Afraid to touch a fish!

By Ted Peck - August 1, 2008
My faith in the future of America was shaken to the very core not long ago when my sister-in-law and nephew "Arthur" came to visit for the weekend. My wife's sister works long hours as a nurse trying to provide for her son. His Dad bailed out when the kid was 10 years old. Raising a boy into a man is difficult when two parents aren't in a household. When Mom has to do it all alone, development can suffer.

This is the case with "Arthur" who is now 16 years old. He will finally enter high school this fall. He has at least average intelligence, but has been held back twice in school for reasons too complex and personal to discuss in this column.

I thought an afternoon in the outdoors would give us time to talk, sharing a common bond of fishing. The four of us took a boat ride. Arthur opted to play in the sand with his aunt and mother rather than fish. His mom said she would like a walleye for supper, so I went out alone.

An hour later I returned with a fat 18 incher. Arthur thought killing a fish to eat was a terrible thing to do. I told him he could reach in the livewell and set the fish free if he so desired. Panic set in. This 16-year-old boy was afraid to touch a fish! Five times I reached in the livewell and showed the boy how to grab the fish, finally threatening to gut it so he and his mother could have a walleye dinner. Arthur turned his back and started to sob. This behavior turned my stomach. A sixteen year old boy-who will be old enough to vote and serve in the military in less than two years-who was repulsed at the thought of touching a "yucky fishy".

My wife and Arthur's mother showed sympathy for this young man rather than disgust. I logged on to the fishing website when we got home, seeking catharsis for a fully blown mind. Since the post "afraid to touch a fish" went on this website's general fishing discussion forum a week ago it has seen 2,236 "hits" and 78 replies. Content of the 78 responses was varied but profoundly clear: This is a matter which requires our immediate and sincere attention.

Single parent families with mom as head of household are practically the norm in this country now. Children - especially boys - aren't getting the opportunity to experience the wonders of the outdoors with the guidance of a mentor. The result of this trend is detailed in Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" which is subtitled "Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder". IPods, X-boxes and GameBoys have replaced nature hikes, camping and fishing. Tomorrow's leaders are afraid of fish. Probably frogs and butterflies, too.

Shelley Hansel, recreation coordinator for the City of Janesville said "few people have approached our office expressing interest in outdoor education. We recognize the importance of the outdoors but offer little beyond the 'Kids Count' structured day camp for 6-12 year olds". Unfortunately the "City of Parks" is contributing to the N-DD problem described by Louv. The only place where Janesville's youth have an opportunity for free play in the unrestricted woods is privately owned Camp Rotamer.

What would happen if some youngsters built a treehouse in Traxler Park or dammed up part of the creek to pretend they were boating? Those living in urban areas are accustomed and accepting of all kinds of restrictions imposed on those "enjoying the outdoors". Skipping stones, "hunting" with BB guns, catching crayfish and frogs... all the stuff we enjoyed as kids... is now strictly verboten.

Hard working single-parent household moms don't have the time or the inclination to mentor kids in the joys of free play in the woods. Since "Arthur" lives nearly four hours away from his crusty old uncle he will probably fear "yucky fish" forever more.

Has Rock County seen our last child in the woods? Will somebody step up and teach our children that guns, fish, butterflies and frogs aren't inherently evil things to be feared?

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.