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New book for young anglers aims to hook people of color on fishing

The founders of the nonprofit Fishing Foundation have written a new book for young people. [Fishing Foundation]
The founders of the nonprofit Fishing Foundation have written a new book for young people.

Look at the weather outside, and it might be hard to believe that fishing season is just around the corner. Every summer in Northeast Ohio, the Fishing Foundation takes kids - many of them, people of color from underserved areas - for their first experiences casting, rigging and knot-tying. The nonprofit was founded a decade ago by Dennis Knowles and Gail Grizzell, who are also former employees of Ideastream Public Media. Now they've written a book, “ Learn to Fish: A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginning Anglers.”

The nonprofit Fishing Foundation was established a decade ago by Dennis Knowles and Gail Grizzell. They're hoping young people use their new book and website to get outside and gain a lifelong love of fishing. [The Fishing Foundation]

Dennis Knowles: I'm a longtime bass angler and joined a fishing club in Northeast Ohio called North Coast Bass Anglers Association. We took kids every summer fishing, and I just enjoyed the experience. One day I came to Gail and I said, “Let's start taking kids fishing.” We decided to start the Fishing Foundation so that we could take kids fishing on a regular basis. With my fishing club, we did it once a summer and through the Fishing Foundation, we're able to do it four or five times a summer. We provide the rods and reels, T-shirts, a lunch, instruction. We have volunteers come out with us and we put the kids on the shoreline. After giving them some instruction, we let them catch a few fish for the day and get outside. Primarily, we're taking kids from the inner city – from underserved areas – fishing.

Ideastream Public Media’s Kabir Bhatia: I've never met someone who's an angler who didn't learn from someone else. Is that the sense the two of you have gotten as well?

Gail Grizzell: You're exactly right. The kids that we work with, primarily, are looking for an experience. They've always wanted to go fishing but there wasn't anyone to take them fishing. This way, it has given them an opportunity to experience fishing and have one-on-one interaction with either Dennis, myself or some of the volunteers that are with us.

Knowles: Fishing is a safe sport, but it also does have its risks. You're fishing near the water. You're fishing with hooks that are sharp. You're casting. So, you have to have some instruction. I never really thought of it the way you put it, and I'm so glad you picked up on that. I learned from my uncle. Gail's mother taught her how to fish. It is an interactive sport. You want to have that communal experience with other people when you're out there. That's also the beauty of fishing: You can go by yourself.

Grizzell: Many times, or the majority of the time, it's a father that has taken a son to the shore to teach him how to fish. But in my instance, it was my mom. I think that is really important, that mothers can lead the charge as well. My mom would send my sister and I outside to water the garden… to help bring the earthworms to the surface. Then we would take them and put them in a little jar with some earth, and then they became bait for the fishing experience that was before us, either that day or the next day. To her, it was truly a sport. Although, she liked to bring the fish home and fry them up and cook them. At the Fishing Foundation, we encourage catch and release.

Bhatia: Now you’ve written a book after a decade of doing this. Talk about how that is going to help these young people, especially young people of color, get interested in – and learn more about – fishing.

Knowles: We wrote [the book] as an additional education tool. When we do an event, ideally, that book will get into the hands of kids so they can refer to it and give them more in-depth information about how to fish. Throughout the years, Gail and I have looked for other resources to hand out to kids and to share with them. As we did our research… we didn't find any with people of color, to be honest with you. Fishing, primarily, is a white male sport. The African American population is 13%, but only 8% of those fishing. That's a study by the organization Take Me Fishing. So, we said, “Let's write a book. An instruction manual on how to fish. And let's put people of color in it, because that's the target audience that we're trying to reach anyway.” So that's why we wrote the book: So that we could see ourselves in it. And it's important that if you see yourself, you know you can do it. We did reach out to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for their input on the book. Their folks, specifically at the Fairport Harbor office, are scientists. We had a contact there, and they read the book and they said, “Hey, you got this kind of right, but you may want to add this information to it.” So, it was vetted. This book has been vetted by the experts.

The Fishing Foundation takes kids out every summer for their first angling experience. Knowles and Grizzell hope the new book will help them retain that love of being outdoors. [The Fishing Foundation]

Bhatia: I'm sure that some people, young people, will pick this up and, of course, gain a love of fishing, but also maybe a little bit of science - which can never hurt a young person. What are you hoping the kids take away from this, in addition to getting a lifelong love of going out to fish?

Grizzell: Many times kids don't think about anything other than professional sports as careers. But we're hoping by exposing them to fishing and all of the wraparound things that are a part of being outside in the environment, that they will be exposed to park rangers and biologists and scientists. So, they can think about atypical careers that you don't really hear about. There are so many ways to expand their educational prospects if they think about careers in the environment, conservation [or] becoming good stewards of the environment.

Knowles: I hope kids put down their iPads, put down their iPhones, get outside and enjoy nature. Being outside is good for mental health and physical health, and fishing is a great activity to do that. Get outside, enjoy green spaces and blue spaces and have fun. Join your family and have a good time. It's something that Gail and I [do]: We fish together and we enjoy doing it. It's just good for your overall state of mind, so I hope that they learn from this book and it encourages them to get outside.

Bhatia: I notice the book is very colorfully illustrated by Jamie Sale, almost like a graphic novel, and there's two kids on the front who I just want to hug. He actually used a photo that you sent him to create a guide for readers throughout the book, correct?

Grizzell: I sent him a picture of my mother. When he sent us her illustration, [which] he created from the photograph, it took me to tears. It was so sweet: Miss Margaret. There's my mom. And as a result of writing in that format, people that read the book said, “You know, I could hardly wait to get to the next tip or the next memory that Miss Margaret had to share.” Who knew that that would be kind of a buzzword for those that were reading the book?

Knowles: Throughout the book, we give tips to beginning anglers on how to fish. We use Gail's mother, Miss Margaret and my Uncle Ulis to give those tips throughout. We submitted photographs to Jamie, and he drew the caricatures. We thought that would pay homage to the people who taught us how to fish by having them as the ones throughout the book to provide information and tips.

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