Interior Secretary Sally Jewell distributed night crawlers Monday morning among a group of excited Washington middle school students; many had never been fishing before. Some baited their hooks skittishly, while others couldn’t get their lines in the water fast enough.
Jewell was celebrating National Fishing and Boating Week, highlighting conservation and outdoor recreation by going fishing with more than 200 students from the surrounding metro area on Washington’s Anacostia River.
Fishing is growing in popularity in the United States. In 2011, 33.1 million people went fishing, an increase of 3.1 million people from the previous survey in 2006, according to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fishing accounted for $41.8 billion in outdoors expenditures in 2011, according to the survey.
Even so, Jewell said, many youths haven’t experienced much time in nature.
“If you talk to a lot of these kids, they’ve been introduced by a parent if they’ve been in the outdoors before,” Jewell said. “For kids who don’t have adults in their life to introduce them to these activities, a day like this makes all the difference. They’ll remember this forever.”
After speaking to the group of students at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House on the banks of the Anacostia River, Jewell and the students boarded a boat for an hour of fishing. Joining them was Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and one of the guests helping the students bait their hooks.
The boat made the first of several trips down the Anacostia, under a city bridge and toward Ronald Reagan National Airport.
The excitement soon gave way to a quiet focus as the children cast their lines and waited intently, watching their bobbers during a humid, midmorning break in the clouds. Although the weather was fully cooperative, the fishing was slow on the hour-long trip.
“I wish we would’ve had more luck this morning,” Morris said. “I told the kids this morning, though, that every day they get to spend out on the water fishing is a day they’ll remember as a happy day in their life.”
Morris said he wasn’t concerned with the slow fishing; giving kids the opportunity to try fishing was enough to call the day a success. “They’re just having fun and experiencing something,” said Michael Kelley, a science teacher at the Washington Middle School for Girls. “They’re learning. They’re definitely learning even though they aren’t in the classroom.”
The group also got a close look at the Earth Conservation Corps’ two osprey nests on the South Capitol Street Bridge. The return of osprey and several other birds of prey is the result of the work of several local agencies to clean up the Anacostia River and maintain healthy habitat.
The conservation group recently tagged the two osprey for tracking during the birds’ annual migration to the Amazon rainforest.
The lessons of conservation and the benefits of getting outdoors dominated the conversation during the program.
“I think the importance of connecting people with nature builds healthy lives, it builds whole human beings, it provides balance. . . . You take care of places when you’ve been introduced to them and feel like they’re yours,” Jewell said. “If you’ve never been welcomed to the outdoors, you won’t feel that.”