Teach a Man to Teach to Fish

I am not a fisherman. Somehow this fact didn’t deter my son’s scout leader from placing me in charge of the fishing merit badges this spring. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up in this role, but I imagine he started with a list of qualified candidates (e.g. the crew from the Deadliest Catch, the CEO of Cabela’s, Jesus, . . .) and slowly worked his way down (. . . any current or former employee of Red Lobster, people who aren’t afraid of the water, anyone capable of threading a worm onto a hook without vomiting, . . .) until he got to me (. . . the next sap to answer his phone).

The scoutmaster, perhaps sensing his mistake, suggested I read through the requirements document before meeting with the troop for the first time. This sounded pretty ridiculous because I thought the only prerequisite to fishing with 12-year-old boys would be making sure they understood the importance of wind direction before they started peeing off the dock.

I was so naïve.

To successfully earn this exclusive badge (also available for purchase on eBay for $3.49 + shipping), each scout must complete an 11-page workbook filled with questions that I’m supposed to help answer. And almost none of them have anything to do with peeing. I am not making this up.

So instead of spending the evening watching Dancing with the Stars, as planned, I created the following answer key so I won’t look like an idiot in front of the boys. Keep in mind these are the actual questions from the Fishing Merit Badge Workbook.

Q: Discuss the differences between two types of fishing outfits. 
A: 1) The classic tank top + cutoff jeans, and 2) The one worn by the guy that works behind the meat counter at Safeway. Both of these outfits are specifically designed to curtail human reproduction.

Q: Point out and identify the parts of several types of rods and reels. Explain how and when each would be used. 
A: Rods have thin, wispy tips and cork or leather-wrapped handles which make them ideal for playing Zorro on the beach with your friends. They range in length from two to twenty feet, but keep in mind the tip will inevitably be snapped off by a car door immediately after purchase. All reels (spinning, fly, baitcasting, spincast, etc.) are modeled after a medieval torture device called “The Spool” which was used to disembowel hardened criminals. You’re better off not having one.

Q: Review with your counselor how to care for this equipment.
A: Fishing gear requires absolutely no maintenance as long as you always borrow it from close relatives or members from your church.

Q: Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in fishing activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
A: Haha! This is a trick question. It is impossible get injured while fishing.

Q: Discuss the prevention of and treatment for the following health concerns that could occur while fishing, including cuts, scratches, puncture wounds, insect bites, hypothermia, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn.
A: Wait, what?

Q: Explain how to remove a hook that has lodged in someone’s skin. 
A: It depends on whether “someone’s skin” is your own or your fishing buddy’s. If it’s the latter, tell him/her to stop screaming like a little baby then firmly grab the hook with a pair of rusty pliers and yank it out with the same motion you’d use to start a lawnmower (you may need to remind your buddy, again, to stop screaming like a little baby). If it’s your own skin, you should seek immediate professional medical help. Insist on Life-Flight support if the hook is lodged anywhere near the fray-lines of your cutoff jeans.

Q: Demonstrate the proper use of two different types of fishing equipment.
A: The only acceptable answers are 1) a chainsaw and 2) gasoline. The chainsaw, of course, will be essential for escaping from the stomachs of large predatory fish, as was shown in the popular 2013 documentary, Sharknado. The gasoline will be used to help dilute the smell of fish from your body if, God forbid, you actually catch one. In extreme circumstances, the gasoline can also be used to refuel the chainsaw.

Q: Demonstrate how to tie the following knots and when each one would be used:
1. Clinch knot: This is the knot my youngest daughter used on her shoelaces when she was five and is the reason my entire family now wears sandals. This knot can never be untied, so don’t use it.
2. Palomar knot: This knot is named after Joey Palomar, who created it by placing a spinning Beyblade into his older sister’s hair in 2001. He’s still grounded for it.
3. Uni knot: This one is impossible to tie manually, but can be artificially grown by delicately placing a single strand of Christmas lights in a storage container for ten months. It is also known by several other names, all of which are inappropriate for scouting.
4. Uni-to-Uni knot: Same as Uni, but used to permanently entangle multiple strands of lights.
5. Arbor knot Not even professionally trained knotologists know how to properly tie this one, so it’s perfect for almost any situation.

E.g.
Yacht Captain [to dock fisherman]: Ahoy, there! Would you mind taking this rope and securing my ship to the dock?

Dock fisherman [takes rope and wraps it in a random series of twists and loops around the leg of a plastic deck chair]: I decided to use the arbor knot, a perfect choice for a vessel of that size.

Yacht Captain [trying not to look stupid]: Of course! That’s the best one I’ve ever seen!

Q: Name and identify five basic artificial lures and five natural baits and explain how to fish with them.
A: Artificial lures include crankbaits, jigs, poppers, spoons, and spinners, which are all named after the preferred music genres of fish.
1. Crankbaits: Lures in this category attract fish that listen to heavy metal bands and consume large quantities of recreational drugs. Your best bet is to offer them Taco Bell at 2am.
2. Jigs: Popular with the older generation of fish, these lures include bingo cards, coupons to Old County Buffet, and pills for erectile dysfunction. Note that these fish go to sleep at 5pm and will call the cops if you step on their lawn.
3. Poppers: These lures target tweenaged girl fish which, as any worthy boy scout will attest, are vicious in large numbers. Fortunately, you can get them to swarm around a submergible speaker playing Justin Bieber songs and then simply gather the adult male fish that will be purposefully jumping onto shore to their death.
4. Spoons: These lures only attract hillbilly fish and include things like human teeth and Confederate flags. DO NOT eat anything caught with this lure.
5. Spinners: The 90's rap bands lures are comprised of gold necklaces and flashy gang symbols. If you happen to catch any whitefish with this lure, throw them back. They’re terrible.

Natural baits:
1. Worms: The only bait in the entire history of mankind known to catch fish. There are only two ways to use this type of bait: 1) Ask your dad to thread it onto the hook for you, regardless of your current age or marital status, and 2) Use the Uni knot, as explained earlier.
2. Frogs: Capable of catching very large fish, but only if the frog is armed with a combat knife.
3. Minnows: If you’re going to the store to buy fish anyways, just splurge on one of the larger models and be done with it.
4. Leeches: Seriously?
5. Anything from Chipotle: A good option for sockeye, chinook, and other types of salmonella fish. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after using this bait.

Q: Explain why bait fish are not to be released.
A: Because they can cause irreversible damage to the environment and grow into horrible sociopathic monsters with aspirations to annihilate the world by becoming either radioactive or a US President.

Q: Explain the importance of practicing Leave No Trace techniques.
A: Because no one wants to sit down on a wet toilet seat.

Q: Discuss the positive effects of Leave No Trace on fishing resources.
A: I find it hard to believe that anyone’s aim is really that bad.

Q: Discuss the meaning and importance of catch and release.
A: The term “catch and release” is used to explain why so many fishermen return empty-handed from the lake/river. It’s important because otherwise they’d be forced to actually catch fish.

Q: Describe how to properly release a fish safely to the water.
1. Put on your safety goggles. This will prevent fish shrapnel from getting into your eyes in the case of any sudden explosions. (Fish, like submarines, are equipped with ballast tanks that keep them properly submerged in the water. When you reel them out of the water, violently, by their lips, these internal tanks become highly unstable.)
2. Check the fish’s current PSI using a standard tire-pressure gauge.
3. Compare this number with the specs listed in the Fish & Wildlife Guide. Be sure to account for altitude and air temperature.
4. Adjust as necessary by administering tiny puffs of air directly into the fish’s mouth. IMPORTANT: Fish *do not* have blowholes. If you think yours has one, you’re holding it upside down.
5. Gently lower it back into the water and rock it back and forth until it either swims off on its own or you get attacked by an impatient bear.

Q: Obtain and review a copy of the regulations affecting game fishing where you live. Explain why they were adopted and what you accomplish by following them.
A: Washington State’s 2016–2017 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet is 135 pages long. It has been carefully designed to ensure that everyone who reads it will live in fear that they’re breaking at least a half-dozen different laws, even when they’re not fishing. I’m probably breaking several right now.

Q: Explain what good outdoor sportsmanlike behavior is and how it relates to anglers.
A: Like all elite athletes, anglers shouldn’t use performance enhancing drugs to gain a competitive advantage over their opponents, which are fish.

Q: Tell how the Outdoor Code of the Boy Scouts of America (Official Motto: We love Nature, especially when it’s cooked over an open fire!) relates to a fishing sports enthusiast, including the aspects of littering, trespassing, courteous behavior, and obeying fishing regulations.
A: The first rule of the Outdoor Code is to not talk about the Outdoor Code. Nice try, YMCA.

Q: Catch at least one fish and identify it.
A: There are only two kinds of fish: The ones that live outdoors and the ones that are minced into fillet-o-fish sandwiches. You can tell them apart because one of them will taste like PowerBait® and mosquito repellent and the other one will be living outside.

Q: If regulations and health concerns permit, clean and cook a fish you have caught. Otherwise, acquire a fish and cook it. (You do not need to eat your fish.)
A: Oh, thank God. I can just throw a box of fish sticks in the oven and get back to Dancing with the Stars.