The Be-THE-GUY (or THE GAL) Fishing-License Challenge
In the early 80s, for a group of gangly, basketball-loving young men in Golden, Colo., Pat Sanner was The Guy. He had the backyard basketball court, the basement sports cave, close access to a park for football and a mom who tolerated our group better than most. Sanner was genetically wired for sports: His father was Lynn Sanner, the sports director for KBTV (now KUSA) and host of “The Broncos with Red Miller,” the weekly Denver Broncos recap. I never met Lynn; Pat had lost his father right around the time my family moved to Golden, but you could see the impact the father had on the son.
In the dark ages before group texts, Facebook groups and tweeting, Pat would gather the gang to either play a game or watch one. I bet if I thought hard enough, I could still remember his phone number, more than 30 years later. Others — Martin Croissant, Dave Thorpe, Bernie Kubistek, etc. — would also take turns being The Guy, each bringing their unique settings, tools and skill sets. Moving midway through high school isn’t easy for anyone, but all of those guys made it a lot easier by inviting and including me.
In college, Debbie VanDyke was The Gal. She knew the hotspots, bars, bands, concerts, etc. When I started working for Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)), Pat Miks was The Guy and Henrietta Turner and Linda Sikorowski were The Gals. And so on, and so on.
But then, my main job and a small start-up business meant all I did was work, and for more than a decade, there was hardly any time for hanging out with The Guys or Gals. But the start-up shut down, as they often do, and as I tried to fill in the small-business-sized hole in my life, I realized that the people who had always brought everyone together had moved on. Although I had tons of friends (or, as a good friend’s mom would ask, “Are they friends or are they acquaintances?” in a way only a 96-year-old woman can), I was a bit rudderless. I had become socially isolated.
Luckily, right around the time I turned 50, I was invited to go elk hunting. And by invited I mean talked into helping an out-of-state, first-time Colorado elk hunter, Alex Kedas, on his quest by using my work connections to find areas to hunt, seasons to go and what to bring. He brought to the table gear and a lifetime of experience deer hunting. Kedas’ garage looks like a strong wind hit a Cabela’s, then swept up a Bass Pro, before finally taking down a Gander Mountain (may they rest in peace). Being around gear like that makes one want it for their own, so I aquired a .308 (my dad’s), a compound bow, a couple backpacks, three tents (two-, four- and eight-person) and bought my first big-game licenses in more than 30 years. Kedas was The Guy to jumpstart my midlife, wildlife resurgence. Over a few years of elk hunting, neither of us has bagged an elk (the deer, however, haven’t been as lucky), but both have gained a brother.
Scouting and hunting trips brought on fishing trips — and more gear. I now have at least three spin rods and reels, way more lures than I know what to do with, ice-fishing equipment, two kayaks (a beginner one and a kick-ass fishing kayak with all the bells and whistles) etc., etc. Along with the gear, I gathered just enough knowledge along the way that I can help others wanting to camp, hunt and fish. I could never be a guide, but I can be The Guy.
A few years back, I was at a conference for The Association for Conservation Information (ACI). It is a nonprofit organization of natural resources communicators made up of professionals representing state, federal and Canadian wildlife conservation and parks and natural resource agencies, as well as private conservation organizations. “We serve to further natural resource conservation and exchange,” according to their website. Presenter after presenter spoke about the need to raise awareness of the sports of hunting and fishing, to increase participation — recruitement, retention and reactivation (or R3). That is when the idea for this article popped in my head. Don’t just talk about how to bring people into the sport, be The Guy or Gal who does it.
Since then, I have made an effort to take people along on my fishing trips. I’ll provide the gear and they just have to buy a license. Last year, at least six fishing licenses were bought due to my invites. And after a trip or two, they have purchased some gear of their own. Fishing is often a solitary sport, but it’s more fun when it isn’t. One of my best friends, Greg McDowell, hadn’t eaten meat since his teens. But together, we caught his first-ever rainbow trout that we later grilled and ate. “If I catch it and kill it, I’m going to eat it,” McDowell said. He hasn’t stopped being a vegetarian, but he keeps asking when the next fishing trip is.
Pedro Laumbach is an example of reactivation and has joined us on some of those trips. He fished all the time as a kid on his family’s ranch in New Mexico but hadn’t ever bought a Colorado fishing license. “I was a poor news station cameraman and couldn’t afford the license and a fishing pole and all the stuff, but the main reason is I didn’t have anyone to go with,” said Laumbach. “Once I knew I had access to gear and a place to go, the cost of the license wasn’t bad at all.” He’s bought a license every year since. And, while on a family fishing trip, he took the photo of his niece, Katelyn, that graces the cover of the Colorado Outdoors fishing guide.
Fishing is one of the best ways to introduce people to the outdoors. Although I like to take people with me when I go on a trip to view and photograph wildlife, that doesn’t pay the bills. Hunting and fishing license fees pay for the bulk of wildlife management. In fact, some people who don’t hunt or fish buy fishing licenses to contribute to wildlife conservation. There is no easier way for Coloradans to help pay for what CPW does to manage our resources. “My family and I buy fishing licenses every year, even though none of us hunt or fish. It’s the easiest way to contribute to Colorado Parks and Wildlife,” Julie Stahli, former CPW policy and planning analyst, stated during testimony in support of CPW’s recent Future Generations bill. However, everyone knows that buying a fishing license is much more enjoyable if you actually use it.
In recent years, there have been the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Cinnamon Challenge, the Mannequin Challenge and tons more. I now propose the Be-THE-GUY (or THE GAL) Fishing-License Challenge. Everyone who is reading this is more than likely set up to do it. See how many fishing licenses you can sell by taking people out and challenge other anglers to do the same (I think I’m up to four so far this spring). In doing so, you can help support wildlife and fisheries conservation, habitat protection, and increase awareness and appreciation. You won’t win any prizes, but you might just gain a lifelong friend or two along the way.
There’s nothing to lose: Be The Guy.
Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.