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Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018
How to make a reef from a rig


Where to begin
How did you first start fishing? Were you bitten by the bug instantly? Or did you fish only occasionally as a tagalong until some defining moment grabbed you? Suddenly you were obsessing about your next adventure. Did you never get grabbed like that? Did you ever get over it?

In recent years, proponents of the “Take only pictures and leave only footprints” mantra have tried to take the fun right out of it. And I get it. There should be a few unique areas managed this way.


Surely a hike in the woods, camera only in hand, out to experience beautiful vistas and interesting sights is worthy recreation. But really, there is nothing that can pull you up a couple thousand feet of elevation gain like having to carry an extra 10 pounds of fishing gear or firearm and ammo.


It’s like a magnet dragging you to the crest to see the other side. What about standing around the check station at 4 a.m. with 100 other camo-clad well-armed waterfowl “watchers,” all hoping the refuge manager call their number. That’s true passion for the outdoors.


Ultimately, it’s important everyone understands where food really comes from and that absolutely no one is exempt from owing thanks to some plant or critter at every meal. Catching your own makes you an honest eater.


But with an ever smaller fraction of the populace equally bitten by the fishing and hunting bug, it’s increasingly challenging to defend public access for hunting and fishing. Every season it seems there are several new assaults, proposals that would put up barriers to one’s personal harvest of our rich wild resources.


One result is declining financial support for the management and defense of those same wild places — conservation and wildlife enhancement projects.


People passionate about fishing and hunting all start somewhere. When I think back, it wasn’t boat fishing that got me started. It was easy access to pier fishing, and perhaps the defining moment was the first time I caught something worth eating. It really clicked while I was eating my own catch for the first time. That was the coolest thing ever, and I was hooked.


With hunting, it was my friend Roland Takayama who got me started. As a first year warden and avid angler only, his captain suggested he get out in the field and try rabbit hunting. Soon he was after me to go too. In many ways, sport fishing is the “gateway” to hunting.


Just like my first fishing, I went along on a waterfowl foray. With a lucky draw opening day at Tule Lake, first birds were easy. It was cool, successful, but I could take it or leave it. Later, I struggled hard while pass shooting along a low ridge. All on my own, it wasn’t easy. The moment came when I finally dropped a small and scruffy hen teal — obsessed!


My daughter had it easy getting her first bass on the boat. And I don’t believe she really cares about bigger fish from boats even now. However, while whiling away the time at the dock during clean-up, she would catch all manner of critters on her own, opal eye, crabs, staghorn sculpin, micro grass bass — whatever would fall victim to her dip-nets, bacon on a string or hook and line.


She kept them all in a variety of small containers until it was finally time to go. It’s this C&R dock fishing for the small stuff that caught her fancy. Getting as many different kinds of critters as possible is her goal.


So, it seems the magic comes with that first successful solo foray. That’s what it takes to make a new angler or hunter. It helps if it’s unfettered, un­complicated and starts small, so there’s a lifetime of bigger and better to be achieved.


The R3 initiative — Recruit, Retain and Reactivate — is all about getting people in touch with our rich heritage of public access for hunting and fishing.


Recruitment: If it were left to me to make new anglers, I would advocate for facilitating simple starts. Pull down the initial barriers to doing it. No matter how big the firecracker, if you can’t get the fuse lit, it ain’t gonna go. Here are a few ideas.


Expand marine no-license-required areas beyond just the outermost man-made structures. Perhaps have it include all shore- and dock-based saltwater angling within city limits. Our largest non-fishing demographic lives within a few miles of the coast in our largest urban centers. This would make it legal to casually pass a rod to anyone who shows interest in trying a cast or two, regardless of age.


Perhaps offer that first-ever hunting or fishing license at a reduced fee — say, an annual license for the cost of a 2-day. This would up-sell the 1-day $16 license buyer to the $24 level, and get them back on the water for a second or third go before the end of the year, providing a better shot at that magic outing that hooks them for life.


Reactivation: Offer the same deal to residents who haven’t held a license in the previous two years, just to make it easy for those who forgot how great it was to get back aboard.


Clubs and other organizations continue to offer first time opportunities to kids who other­wise might not get the chance. Perhaps expand these to include the kinds of fishing a city kid could do again on their own by taking a bus, riding their bike or walking to their new-found hot spot. This means local events for local kids publicized at their schools.


Subsidize and help implement the formation of school fishing clubs as an afterschool activity. L.A. Rod and Reel Club has. Develop discount opportunities from manufacturers and vendors. For example, in Alabama, Izorline sponsors a high school fishing team. A participating tackle shop spools line for team members and it brings them into the store.


Almost all our sport fishing landings offer huge kid’s fare discounts with each paid adult fare. Sometimes it’s free, like Sundays at Dana Wharf Sportfishing. Get the word out and bring a kid with you.

Offer a kid’s photo contests in outdoor publications. Big 5 does that right here in WON! Send in those photos!


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


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