Let me give you an update on some of what I have been up to lately. . . .
I was once again honored to participate in our annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BO-W) workshop held at the 4-H camp in Halsey. I was the instructor for our basic fishing and bow-fishing classes and one of the instructors for our on-pond fishing session. Let me give you an idea of my schedule for that weekend, what I did, and show some pictures.
The workshop starts on Friday each year; again this year I headed out on Thursday. I haul a lot of stuff for my classes, and I hate to be rushed, so I got to the 4-H camp on Thursday afternoon and took my time unloading it all and carrying it up to the classroom. Admittedly, I hauled way more gear than I really needed for my classes. But, I love it when students start asking questions and if one of the ladies wants to know about a belly boat, a spoon-type ice auger, or a #18 Rapala Flat Rap, I like to have it there!
I also like to have some time that first evening to slip to the Bessey Pit to check out the fishing. Afterall, as a responsible instructor, I need to be familiar with my teaching environment! That first evening I dried off some small largemouth bass and bluegills. Catchable-size rainbow trout had been stocked just the day before, and it took me all of one cast to catch one. I stayed after dark hoping for a big channel cat, but none this year.
Friday morning I tried to sleep-in a little, because once the ladies arrive and classes start on Friday afternoon, it is a whirlwind until the weekend is over. This year I had no class on Friday afternoon, so I had a little more time to prepare (some would say I have no class at anytime, Ha). Friday was very windy, but that did not keep me from hiding my wooden carp, bow-fishing targets in the water along the north side of the pit. When I got done, I watched the gals canoe and kayak on the pit while I again got out a rod and dried off some more bass and bluegills. My biggest bass that afternoon was a nice, fat 15-incher, which I thought was not too bad considering the 40 mph northwest winds.
There was a beautiful sunrise Saturday morning before my first class. Here is what it looked like from the deck outside my classroom.
On Saturday morning I taught the basic fishing class. Class periods are 3 1/2 hours long and I remember thinking the first time I taught at BO-W that I did not know what I was going to do for the entire 3.5-hour class period. Now, I will tell you that 3 1/2 hours is not enough; that I never cover all the material I would like during that time. We spent all of our time in the classroom for the basic fishing class. I taught some basic knots (Uni-Knot and Surgeon’s End Loop), and if we had more time, would have gone outside and taught some casting basics, but the bulk of our time we just sat in the classroom and talked about fishing.
You might think it is odd to spend all that time in a classroom instead of just going fishing, but let me explain my philosophy behind the basic fishing course: I believe there are fundamentals that can be mastered for fishing, just like there are fundamentals for any sport. From church league to the pros, the fundamentals of any sport are the same even though talent levels vary greatly. I believe you can learn to become a good or better angler. I also believe that so much of the fundamentals that apply to fishing are mental. The best tool any angler can have is the one between his or her ears. To begin with, an angler has to understand the fish they are trying to catch. Knowing that anglers will begin to figure out where those fish are located, the habitats in which they can be found. Then they can choose the best baits, lures, rods, reels, lines, etc. to present to those fish in those locations. I try to teach a mental approach that the ladies can take from my class and apply to any fishing they might do anywhere they go. I could teach them just what they needed to do to catch fish on the pit Sunday morning, but that would do them little good once they went home and fished some different body of water. My buddy SAM put it best when he said “. . . teaching problem-solving skill, not giving away answers.”
I had sixteen ladies in my basic fishing class on Saturday morning and once I started rambling and they started asking questions, the 3 1/2 hours flew by. It is humbling to look up while explaining something and see ladies taking notes!
After a quick lunch and a cough drop for my throat, I shuffled stuff around the classroom to get ready for the afternoon bow-fishing course. We again started in the classroom for the bow-fishing class, and I followed an outline and covered some basics on equipment, safety, regulations, etc. After an hour and a half or so of that, we were all ready to get on the water, so we loaded the gear in my vehicle and then hopped in some vans and went down to the pit and actually shot at some bow-fishing targets.
I had eleven students in my bow-fishing class. We had 8 compound bows rigged for bow-fishing, one lady brought her own bow-fishing gear and I also took along my old recurve rigged for bow-fishing. Almost every gal was able to have a bow to herself and stalked the edge of the pit looking for the bow-fishing targets that were hidden in the water. The bow-fishing targets were wooden cut-outs painted yellow. They were about the size and shape of common carp and were weighted to sink below the surface of the water. The ladies were not able to shoot real fish during the bow-fishing class, but they walked along the bank and found the targets just like they would if they were actually bow-fishing. They got sand burrs in their pant legs, mud on their shoes and had their bow-fishing lines catch in the weeds just like on a real bow-fishing adventure. The targets were relatively easy to see, but I hid them just like real fish and some were a few feet under water. A bow-fisher has to account for the refraction of light in water, and after a shot or two at the bow-fishing targets, the ladies knew exactly what that meant. If they thought they were aiming low enough, they had to aim even lower!
Once we got to the pit for the bow-fishing class, the gals pretty much were on their own to “hunt” and practice shooting the wooden fish. They loved to hear the clunk of the blunts on the end of their bow-fishing arrows hitting the wooden targets. I roamed offering support and advice; had to throw a target back out in the water on occasion. Sometimes bow-fishing lines got tangled or a reel did not work, but those were usually quick repairs. This year the ladies only had one of the bow-fishing arrows on which the line broke and the arrow was launched out into the pit where I could not retrieve it!
Sunday morning was the on-the-water application of what the gals had learned in class. During that session, I still had to assist with some knot-tying and casting, but I always try to make the ladies do as much as possible on their own (yes, that meant baiting their own hooks with nightcrawlers and handling their own fish!). We have a full tackle box just for the BO-W program and I try to encourage the ladies to choose the baits and lures they want to try. I offered some advice, but tried to get them to think it through on their own. I had twelve ladies go to the pond to fish that last morning this year; a few of them brought their own tackle, but we had plenty for everyone!
The fish were relatively cooperative this year. It did not take long for fish to be caught and grins to be shown.
No, some of the fish were not large, but we started small and worked up from there!
I have to tell a little story about that last photo. That lady had been patiently fishing a spinner. She was throwing it out and counting it down just like I had explained in our classroom session. Eventually, she snagged that bait and we could not get it back, so after breaking it off, I told her I would walk back to the tackle box and get here another bait. I asked if she knew what she wanted to try next and when she hesitated I offered to pick something out for her. I did; walked back and helped her tie it on, and then on her first cast she caught that trout! I do not know about her, but I was excited, excited that something I suggested worked so well, so soon!
The ladies were free to keep fish if they wanted, but most of the gals were anxious to head for home right after the last session, so almost all fish got released.
One gal did choose to harvest a trout and with most of the class standing around near the end of our last class session, I gave an impromptu lesson in trout anatomy. I always check stomach contents of any fish I clean, so I started doing that just to show the ladies what that rainbow had been eating since it was stocked in the pit. We all had seen an abundance of snails in the shallows of the pit, and a couple of ladies had asked about them. I had replied that the bluegills and trout would eat snails and sure enough when we cut that one trout open, it had a small snail in its stomach along with a mash of zooplankton. The fish was a female; it was easy to see the eggs. I also pointed out the stomach, pyloric ceaca, gall bladder, liver, kidney, etc. And then I told the ladies that the heart was not located in the body cavity, it was located up between the gills. I told them I could show it to them, but I did not want any to be squeamish if the heart was still beating. Sure enough, as soon as I cut open the “throat” and opened up the cavity where the heart was located, it beat. They all thought that was great. Fish do not get any fresher than that!
After the workshop was over, everyone packed up to head for home. It always takes me a while to get all my gear loaded back up, and by the end of the workshop I have to admit that I was not moving very fast. Once again I took my time, I was not in any hurry because I was so tired, but because my participation in the BO-W weekend is always so satisfying. It is rewarding to be able to teach those ladies what I love, Nebrsaka’s outdoors, fish and fishing. They are always so eager to learn, to grow and to challenge themselves, to expand their horizons and confidence, and it is very rewarding to be able to share my passions with folks like that. I hoped I helped them in some way. I guess by the end of that weekend every year I just feel like sitting back in satisfaction, reflecting on the successes, smiles and fun we had, the rewards of the workshop, and hoping I get to do it all again next year!