What I Learned at Fish Camp Last Week ...


August 16, 2011.  For me, working with kids who want to become responsible anglers is as good as it gets.  Teaching them the finer points of fishing while trying to relate how everything you catch, see, hear and touch on the river is a part of the whole ecosystem.  Everything is intertwined, and every minnow, insect and each leaf along the riverbank has its place.  They are all parts of the whole, including us as fishermen.  It’s the “There’s more to fishing than just catching fish” approach without saying it. 
After running fishing programs for VCU’s Summer Discovery over the last eight summers, I decided it was time to try my own.  Last week I ran my first fishing camp, and thoroughly enjoyed a week of five eager kids foaming at the mouth to get out onto the water every morning.  It was a challenge to consistently work in a little education, but there were many opportunities.  Mostly in the van, while riding to our destination, but also in the field and on the water. 
We caught over 200 fish on the second day, which is an incredible number, but one opportunity missed was taking more time to stop fishing and tune into our human senses, helping us become more aware and appreciative of where we were.  At one point during that 200 fish day we did take five minutes to look at rocks on a bar in the middle of the river, seeing who could find the most interesting one.  I considered that one of the highlights of the day and still have the four rocks that were picked … all very cool in their own way. 
I should have taken ten more minutes that day to get the kids to just watch and listen to the environment.  It easy enough to point things out, like a hatch of insects, or a green heron perched on a rock, fishing.  Or how the water flowing around a boulder, if you stare at it long enough, makes the rock look like it is moving upriver.  But giving the kids more time to take a deeper look at their surroundings would have added to their 200 fish day.  
Reflecting on last week’s experience, I realize taking time out to ‘listen’ to the sounds of nature, while fishing would have also been well worth the effort.  Sure, we heard things, but did we listen? Fishing is complex and you need to focus on the sounds around you to become more aware.  Imagine pausing in the stream for a few minutes, tucking your fishing rod under your arm.   The dull, constant hum of insects in the woods quickly becomes apparent.  Then a half a dozen or more different songbirds are heard chirping and singing in surround sound and a cicada suddenly, clumsily flies by.  You hear the recognizable swirl of a fish in the water upriver.  You turn and see the ripples. 
While deciding whether to make a cast toward the rising fish a piliated woodpecker flies above you with its unmistakable jungle-like call.  You start to realize just how much is going on around you and just feet away a cardinal chirps loudly.   A woodpecker, perhaps the one you just heard call, starts to thump on a nearby dead tree.  Yeah, I think taking some time to just listen in on nature is going to be a regular part of helping kids become better anglers. 
I’ve been sitting at the river since a little before 7 this morning, I think it's time to stop writing and just listen for a while.   --Capt. Mike
The Photos Stories? Top Right:  One of the days included a special trip to the upper James River.  Through private property, we were able to trek around an island while fishing for smallmouth bass and sunfish.  We also flipped a few rocks, caught and identified a few critters like hellgrammites, damselfly larvae and mayfly larvae.  --Photo by Bob Jones Jr.
Middle Left:  One of the days during the fishing camp was a trip out onto the tidal James River on the Discovery Barge II, my pontoon boat.  We launched from the Richmond Yacht Basin and cruised downriver towards Presquile Island and fished downed trees along the shoreline to catch a few blue catfish and one channel cat.  We also were able to see lots of bald eagles, blue heron and osprey.  In this image, "L'il Fish" holds a little catfish, which ended up being half of our lunch!  One of the fun things during the week is the naming of nicknames.  Everyone gets one, including me (Cappy).  --Photo by Capt. Mike
Bottom Right:  Silver, so named for the first crappie being caught during the week is shown holding one of the first fish of the 200-fish day.  Silver is proudly displaying one of the many bluegill caught that day.  --Photo by Capt. Mike