I’m very lucky. Some might even say blessed. Some have said they’d trade their current life to do what I do for a living. I’m very cognizant of that point, and I never take it for granted. Getting to be a professional outdoorsman, even though it requires a ton more actual work than almost anybody outside the industry realizes, is truly something that should always be appreciated. But you know what? When I sit down and reflect on where I am and consider where I’m going, it’s not all the fishing, hunting, and outdoor cooking that comes to the forefront of my thoughts. It’s not the giant lake trout I caught on film, the day we caught a bass every 2.6 minutes on average for five hours straight, or the monster mule deer buck I harvested last season. Those were unbelievable days no doubt and I was overwhelmed at the time, but when push comes to shove, those are not the most rewarding parts of my life afield. You know what is? The sharing.

Let me take a step back. I’m the proprietor of Fishful Thinker LLC, founded in 2002. The company was built around this mantra:

“Fishful Thinker is a state of mind, pure and simple. Not a person, place, or genre; rather a mindset that besets those who think fishy thoughts. It’s the relentless quest of knowledge coupled with application, the wave of success and failure, and the countless hours daydreaming of the next opportunity. It’s anticipation, preparation, participation, and reflection; primal yet sophisticated. It’s youthful exuberance and ageless wisdom; a process without end where answers bring questions, and success leaves one yearning for the next challenge. It’s respect for the quarry, environment, and peers, the sharing of knowledge, and the understanding of an angler’s place in the grand scheme, however humbling that may be. Fishful Thinker; it’s all in your head."

Did you notice the “sharing of knowledge” part? Well, that’s where the reward lies.

Do you know what my favorite part of guiding anglers is? I bet you can now guess. Folks that get in my boat come to learn, and I love to share whatever knowledge I have gained over the years. That my topic happens to be catching fish isn’t really the point. The point is that I find it rewarding to help someone learn what they want to learn. I’d probably be a terrible teacher of a required class, but I could surely teach an elective class and feel rewarded.

Coaching is an extension of teaching, right? Well, coaching high school bass anglers proved to be my most rewarding accomplishment of 2016. My team won the Bassmaster High School National Championship and that certainly helps, but just being there to help those kids achieve their goals was the real reward. The year prior my team tied for dead last in the same event, and while I was disappointed in my own coaching performance, it was still a very rewarding thing to be part of, so much so that our plan to qualify and return to the championship the next year was hatched on the 1000 mile drive home from our disappointing finish.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I think you might feel the same way if you give back by sharing your fishing or hunting knowledge with someone who can benefit from it. In my experience it doesn’t matter exactly who receives your help afield, only that you share this lifestyle that we outdoors people are lucky to live.

One of my favorite events every year is C.A.S.T for Kids (CastForKids.org). Developmentally disabled kids are paired with volunteer boaters who take them out fishing for a few hours, and then we have lunch together. I don’t even fish yet it’s an unbelievable day on the water, far more so than if I went out and smoked a bunch of big bass with a buddy that same day. The kids are giddy to be outdoors, on the water, and they make sure you know about it in no uncertain terms. A guide client that beams after finally figuring out that jerkbait cadence I’ve been teaching him for the last hour and catches an average smallmouth brings out the same feeling in me. I could catch those home lake smallies one after the other and never achieve that personal reward. And while it may not be the same intensity as doing so in person, when a viewer or reader emails me to share their own success derived from something they learned from our content, well, there’s my reward. This life ain’t about the money.

As we head in to another summer on the water, I urge you to consider my personal story. Take a young kid to a neighborhood pond and help them catch a few bluegills. Join a fishing club and help teach new recruits your skills Perhaps you’re a life long fly guy; take it upon yourself to introduce someone new. Put your feelers out for a high school or collegiate bass team to work with. It’s the fastest growing segment of fishing and even major companies like St Croix Rods are stepping up to propel the sport even more mainstream; get involved yourself. Whatever angle of sharing your lifestyle appeals to you, do it. I honestly think you, and the sport, will be better off for it.