Phil Taunton stood on a dock on a lake in east-central Kansas, and watched Bailey Wiltz’s reaction to the big bass she had just yanked out of the water.
“How much do you think that bass will weigh?” Taunton said, waiting for a fish story from the 6 year old.
“About 30 pounds,” the little blonde said as she fidgeted in front of a camera.
Taunton laughed heartily and said, “You’re going to be a good fisherman. You already have the stories.”
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Kids and fishing. For Taunton, the two are part of Americana, a red-white-and-blue combination that lasts through the ages.
Taunton, 67, remembers his childhood days when his dad would always patiently work with the neighborhood kids to show them how to fish.
“He would load the neighborhood kids into our station wagon, and we’d all go fishing,” Taunton said. “As a family, we didn’t have a lot. But we didn’t know we were poor.
“We spent a lot of time in the outdoors, and my dad always made sure we had the opportunity to go fishing and hunting.”
Now Taunton is doing the same thing. He is a volunteer for Fishing’s Future, a national organization dedicated to teaching children and their parents the joys of fishing. In Kansas, that organization partners with Fish Kansas, a Wildlife, Parks and Tourism program. Taunton logged more than 350 hours of volunteer time last year, putting on seminars, conducting workshops and organizing family fishing days. And he is running at the same pace this year.
That’s what he was doing Thursday on a watershed lake in east-central Kansas. He hosted a family of five, his neighbors in Emporia, to a day of fishing and instruction. And as usual, it was hard to see who was having the better time, Taunton or the kids.
“I love watching the kids come out and just have a great time in the outdoors, whether it be catching fish, chasing frogs or skipping rocks across the surface,” Taunton said. “We need to get more kids away from their video games and show them how much fun fishing, camping, hiking and hunting can be.”
It was obvious that the formula worked Thursday. As parents Corey Wiltz and Chelsea Gerleman looked on, Bailey, Cole, 6, and Brooklyn, 11, scrambled up and down the rocks and docks in search of good places to fish. They were helped by Taunton’s junior assistants, Dakota Orender, 16, and his brother, Weston, 13.
Taunton laughed as Cole chased down a small frog, then carefully put it on a hook. He cast the line out and waited for his bright-red bobber to go under.
After waiting impatiently for a few minutes, he took the frog off the hook and switched to a worm. It wasn’t long before he was fighting a small channel catfish and lifting it onto the dock.
Cole jumped when the fish wiggled, but Dakota Orender was there to unhook it and then let Cole and Bailey touch it before it went back into the water.
Such scenes are what Shane Wilson, a first-grade teacher in Port Isabelle, Texas, had in mind when he founded Fishing’s Future in 2007. He set up a non-profit organization dedicated to inspire children to go fishing and families to bond on the banks of a fishing hole.
Fishing’s Future relies solely on donations and volunteers. It provides bait, fishing tackle and plenty of inspiration to children and their families.
The organization now has 59 chapters in 16 states, 12 of them in Kansas but none in Missouri. Last year, those chapters put on events that attracted 103,000 participants.
“We want to reconnect families through fishing and nature. That’s our goal,” Wilson said. “You think about it. Fishing is an activity that the whole family can participate in together.
“It’s not like soccer or baseball, where the parents are on the sidelines rooting for their kids. That’s great, but fishing gives the families an opportunity to participate together.”
To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to email@example.com.
To learn more about Fishing’s Future, go to the website fishingsfuture.org.
Picture this: A photo gallery of happy, young fishermen
A photo contest that started in Kansas has gone national.
Phil Taunton of Emporia, Kan., and the KVOE radio station that carries his weekly outdoors show established a photo contest to highlight young anglers across Kansas and their catch last year. Fishing’s Future, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Cabela’s co-sponsored the contest.
At the time, Taunton envisioned a small, local contest. But he quickly learned otherwise. He received more than 200 entries.
Now that contest, called CPR (Catch, Photo, Release,) has gone national. Fishing’s Future, the national non-profit for which Taunton volunteers his time, now administers the contest.
It is open to children ages 16 and under. Here’s how it works. Children must submit a photo of them along with their fish and a 200-word essay about their experience. They can submit their entry by going to Fishing’s Future Facebook page.
The contest started June 26 and will continue through Aug. 28. Weekly winners will be chosen randomly by computer.
Starting Aug. 29, all of the entries will be available on Facebook and the public will vote on their favorites. The three entries receiving the most votes will be announced Sept. 4 and the winners will receive the grand prizes.
| Brent Frazee; firstname.lastname@example.org