The old adage “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” is certainly true in my case. Of course, I don’t catch or keep enough fish for my daily bread, but fishing feeds my spirit. It also helps me remember the valuable life skills of patience, perseverance and humility.
My dad taught me to fish at a young age. From his teaching, I developed a skill that turned into a passion I’ve shared with my own children. My first clutch is long fledged at ages 43, 41 and 39, but I was blessed with another child who will turn 15 this summer. Their ages and circumstances couldn’t be more different, yet over time and distance they share a common bond: They have all fished, and learned to fish, with me, their dad.
I took my kids fishing when they were barely able to walk. Sometimes they were engaged in fishing; sometimes they got bored; and sometimes they were just happy to play with ropes over the side of the boat or minnows in the bucket. But we were together, and we were making memories and creating family stories. I’m also blessed with two grandchildren who learned to fish at my knee.
Fishing involves what psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement,” which is perhaps the strongest type of motivation. Intermittent reinforcement means that the rewards of some repeated activity happen in a random, irregular way.
One day when fishing you may catch many keepers or a trophy fish. Then you may fish for days without repeating the experience. The reward is thus intermittent. It is one reason, although not often acknowledged, why anglers angle, hunters hunt, and gamblers gamble.
Of course, there are many other “rewards” from fishing or other outdoor activities that are quite regular in nature: fresh air, beautiful scenery, mental and physical challenges, wildlife seen and heard, and the camaraderie of family or friends. I can depend on enjoying one or more of these every trip, and they are motivation enough to get outside.
With my father and my children, I caught lots of fish at times and sometimes none at all. Each experience was different, and most have been forgotten under the layers of life and time. But there were those other times, the “Ooh, I got one!” moments, when the rare and unusual made for memories that last across generations.
When I gather with my kids, we enjoy sharing stories, those invisible threads that weave the fabric of family. And often, fishing and other outdoor adventures form the basis of those stories. We remember; we smile; we laugh; and we bond anew.
Go fishing or do something else outdoors with your kids, your father, another loved one or just yourself. You just never know what will happen, and what memory you will catch.
(Don Hultman worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 30 years, on national wildlife refuges in Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and Montana; in the Midwest Regional Office; and in Washington, DC.)