Fishing Conference Encourages Kids To 'Unplug'

They say that a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association's annual Family and Youth Casting Call brings a two-day event filled with fishing education, fishing science, and, well, fishing. Congress is out on recess, but before they left, a few members stopped by to do a little fishing. It was part photo op and part schmoozing. But mostly, it was part of an effort to get Americans — especially young ones — away from their keyboards and computer screens and out into the real world.

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Congress is out on recess. But before they left, a few members took time to do a little fishing. It was part photo op, part schmoozing. But mostly, it was part of an effort to get Americans, especially young ones, away from their computers and out into the world.

Nathan Rott went along to see if the kids would take the bait.

NATHAN ROTT: They say that even a bad day's fishing is better than a good day's work. Here...

(Soundbite of splashing)

ROTT: ...on the muddy banks of the Potomac River, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi couldn't agree more.

Senator MIKE ENZI (Republican, Wyoming): For me, fishing is my passion. It's the most relaxing thing that I can do. And right now, the snow is a little deep in Wyoming for fishing, but it's perfect here.

ROTT: Enzi was just one of many anglers lining the banks of the Potomac and the neighboring C&O Canal. Members of Congress, conservationists, lobbyists were all out here for the American Fly Fishing Trade Association's annual Family & Youth Casting Call, tossing lines in the murky water, laughing and heckling.

Sen. ENZI: I think you should have played them longer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROTT: After weeks of fury over the budget national debate, Enzi says there's no partisanship out here on the river.

Sen. ENZI: Fishing and hunting and the outdoor sports really don't have a party. Everybody is interested in them. Everybody wants to preserve them.

ROTT: Everybody who isn't too busy on Facebook or Twitter, that is. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that on a nonschool day, the average American kid spends seven and a half hours plugged in.

Sen. ENZI: I keep telling them if they really want high-density three-dimension, they just need to step out their front door, and fishing is the best high-density three-dimension that you can get.

ROTT: Thus, all the rods and reels, bobbers and worms being tossed into the water during the event's last day. See, many anglers say that fishing is the outdoor world's equivalent of a gateway drug: Get a kid outside with a rod in hand and without knowing it, they become the conservationists of tomorrow.

Mr. FRANK CRESCITELLI (Founder and Chairman, Fishermen's Conservation Association): We brought about 40 children down from Staten Island, New York.

ROTT: Frank Crescitelli is with the Fishermen's Conservation Association. They try to connect inner city kids with the outdoors through fishing.

Mr. CRESCITELLI: We loaded them up on a bus at 5 a.m., and we were hoping for a sunny day and the outdoors to cooperate, but the fish are already wet.

ROTT: And with the pouring rain, so are the kids.

Mr. CRESCITELLI: Now, Delilah here never caught a fish before in her whole life, so if we can get her to catch one, it would be fabulous.

ROTT: That is if 13-year-old Delilah Batai(ph) is interested.

Fishing ain't quite your thing, huh?

Ms. DELILAH BATAI: No.

Mr. CRESCITELLI: Delilah, there's a lot of waiting in fishing.

Ms. BATAI: Mm-hmm.

ROTT: Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

Ms. BATAI: Hmm.

ROTT: I tried passing the time by asking what she's most excited to see in Washington, D.C.

Ms. BATAI: A fish in my rod.

ROTT: That's the thing you're most excited to see today, not like the White House?

Ms. BATAI: Oh, yeah. I want to see that too.

ROTT: She gets a few nibbles, a couple of close calls, but no fish. And finally, we call it quits.

Out of the rain and under a large tent, we hear the details of some of the other kids. They had better luck.

Mr. KELVIN JENNINGS: When I saw, like, the fish actually come out, it was wiggling and everything, and its gills were popping up, like it was doing the chicken dance.

ROTT: Kelvin Jennings caught three blue gills, first fish he's ever caught.

Back at home, he's like any other kid. He watches TV and plays computer games.

Mr. JENNINGS: But now, I found my passion: fishing.

ROTT: Safe to say, he's hooked.

For NPR News, I'm Nathan Rott.

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