Exemplary anglers share their passion for fishing

Exemplary anglers share their passion for fishing

If you really want to know why fishing is fun, all you have to do is take children out and watch the stream of emotions that light up their faces as they learn to bait a hook, cast and finally hook and retrieve a fish. The joy of learning, the reconnection with nature and our heritage, and the fulfillment of knowing they can catch their own - just like the pioneers - contribute to those sensational smiles.


These are the same reasons, social scientists discover time and again, that fishing remains such a popular recreational activity. Herbert Hoover said, "Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers."

Dozens of studies have consistently verified that involvement with family members and friends, escaping the daily routine, relaxing, being outdoors close to nature, and the sporting challenge of fishing are the top five reasons for fishing. These motives remain at the top of the list regardless of the group studied.

Conservation agencies, guides, facility planners, anglers and boaters share roles in making fishing more fun and satisfying for everyone on the water. They all have an abiding love for aquatic resources and the conservation stewardship ethic that help keep our natural resources pristine.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is striving to create the next generation that cares through a variety of education and outreach programs across the state. This includes working with the Get Outdoors Florida! Coalition (www.GetOutdoorsFlorida.org), which lists activities and events all across the state, and with the Florida Youth Conservation Network, which is working on completing a series of facilities that can provide more in-depth educational opportunities (www.FYCCN.org). However, whatever banner is hanging, what makes these events work are the staff and volunteers. They are the unsung heroes of this movement to connect children and nature.


For instance, Mike Lesso and Dave Morse, who work with FWC's Jacksonville Youth Summer Fishing Clinics, have taught more than 50,000 children to fish.

"Mike, a high school teacher and avid sportsman, and Dave, a retired businessman and passionate recreational and tournament fisherman, have been teaching children how to catch fish for so long that many of their earliest pupils now have children of their own," said Eddie Leonard, their supervisor from the FWC's Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Youth summer fishing clinics help kids appreciate freshwater resources and teach them the skills needed to catch fish. "These incredible experiences are delivered completely free of charge to participants," Leonard said. "The program originated with FWC biologists doing the teaching but was turned over to Mike and Dave. It's apparent when observing these two that they love what they are doing."


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These men typically conduct two workshops per day in the Jacksonville area, throughout the summer, reaching more than 5,000 students during summer break some years. Classes begin with a 30-minute lecture on ethical angling, water pollution, fish biology, tackle and techniques, and several other topics.

"Then the fun starts," Leonard said. "They take the kids to the water's edge and watch as the kids tangle lines, step in mud, worry about alligators, and catch their first fish, ever." Some children get frustrated easily or seem very distracted at first. However, once someone catche the first fish, they are all very much in the moment.

"The expressions on the faces of the kids catching that first fish are nothing short of fantastic. There's excitement mixed with fear, and exhilaration blended with pride," Leonard said.

There always seems to be that one kid who stands out as a true angler, Leonard explained. "One little girl at a recent event was so successful that she offered to show the other kids how it was done. The student became the teacher in 90 minutes."

The success of these programs reflects a cooperative effort, with the FWC maintaining more than 80 fish management areas statewide and also managing spectacular public fisheries in rivers and lakes. In Jacksonville, where Lesso and Morse work, the bait, tackle, advertisement and supporting materials are provided by the Fish Florida Foundation (the nonprofit that benefits from the sale of "Fish Florida" sailfish conservation tags), the George M. Baldwin Foundation, and several local businesses. Other partners help with fish camps in other areas of the state.

"This is a great program showcasing multiple partnerships and the incredible work of dedicated volunteers," Leonard said. To learn more about fish camps in freshwater and fishing clinics in saltwater, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing.

The following checklist of ethical angling practices provides a starting point to make fishing more enjoyable, safe and sustainable for everyone, including future generations.

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An Ethical Angler:

  • Promotes, through example and mentoring, an ethical use of aquatic resources.
  • Values and respects the aquatic environment and all living things. Treats other anglers, boaters and property owners with courtesy and respect, including removing boat trailers promptly from active launching areas, watching wakes around other boaters, and providing adequate fishing space to anglers already on the fishing spot.
  • Avoids spilling and never dumps pollutants, such as gas or oil. Appropriately disposes of trash, including worn lines, leaders and hooks. Recycles whenever possible and keeps fishing sites litter-free.
  • Purchases required fishing licenses and permits. (If you are exempt, you may still purchase a license to contribute directly to conservation and to bring in matching federal funds. See MyFWC.com/licenses.)
  • Learns and obeys angling and boating regulations and can identify fish to adhere to the rules.
  • Keeps no more fish than needed for consumption, and never wastefully discards fish, while complying with the law. Carefully handles and releases alive all fish that are unwanted or prohibited by regulation. Uses tackle and techniques that minimize harm to fish when catch-and-release angling.
  • Takes precautionary measures to prevent the spread of exotic plants and animals and does not use diseased or nonnative baits.
  • Participates in conservation efforts such as river cleanups, vegetation transplanting, tagging studies and creel surveys.
  • Practices safe angling and boating by following the laws and using common-sense practices to prevent injury to himself, others or property.
  • Protects the environment from damage caused by careless boat operation, which includes prop-scouring vegetation, wake damage to shorelines, power-loading problems at ramps, anchoring on reefs and striking animals such as manatees or sturgeons.
  • Conserves energy and water on a daily basis, knowing how it affects local fish and wildlife.

Fishing license sales, matching federal funds and donations support these programs. The law generally requires fishing licenses if you are between 16 and 65 years old. However, many anglers know that buying a license helps fund fish and wildlife conservation and voluntarily buy one as a way of showing their stewardship ethic. In addition, you can donate to Florida Youth Fishing and Hunting Programs when you purchase a license.

Instant licenses are available online at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356)

By: Bob Wattendorf and Eddie Leonard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Read this Ambassador blog for some tips for taking kids fishing.

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