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for people who care about the West

Earth Day -- Gone Fishin'


Earth Day was once again full of stark warnings about global doom and scolds over my level of recycling and my carbon footprint. So I went fishing.

In particular, I took my 8-year-old to an old gravel pit that has been landscaped into a pond and stocked with rainbow trout straight from the hatchery. One side the pond is flanked by a dense thicket of birch and poplar, the other by abandoned trailers and Quonset huts. It’s not exactly Thoreau’s view of Walden Pond, but on a nice spring day it did the trick.

We arrived to see a pair of drake wood ducks (once an endangered species themselves) spar in the air over the pond territory. There are still cottonwood trunks big enough to host their nests in this urban river bottom. Overhead, an osprey turned on a wingtip, just returned north from warmer climes. Osprey once were nearly wiped out by DDT that weakened their eggshells, but have staged a comeback.

I pinched the barbs off the hooks and we impaled salmon eggs for bait. Before long, Aidan’s bobber bobbed and he felt the bite. He reeled in eagerly to find the bait taken. I hooked a few and let him reel them in, only to release them again. There’s something oddly satisfying about watching a trout dart away from your relaxing fingers.

Once I glanced at his line to notice the bobber going berserk. “Reel!” I shouted. “You’ve got a fish on!” He didn’t so much crank the reel handle as walk backwards, but he landed his first fish, solo. It was a moment to remember. I let him decide, and we released that one, too.

Elsewhere, I know, there were speeches and lectures and serious web posts and “children’s activities” to call for better stewardship for Earth Day. And more power to it. But I contemplated the lessons to be taught by a simple little pond, if we take time to listen.

• Everyone needs to limit their catch, or there won’t be fish for the other kids.

• If the fish look sick, it’s because the water is sick. If the fish look healthy, it’s because the water is healthy.

• Pay attention to where that osprey fishes – he has been at it a lot longer than you have.

• It’s smugly satisfying to clean up the empty pop cans and coils of monofilament left by other kids.

• By working together, we can solve problems like what to do with old gravel pits and how to save wood ducks and osprey from extinction.

• Nature is full of mystery, like why the fish are biting like mad one moment, then stop cold later.

•  From the osprey killing the fish to the swallows killing mosquitoes, to us eating trout, there’s no free lunch in this world – we are all tied up in the same web of life and death.

• Doom and gloom inspires no one, but few things are more inspirational than a lovely spring morning  fishing with your kid. Earth Day or any other.


Image: Fancy tackle isn't necessary for good fishing.

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media.