My initial introduction to fishing came from my grandfather, who was an experienced angler. We fished for largemouth bass and sunfish from a set of concrete stairs on the bank of a pond on the family ranch. After a few trips of worms and bobbers, I slowly progressed to throwing soft plastics, then to trying out a variety of lures.
While I have no specific memory of any fish that I caught in the first several years, I do remember patrolling the shoreline of the pond, working every inch of water I could reach with unwavering focus. I caught plenty of fish, but the most memorable part of the first few years was learning to clean fish on the steps where I took my first casts.
Fishing paved the way for all of my blissful outdoors pursuits that followed. It’s safe to assume that most outdoorsmen and women probably have a similar progression, but each story is unique and offers insight to the numerous ways people love being outdoors.
Several years ago, while working at a company that sold outdoors products, my coworker, Zack, would occasionally ask me questions about what some items were used for. As time went on, he became familiar with a variety of products, and his curiosity grew from how these items were used to what the experience was all about.
Once I noticed the shift in Zack’s interest, I gave him an open invite to go fishing with me at the same place I got my start. After some discussion, we picked the unfortunate date of New Year's Day.
We got an early start despite our fatigue from the events of the previous day. It was 20 degrees, overcast, and damp, which is far from ideal fishing conditions, especially in Texas. We changed into camo and headed to the river bottom for a quick hunt before heading back to the house to fish.
After a quick break in the house to warm up and show Zack the basics of setting up a fishing rod, we walked down the steps to the water. After a quick casting tutorial, Zack was off to the races, with each cast getting better. I stood down the bank, far enough to fish my own section of water, but close enough to offer an occasional tip.
The first five minutes Zack spent fishing were clearly uncomfortable, but shortly after, everything smoothed out. Not long after he got the hang of it, there was a thump.
As soon as a fish hit Zack’s line, the wheels came off. He froze, then suddenly tried to set the hook far too late. The bait shot out of the water and landed in the grass.
As I walked over, prepared to coach him through the disappointment, he started yelling and jumping around with excitement. In that moment, it was clear that he was hooked.
We would continue to fish until it got dark, we froze, or he caught a fish. Luckily, after missing only a couple more fish, he hooked into a fish.
While it wasn’t exactly graceful, Zack was able to reel in the fish and get it on land. After convincing him to hold the fish, we got it unhooked and let it go. He found success a few more times that day, and the excitement never waned.
Introducing people to fishing for the first time is a special experience that’s full of discovery. When someone goes fishing for the first time, the possible outcomes are usually limited to one of two extremes: "where's this been my whole life?" or "no thank you, this isn't for me."
The lifecycle of an angler begins and ends with these first time experiences, because it’s the only thing that keeps the sport and all its magic alive.