problem Hector, you are one good angler, my man.”
As usual, when I wasn't working, I was fishing, and nothing changed. For that one morning, and the three hours of time I invested, however, I know that Hector won’t forget that day anytime soon. And I guess that is the point of this write up, a hope that you too will realize what you can provide for our youth. Remember back to when you were a kid, and how much the adults in your life were like great heroes to you, especially when you were out fishing. Your time with a kiddo at a youth derby may not be important at first, but I can promise you that it will be for any youth that you help out and spend some time with on the water. Hell, you never know: your boat might break down on the water one day, and Hector might be the only guy that pulls into the cove to help you. Just give a little back, it will be worth it.