2009 at Buena Vista Park

A young Central Texan holds a trout he caught at a kids fishing derby at Buena Vista Park in Waco in 2009. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists stock the community lake with trout during cool months and catfish during warm months. Programs like this one help teach youth and their families the skills and enjoyment of sports like fishing.

Todd Nafe photo

The other day, I heard somebody say, “Parents should get their kid a tackle box instead of an X-box,” and while I understand the sentiment, it’s not realistic in today’s world – somewhat like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expecting pro football players to stop smoking pot because he thinks it’s bad for them (unlike the game they’re playing that’s destroying their bodies and scrambling their brains.)

What we need in today’s world, whether in recreation, sports, politics or society overall, is balanced, common sense, intelligent approaches to dealing with our issues.

When I was a kid, the early video game, Pong, came out and captivated my friends and me. We would spend hours turning knobs to move vertical lines up and down to bump a pixelated ping pong ball across a television screen.

But after the shine wore off, Pong took its rightful place as just another recreational option, and we were back on our bikes, throwing footballs, swinging bats, missing layups, catching fish, camping out, hacking at golf balls, trying to make sense of the scoring systems in tennis and bowling, shooting and cooking small game, exploring the woods and making up other stuff to do.

Today’s kids have a lot more things competing for their time and money, and the outdoor sports have been widely out-competed. Granted, there are a lot of Central Texas youth who spend time in the woods and on the water. But the percentages have dropped off substantially over the past couple decades.

There are conflicting data on trends in outdoor sports participation. And when things like biking and kayaking are included, there likely are some upticks in numbers over the past decade.

However, when focusing on fishing, hunting, camping and shooting, there has been a decline in numbers of participants and an increase in the average age of those taking part – meaning fewer young people are taking part and sticking with it.

One of the biggest reasons kids don’t go fishing is because their parents don’t take them. Before we go blaming the parents, though, it’s highly probable that they weren’t taught the skills necessary to teach somebody else. And no parent wants to take a kid on a fishing trip and look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Even choosing the right equipment and tackle can be overwhelming for a novice. There are so many different types of rods, reels, baits, spools of line, packages of hooks, packages of weights and other items on the shelves that it can be complicated shopping for even a seasoned angler.

Another factor working against family fishing trips is access to quality waters. Area lakes and streams were easily-accessible back in the 1970s. But today’s visitors are met by rusty pipe fences and gatekeepers who either charge fees for day use or refuse entry due to park restrictions.

A lot of parents won’t give it another chance after a bad experience or two. And odds are good that the kids won’t be asking to go back. Once there’s a break in the chain, the impact can affect generations, which seems to be what’s happening now.

So don’t blame technology for the eroding of the outdoor traditions. It’s up to those of us who are steeped in the outdoor sports to put in the effort to invite people to share in the experience and teach kids and their parents the knowledge and skills to make things like fishing trips fun and memorable.

Thirty years ago, a lot of apartment buildings and city parks featured tennis courts. Today, most have been re-purposed into basketball courts or skate parks. It’s time to make the outdoor sports a viable choice for recreation again – or we will watch them dwindle to dust.

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