Frye: When it comes to getting kids outdoors, mentoring the mentors is key
Make that a double.
If you've been reading our outdoors blog at everybodyadventures.com, you know last week we said the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was looking into buying a recreational vehicle to serve as a “mobile catch center.”
The idea: take a brightly wrapped, eye-catching RV to urban centers around the state — Philadelphia initially, and maybe Pittsburgh and other cities later — and teach people to fish.
Well, this week, the commission announced a change of plans.
It's not going to buy an RV.
Instead, it's going to buy two.
Steve Kralik, chief of the commission's bureau of outreach, education and marketing, said one will operate in Philadelphia exclusively. The other will be used in the counties that surround it: Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery.
They'll make their debut this fall, be heavily promoted during the winter outdoor show season, then really get rolling next spring, he said.
Will they get more people fishing?
Maybe, but only if the commission can mentor the mentors. That's the opinion of Frank Peterson, CEO of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
For years, he said, the key to creating anglers was to start them early. That remains true.
He pointed to new survey work that shows 94 percent of active fishermen had their first experience on the water before age 18. Seventy-six percent were introduced to fishing before age 12.
By comparison, first-time fishermen are rare if introduced after 18 and “nonexistent” after 35, he said.
So the key to sustaining interest in fishing is to get more kids out, right?
It's no longer that simple, Peterson said.
“We really believe we need to shift a little bit,” Peterson said. “A lot of state-run fishing programs focus on children alone. We really think we need to involve entire families.”
That's because of what might be called a missed generation.
Surveys show younger parents today use technology daily in their normal lives, Peterson said. Their children do as well.
But, that data shows, when it comes to family time, those parents want everyone to unplug and, ideally, engage in activities where they can participate together.
That means — at least potentially — fishing. Peterson said the problem is many of those young parents haven't fished themselves and don't know how to teach their own kids.
“We've got a whole generation that needs to be taught how to mentor,” he said.
Participation in the sport is healthy. A total of 47.2 million people nationwide fished last year. That was up 1.5 million over the year before and enough to rank fishing as the No. 2 outdoor recreation sport behind jogging, Peterson said.
“However, our job is to look to the future, not just today. And I think we're all coming to realize that we've got to do things a little differently than we used to,” he said.
The time has come, he said, to create “an army of mentors.”
So the next time you're thinking of asking a kid to go fishing — or hunting or trapping, for that matter — ask his or her parents, too.
Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.