took a modest youth fishing program and turned it into an event that draws thousands. ARKANSAS WILD asked this Pied Piper of the pond about bridging the generations through Arkansas Game and Fish’s Family Fishing program.
How long has the Family and Community Fishing Program been around?
This program has been with Game and Fish at least 17 years. I came in when it was new. It had about four or five ponds that it stocked – started with Lake Village, came to Little Rock because of the population, it started off kind of slow. Once word got out to city officials that we’ll stock your city pond, it started many more ponds.
What are you up to today?
We have 41 core ponds statewide. But we have a lot of second-tier ponds, almost 60.
You hold organized fishing events in addition to just keeping the ponds stocked, correct?
This catfish season, we’ve had about 22 events and a little over 26,000 people came to the locations to go fishing. We did one here in Little Rock called The Big Catch and we had 4,200 people at MacArthur Park fishing, plus BB gun, archery, canoeing, inflatables. Pulaski Tech culinary school came and cleaned fish for a demonstration and cooked fish.
That’s one big community event. How do you manage something like that?
It’s not just Game and Fish. It’s Parks and Rec departments, church groups, sponsors. This takes community involvement and that’s one way this program has really, really taken off. It lets the community take hold of this and say this is our area, this is our give-back. We can target 100 kids here, 100 kids there and you get a little bang for your buck, but when you can get the community, the parents, everybody involved, that’s big.
Why do these events have such appeal?
The program is devised to start reaching kids in the third and fourth grade through fishing. But what has transpired is, you’ve got the young kids at the event and a lot of the parents are working, so you’ve got the grandparents bringing the kids and now you’ve got the two different generations. That’s the beautiful thing about fishing as opposed to any other sport. You can take a child that’s 2 years old and a great-great grandpa that’s 92 and they can fish together. You can’t do that with anything else.
There’s been a lot said about kids not going outdoors like they used to, yet you wouldn’t know it by the numbers you’re pulling.
When we grew up, our parents would say, “Go outside and play.” That aspect was almost gone for a while. People think it’s dangerous. “Somebody gonna snatch my baby.” We didn’t think about that. We just ran outside and played. We try to show this new generation of parents that you can come outside, you can play, it’s safe.
So you’re the gateway to everything else, is that it?
One thing about Arkansas that’s so great is, we are the Natural State. So how can we be remiss in saying, “Hey, we need to go outside and go walk the creek and turn a rock over and see if there’s a crawdad up under it”? Rather than be afraid of the crawdad, if it walked or wiggled we picked it up. But kids now, you pick up an earthworm, they’re freaking out. The cultural thing about it is everybody likes to play. I think once we realize that outdoor activity, whether it’s hiking or fishing, starts just by getting a child or even an adult who’s never done it outside, the rest will take care of itself.