Recently, amid the rumble of construction work and the general hum of city life, and unlikely cry went out in Battery Park, in downtown Manhattan, as 25 or so fourth graders from P.S. 119 let loose with a phrase all anglers know well: “FISH ON!”
The children had come via the subway from the Bronx to participate in a fishing program through the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. And while most of them could tell you how to get to Yankee Stadium, not many could tell you how to get to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s one reason Bill Fink, a retired high school teacher, has been running this program for 17 years. “These kids just love it,” says Fink. “I have boxes of letters from them thanking me for the program. Whether they catch a striper or just seaweed, they love it.”
Fink had the kids sit, fishing rods baited in plain view on the railing behind him, while he talked about the Hudson River and its importance to the city and the world. And then it was time to fish. With a motley assortment of spinning tackle, the kids dropped lines into the Hudson. The rules were simple:
1. No overhead casting.
2. When you hook up, yell, “Fish on!”
The bite wasn’t furious, but enough fish (mainly cunners and other nibblers) hit the baits to keep things interesting. And the kids had a blast.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the number of children who fish is declining. Mike Bolinder, executive director of the Future Fisherman Foundation, says, “The key to getting kids interested in the sport is not just taking them fishing, but teaching them to fish.” Among other things, the Future Fisherman Foundation donates money and gear to school programs willing to teach kids how to fish. Some 40 schools across the country will participate this year.
Still, it will take more than the dedication of Fink and the Future Fisherman Foundation to shore up the ranks of anglers. Children are our voice for the future-the ones who will ensure that our oceans remain clean and full of fish and our access to the water open. I encourage you to teach them the sport. Before you know it, they’ll be the ones who take you fishing.