There are fishing purists in every facet of our cherished sport. The best welcome beginners with advice – and sometimes friendship – while others posture like they are master anglers with little time for beginners.
My 43-year outdoor writing career has put me in touch with all kinds of fishing personalities. Sometime in the early 1980s I sat in the presence of some of America’s fly-fishing greats: Stu Apte, Lefty Kreg and several others were in our circle talking about their sport.
My buddy had warned me to say little or nothing around this crew, just sit and listen – and he was right. They were top experts and I was not. I felt content to listen until their attention turned to me.
“How did you get started fly fishing?” Apte asked as a look of horror crossed my buddy’s face and probably mine too.
“Well, sir, I was raised in Missouri and we had few if any trout then, so I caught bluegill and bass from our farm pond with an old flyrod and homemade cork popping bugs my grandpa gave me,” I said, hoping I hadn’t made a dumb mistake when a silence came over the group.
I believe my face probably reddened when the group started laughing. My buddy rolled his eyes and I wondered how many seconds it would take me to reach the exit door. What happened next was a lesson to never be forgotten.
The entire group started talking about how they once caught bluegill and bass with their own hand-me-down flyrods. Even the nationally known anglers had stories like mine. They were the best in their business and had fly-fished all over the world, yet, they talked about the simple pleasure of fishing in farm ponds with old tackle.
Years later one of the anglers told me how much they had enjoyed reminiscing about their beginning days of flipping poppers for bluegill fillets. I became friends with Apte and several others from that group.
In recent times, I have watched top fly fishermen in areas like Bennett Spring trout park quietly stand aside from the crowds and fish. Many of us watched or heard about them cutting off their fly and giving it to a beginning angler that asked what kind of fly they were catching trout on. Many of these class acts are members of the Missouri Fly Fisherman’s Association.
On another occasion, early in my writing career, I was seated at a writers conference next to the great Homer Circle, veteran of fishing, outdoor writing and television fame. I had read Circle in many magazines throughout my youth and felt like an outdoor god had sat next to me. I instantly went into a shocked silence, sitting next to this icon of my business, wondering what to say.
Suddenly, he turned and held out his hand and said, “Homer Circle.”
“Kenny Kieser,” I stammered, not believing what was happening and to whom I was sitting by.
He started asking me questions about my fledgling writing career and we talked about fishing. I remained friends with him until his death a few years ago. Many of us called him Uncle Homer. That man was the best but he had time to talk with a green beginner.
Years ago, I fished in a small bass club and met just the opposite, not with everyone, just a few.
The self-proclaimed elite would show their tackle off like their new lures were precious jewels. Then they would brag of their custom-made rods and reels. New anglers were closely scrutinized and their equipment was looked upon with disdain. I even heard one laugh at a man’s ancient spinning reel because it was not equal to their bait casters
With time, the self-proclaimed exceptional few became a small group while those who fished and enjoyed good fellowship hung out and generally won the tournaments. They were fishing for fun and the elite felt pressured to win and sadly looked down on others.
I have fished with some of America’s top bass anglers and they were very supportive and not condescending. Professionals learn how to be the best – in many different ways.
I wrote about some of the fly-fishing groups and gave them needed publicity that included their sponsors back in those early days. I returned their early kindness in my own way.
Finally, take a kid fishing. That child may take you fishing years from now when getting down to the fishing hole becomes difficult. Paying it forward is a beautiful thing.
We want to encourage people to fish by being positive and supportive. Someone once helped you catch fish, so return the favor. That beginner you help may someday become a top professional angler or an outdoor writer and just maybe they will help you – or at least give you a fishing lure.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.