October 8, 2013

Taking Young Men Fishin' - With A Mission!

I've written before about how my boyhood was blessed by my neighbor, Mark Moore, who loved fishing. He was that one man who took a lost, frightened, slightly wild, but very alone young kid under his wing. He probably saved my life in the process. Mark was the guy who took me on my first fishing trip.

I can still remember the first time we went fishing. Looking back, for a 9 year old boy it was wildly exciting experience! Especially for a city kid who never much got away from the hood. I remember seeing the lake at the end of the long wooden dock, with the soft morning sun just beginning to reflect off the water. Everything was still, almost magical. Mark's old wooden fishing boat was waiting for us, and after it was loaded with the tackle box, a white cardboard box of worms, miscellaneous gear, a net, rods, the gas can, and a cooler with beverages and lunch, we finally got in the thing.

I was sitting in the bow, on a square, red cushion. Mark sat in the back, where he commenced to start the engine. I can still remember the smell of gas from the old Johnson motor. Mark pulled on the starter rope a few times, futzed with the choke, pulled some more, and spoke some manly incantations over the thing until it finally sputtered to life.

The next thing I knew we were flying across the lake. I remember watching the water off the bow of the boat and feeling that freshest of fresh air on my face. It was thrilling enough for a city kid who had never been in the middle of a lake. When we were finally delivered to the "right spot" on the reedy part of the lake, Mark and I commenced the process of going after the meat . . . well, fish. That's when my moment of truth arrived.

I was allowed to hold a very sharp fish hook, and invited to load it with a wiggling brown worm. Now I'd fried a few ants under a magnifying glass, and killed my share of bugs, but this was my first lesson in using a live creature for bait. With that trial successfully passed, we spent the rest of the morning learning to cast, untangling line, and mostly watching our bobbers.

There was the the thrill of the catching and then learning to get the hook out of the mouth of a creature who was staring at you. And then the joy and relief (for me) of releasing the fish back into the lake and watching him swim away. I only got one fish that first trip, but loved the anticipation, and getting about a thousand "nibbles."

This was an adventure filled with awe, lessons, fun, and complete boyhood pleasure taken in the company of a man who was teaching me important lessons about life in the process. Not just how to fish, but about planning, preparation, safety, patience, compassion, nature, motors, mastery, and enjoying quiet time in each other’s company.

When I heard about how my brother in mission, Mustapha Mahdi, was starting a program titled, Fishin' With A Mission in Atlanta, my memories got stirred up and I was eager to learn more. Here's the description he sent describing his group's first outing:

A group of 8 men and 12 teenage males ignored the dark clouds and rain and showed up at the Juvenile Court Office at the Fulton County Courthouse. It was all because they wanted to go fishing. We were headed to Lake Altoona, Camp High Harbor to jump start "Fishin' With A Mission...to save our sons." We left Atlanta at about 9:30 in the morning and by the time we got to Lake Altoona, it was still cloudy but the rain had stopped.

Many of the kids had never been fishing before and most had never caught a fish. With help from the men, the young men learned to set up a rod and reel, how to put a worm on a hook, how to cast, and then how to wait patiently for the fish to bite. During the waiting times, in addition to the joking and banter, we got family updates from the boys, learned about their plans for the summer, as well as touching on "boys to men" issues, like respect for women, relationships, plans for their future, and responsible fatherhood.
When one of the guys actually caught a fish,
the shout could be heard for miles . . .
When one of the guys actually caught a fish, the shout could be heard for miles, and the kid's smile was priceless. One young man caught a huge soft shell turtle, a large mouth bass and about 7 brim. He says, he's the man now...because I, the leader, only caught two! For me, the most memorable words came from a boy who didn't catch a single fish but said this was the first time anyone had taken him fishing and he can't wait to go again because it's just nice to get out of the house.

The scenery on the lake was breathtaking. The time with the men, new skills learned, and bragging rights for many, guaranteed the boys are already looking forward to the next trip. I have to say that I had fun too. Again, this experience for me is more proof positive that all our sons and young men want is our time.

I’m grateful to the fathers who showed up, men who chaperoned, the Andrew and Walter Young family YMCA. We were blessed by a Facebook friend, Mr. Gordia Ammons, who made a $200 dollar donation to purchase fishing rods, reels, and supplies we can use again and again. Also, a special thanks to Aaron Zerkle for hosting us at the YMCA Camp High Harbor. All these men actually made the trip possible.

Mustapha says that at it's core, Fishin' With A Mission is about saving our young men from drugs, gangs, violence and teen fatherhood. It's about preparing our young men for manhood and responsible fatherhood with the involvement and guidance of responsible and involved men. With that in mind, he's hoping the fishing trips will be held every month. He's also holding on to the idea that at some point he'll be able to take the whole tribe on a deep sea fishing trip.

Do you have a fishing story from your background? If you missed out on that experience, how does that feel? Do you have a skill set which, if shared with a group of young men, might create a life-long collection of happy memories?

We can all do something for a young male or group of guys somewhere in our community. If you’re curious about how to get started, give me a shout and let’s see what might be possible. I can promise that if you can get past your fears and inertia, as it is with just about any work with young men, you too will have a potent and memorable experience.

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  1. Dave B.7:04 AM


    Fishing is definitely a great way to connect with boys. Attached are some pics of a fishing outing we had as part of our out meetings with Boys To Men. I know fishing for me brings back great memories of my time with my Dad. It is also a way my brother & I still connect. Thank you continuing to share these stories. And I too would love to get our boys out Deep sea Fishing!

  2. Tim W.1:08 PM

    Great blog, Earl! Brought back fond memories of my childhood, when I went fishing with my Dad and older brother up at our cottage in the north/central part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. My Dad wasn't ever very emotionally available to me and my bro, but I/we knew he loved us very much and these special occasions hunting and fishing were precious times and memories for me. With a great percentage of kids growing up in an urban environment, outdoor activities are increasingly important and rare for our boys/young men. One of the things that I discovered as an adult, that what I really appreciated about hunting/fishing was being outdoors, so I've not continued with those activities but continue to paddle on the water and hike outdoors.


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