If You Teach a Kid to Fsh
Arkansas Game and Fish programs expand fishing among underserved populations
By Dwain Hebda Photography: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commision’s (AGFC) Family and Community Fishing Program, likes to tell a story to illustrate the chord his program strikes in people, inspiring them to not only participate, but help further the mission of introducing children and young people to the joys of fishing the Natural State.
“Last year we did Bentonville at this pond and we had such a great time,” he said. “Walmart came out and said, ‘Guys, we own this airport beside you. Let’s expand the pond and make it bigger.’ So they came in and made the place bigger. I’m like, ‘I’m not going to argue with you; do what you do!’”
Fishing has always been one pillar of Arkansas outdoors culture and while the activity has lagged in some states, Arkansas’ angler numbers have stayed constant, despite trends that have steadily kept kids indoors.
“In my generation going outside to play was a natural thing,” Coleman said. “I hate to sound like I’m preaching, but the tendency today is for children to stay inside with video games and watching TV and movies.”
“People have a tendency to keep their children inside because ‘it’s dangerous outside’ or you may get hurt or it’s too hot. This generation is being kept inside because of simple fears and people don’t understand that outside is where they should be.”
Coleman’s program stands in direct opposition to digital diversions and is one reason the future looks bright for the state’s fishing industry. AGFC maintains ponds throughout the state in communities large and small, stocked periodically with thousands of catfish and trout specifically for community and family fishing.
The Family and Community Fishing program then promotes these sites through instructional programs and a slate of events targeting youth and families throughout Arkansas, particularly underserved populations.
“One thing we like to do with our outreach is target fourth graders and up. One way we hit them is with school programs,” Coleman said. “We’re introducing them to what Game and Fish does, fishing opportunities and where fishing locations are.”
“Dunbar Elementary (in Little Rock) is one of our big successes. We got in the door doing our classroom work and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you take some of the kids that get good grades or good citizenship and take them fishing.’ That’s an avenue to get the kids, the parents and even the administration out to the pond.”
Coleman said churches and civic groups have also gotten involved, sponsoring fishing groups and outings that turn kids on to a positive, healthy activity.
“There’s also a program called ARE which is Aquatic Resource and Education where certain groups can have events, fishing derbies,” he said. “That’s a great introduction to fishing that any type of organization can do.”
Coleman said the program is so broad and accessible it removes many of the barriers to getting into fishing. As a result, don’t try to offer him excuses; he’s heard and has an answer to them all.
“(Our programs) take away the excuse of ‘I don’t have a place to go.’ Okay, well you have community fishing ponds,” he said. “If you don’t know how, we have the ability to teach you. If we can teach you how to fish and right down the road is a pond that’s been stocked, you can go.”
“And, if you don’t have tackle you can go to the library and check out rods and reels and stuff like that. We’re taking away the barriers to get people outside,” Coleman explains.
Participation in events is growing by leaps and bounds, too. One of the biggest programs, dubbed The Big Catch and held in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park, hosted 900 people last year and 3,200 this spring. Officially, AGFC outreach programs have served more than 7,000 since spring break, but it’s impossible to gauge the true impact the ponds and programs have in allowing families and kids to spend an afternoon fishing.
“In a lot of single parent or even double parent households, if (parents) are working, kids can go with their grandparents,” Coleman said. “That’s one thing that has really made our program unique. You take a child that’s four years old or five years old and PawPaw, who’s 75, can take them out and they can enjoy fishing.”
“That’s one thing that is really great about fishing as opposed to hunting. PawPaw’s been sitting inside, he’s 75 years old, he can’t get out there and climb those hills. But he can take the kids to a park or to a lake and go fishing, especially with a community fishing pond. The age and interest gap can be breached because of the opportunity community fishing ponds statewide have afforded people.”
For more information and list of community ponds, please visit www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/family-and-community
Becoming An Outdoor Woman
BOW helps women enjoy the outdoors
Statistics show most children are introduced to outdoor activities by a male parent or guardian. Statistic also show the number of households headed by single mothers continues to rise. In light of these trends, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission launched Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) 24 years ago to help educate women on elements of outdoor activities they could enjoy by themselves and, ideally, pass along to their children.
The annual BOW weekend event provides participants with workshops ranging from wildlife photography and outdoor cooking to shooting, fishing, camping and boating skills. Participants attend four workshops of their choice over the weekend.
This year’s BOW will be held September 28 to 30 and accommodates 135 women at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H center in Ferndale. Cost is $150 and scholarships are available. For more information, please visit www.agfc.com/en/get-involved/first-steps-outdoors/bow/.