Friday, February 1, 2013

Old Farts & Insurrection

What the hell happened to January? It's normally a slow fishing month and when measured in terms of fish caught it fares poorly. Other dimensions of life moved right on in an sucked up the blank spots on the calendar and now it's gone.

I did manage to get out to the the Somerset show and briefly meet Cameron and Matt. Sadly, the Somerset folks didn't consult me and scheduled the event on my anniversary weekend so I had to fly back home for dinner[1] with Ann and the boys.

Our annual dinner outing has become one of those traditions that only gets finer as the years go by. The boys have become better conversationalists, they've begun to appreciate fine food, and, while our relationship evolves to meet the demands of life in front of us, Ann and I are in a stronger and better place with each passing year. We are blessed.

Next year I'll have to figure out the logistics better -- there are some folks I would have liked to hung out with (e.g. some of you reading this).

The month, with its paucity of fishing had other high notes. I got to wander a small stream with Jonny which is always a worthwhile venture. And I finally caught up with my brothers over belated holiday meals. A quick month, but no complaints now that I've reflected for a few moments.

Old bald guy teaches mocks young guy with hair
When you wander around the Somerset show you find that many of the folks standing in booths and doing demos are graying and bald; like me. The Cheeky and the Vedavoo guys were notable exceptions but no doubt the guys in booths and many of those wandering the aisles were what someone in their 20s would call "old".

Over in Fish Camp Rehab, Ken writes an interesting article about the generation gap. It's long but worth the read. It builds on the experience and commentary of Matt at the Ozark Chronicles at the Southern Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers conclave last year.

In short Matt and Ken talk about how the events of this particular organization appeal to the older guys, likely the guys running the show, than the younger, emerging generation of anglers. If you look at any event run by any angling organization you likely see the same thing -- older guys running things like they like to. And they're often wondering why more young folks don't get involved.

I know that this can be off-putting to those who'd like a different experience but part of the problem is you can't expect someone like me, with 48 years under the belt, to identify with what's going to make someone who's 27 or 32 excited about getting involved. I'm going to try, in fact I do as member of my Trout Unlimited board, but I'm sure to miss the mark more often than I hit it.

What we really need is for this younger generation to leap the gap and lead us a bit. We're starting to see that in my chapter and I hope to see it accelerate. The average age of our leadership is coming down. We also need new, younger members which we're beginning to see. But we also have to remember that a lot of those old guys write big checks to keep things going, so it's always going to be a balance.

If there's an organization that you belong to and it's not going in the direction that you want, it's time to lead an insurrection. Bitching about things is rarely productive; leadership is what's needed.

Yeah, it's these guys we want.[2] A photo by Rob Yaskovic via Matt Smythe the Fishing Poet

1 - If you ever get out in our neck of the woods, swing by the Good News Cafe.
2 - Just don't tell them I said this.


  1. Right on. And I'm becoming a big fan of your footnotes.

    1. Thanks, Erin. I'm enjoying writing the footnotes so it's a winner all around. :)

  2. But we also have to remember that a lot of those old guys write big checks to keep things going, so it's always going to be a balance.

    If there's an organization that you belong to and it's not going in the direction that you want, it's time to lead an insurrection. Bitching about things is rarely productive; leadership is what's needed.

    Your final two lines - so universally true. As one with snow on the roof but a fire still roaring in the hearth, I'm caught in the middle. Leadership is indeed the key.

    And we need to make it less about money. Now, everything needs money because everything needs formality, thus expense. Were your best trips/times spent with "the organization" or with a group of good friends? Rethink it.

    1. I agree that most of my best times on the water were with folks outside of club events. But some of those people I met through the club.

      Of course there's an entirely different set of rabble that I've met through my rambling scratchings. They're not so bad either. And it was relatively inexpensive.

  3. Here's to everyone over 40 who will be willing to embrace the next generation's thinkers who say, "I think I can do it better." The next generation needs mentors, and they are SORELY lacking. Most 60-70 year olds in conservation, I know for a fact, are highly disinterested in helping young people be better and smarter than they ever were themselves.

    I'm lucky to know a few who do. I cherish it, and they enjoy lighting the fire and watching it burn. It's how it should be.

  4. Thanks for the mention, Steve. I couldn't agree with you more - even about the bitching not really being very productive in spite of the fact that I just wrote a bitch piece. LOL As a journalist/commentator/blogger, sometimes the most effective thing you CAN do is complain...just get it out in the open so folks start discussing it. That was why I wrote that post.

    Sometimes, there is nothing more healthy than a good heated argument - if it leads to a vibrant discussion of the things that truly need to be addressed. Inertia is our worst enemy. Get the generations TALKING to each other, and we'll eventually discover far more in common than what separates us. That's why I titled my post, "Standing in the Generation Gap." I'm 46 and the next to youngest son of parents who fought WW2.

    1. Thanks for provoking the thought Ken. Well done.

  5. I'm counting the days to 57 and I bitch with the best of them, even at the kids. My attitude toward shows and clubs here in the land of bass are no different than what was echoed about the trout shows. (I'd rather watch paint peel then see anything about a tied fly). Here, the shows are more like big giant flea markets and you have to endure the exploits of guys named Petros and Winkleman, like they have anything pertinent to say about anything I do.

    Was thinking about a relatively same issue when it comes to the kids. Like the kids I saw around 15 years ago, these too will all disappear. Some never learn to balance responsibility with fishing needs and the fishing needs will disappear. What is laughable to me is I find myself saying in my head... been there, done that. The only thing new about what the kids are doing is the internet, video (which I find frightfully dull no matter how good it is) and the rediscovery of wide angle lenses and the fish thrust.

    Out on the river I run into them. They run around after the hawgs, cameras out, setting up shots and I find myself saying... that's nice, now you want to get out of the way, you're standing on the damn fish...

    Maybe it's just me, I didn't get into fishing like I do till I was 40. And as my wife says, you're going to be 57 and yet you have the brain of a 20 year old. I seem to be a bizarre mix of both worlds.

    1. 57 going on 20. Sounds like a good place to be.

  6. Great post, Steve.
    I believe there's a lot of that "gap-leaping" happening now - in both directions. There are still many in the "older generation" that are extending themselves because they see the value of the energy, intelligence, dedication and think-global-act-local view the "younger generation" has. And there are young-guns that are receptive to the experience, patience and perspective of the old guard.

    What's important to remember is that this huge population of 60+ year-old men were probably all young when they first joined too - and in need of leadership. I'm willing to bet meetings were more traditional in style and the new ideas from these young guys (like more assertive/expansive stream rehab projects or fighting against over-fishing for native and wild fish), or new technology/fishing methods that they were exploring, were probably rebuffed by the 60+ year-olds of that day. Like Led Zeppelin says - the song remains the same.

    Don't forget, social media is bringing more, and more diverse, numbers of people to the sport and these clubs. That, in and of itself, is a pretty foreign concept to the 60+ population - just as much as a broader range of personalities, opinions and sensibilities is not necessarily the easiest pill to swallow either. The Greenbacks in Denver formed as a way to create a stand-alone fly fishing and conservation club made up of like-minded, young-guns. And they're kicking ass. Denver is a bit of an anomaly though. They've got a fly fishing population density that's tremendously high, which makes a club like the Greenbacks feasible. For most other regions - down to the local level - I have to imagine an effort like that would be a far tougher haul. That means all interested parties need to saddle-up together, and stay in the saddle.

    I just became the VP of my local TU chapter. My involvement is motivated by my desire to help bridge that gap that you mentioned - to saddle up. And our first meeting of the year brought a pretty significant influx of interested younger guys. Hopefully they're ready to ride as well.

    Sorry for the tome...

    1. Congrats on your ascension to the halls of power. Or impotence. It's not always clear which it is.

      The Greenbacks are a great example of something new happening, especially as they partner with the old guard orgs. I think there's some symbiosis there.

  7. As a certified Old Fart, I recognize now as an old fart what I didn't as a 20 year old when I was pushing old folks out of the way. There's a good way and a bad way to bridge the gap. Pushing and shoving, yelling and hollering doesn't get it done. We have enough of that already going on in our world. We don't need it during our "contemplative sport." Recognize that us geezers still have contributions to make and recognize that the new world and younger folks have new ideas to explore. Can't we all just get along?

    1. I think the problem is that few are willing to make that connection -- the old guard does things their way and the new guard has a different point of view. If any organization is going to survive it needs to change before it dies. I've seen more than one TU chapter just whither itself into irrelevance. An insurrection would have helped them. I can't imagine it's all that different for the SCFFF.

  8. Steve, Terrific writing. I've been reading your work all this week and find it very entertaining. Thank you.

    As the child of an old fart and 44 years young, and a very amateur fly fisherman who needs more schooling, I think the TIC program is the way to bridge the gap between the old guard and developing the new. TIC is fantastic but needs to be extended outside of the classroom. As a TIC teacher we really only focus on the conservation/bio/ecological part of trout. Perhaps the old guard can get into mentoring kids/students and teach them about the actual fishing part. When we release our trout I take the students fishing but that's only one day for a few hours. TU needs to take these kids fishing.

    What if TU held more student centered fly-fishing events? You have the potential to recruit students/kids that's not really being utilized as effectively as it could be. Once you get kids and students hooked into the actual sport of fly-fishing you will increase membership tenfold. Think about the incredible transfer of knowledge that could occur between the old guard, middle aged guard, the young adults, and kids.

    Post Script- Carole Peck is single handedly responsible for saving my life by getting me to actually eat my vegetables. Around 17 years ago I went to TGNC for a beer tasting and buffet dinner. Carole was cooking and I bypassed her vegetable offering which was a salsa stuffed yellow squash. Before that day I had never eaten anything green, yellow, or orange. Highly offended she slammed it on my plate and said eat it. Who's to argue with Carole? She came out of the kitchen and made me taste it. It was delicious. Carole Peck is an amazing chef.

    1. Thanks, Peter. TIC is a great program for reaching out to kids, but what I think we really need is young adults. They're the key demographic.

  9. I'm pretty involved in TWO sets of orgs these days: fishing-aquatic habitat conservation orgs and veterans orgs. I see the same phenom strangling the future of BOTH more often than not, and I'm not alone. That's why I wrote the piece I did. I get engaged by others in this conversation, and many of these folks are far older than I am (46).

    GenXers (and even more so the Y Generation gang) have a very different way of viewing the universe and how they fit into it than Baby Boomers do. They also have a set of social norms that often seem diametrically opposed to those of the WW2 and Korean War era members of these organizations. Visit a Legion Post or VFW Hall to see a great example of what I'm talking about. They're still playing bingo, for crying out loud! They sit around a bar in the middle of the day drinking $1 cocktails as the grumble about what's on CNN or FOX News. Maybe they have the TV tuned to ESPN or there's video trivia on the TV sets. Ask what they're doing for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families to bring them in. You'll get some really revealing answers:

    - we give them their first year membership free (for the veteran only).
    - we had a cookout on the back deck for them last year, but none came.
    - we raise money for Wounded Warrior Project. (How?) Bingo night!
    - some of our guys are members of The Legion Riders, and they do those motorcade escorts for the funerals.

    Ooooooookay, but none of that is going to convert into MEMBERS. None of it has...has it? Why not?

    The answers to that question are far easier than the old geezers who sit on the boards and committees of these orgs can imagine. But when it comes time to elect leaders, they will vote down anyone under the age of 60. That's the first problem: $$$ talks and everything else walks, and only those who are retired, kids gone from home, and they've inherited wealth from dead parents have the means to be generous with their money and time. So the old farts rule the roost. This is short-sighted and institutionally suicidal.

    Those who can volunteer loads of time and money are extremely valuable for THOSE things, but not automatically for vision and leadership that is pertinent to the times. They are VITAL to the health and success of the organizations, and are making lasting and crucial contributions. But theirs aren't the ONLY contributions that are necessary for success. A healthy and vibrant community service organization, which is what ALL of these non-profits are basically supposed to be, needs to be a vibrant servant of the whole community it's charter mandates that it serves. If it isn't, then it quickly becomes irrelevant. If it is, then it is a force to be reckoned with!

    1. If we're not growing, we are dying. If we are not growing faster than the rate of population growth, then don't kid yourselves - we are dying! As we lose #s, we lose political and economic clout. We lose good will within the community. We lose relevance. Our issues become irrelevant to the community. We become failures no matter how much we sit around and pat each other on the back until there are only two of us left to pat one another on the back and say, "good job."

      When that scenario plays out in fishing, we lose habitat. We lose fishing access rights. We lose legal protections regarding tackle, seasons, bag limits, the ability to impose catch-n-release management zones, and virtually anything else you can dream up that might be important to sustaining fishing as a recreational past-time available for common folks to enjoy. Trust me, there are PLENTY of folks of means out there who will align themselves and spend their capital to turn fishing into something only the privileged can partake in just to keep it all to themselves! They like being the only guy on a long stretch of river, too. The difference is that they can actually make that happen if they want to! We can only band together in large numbers to KEEP IT FROM HAPPENING. In the end, that is why we all do this stuff, whether we admit it or even realize it or not. But take the time to reflect on what I just wrote and it is self-evidently true.

      That's why I co-founded a program last year in Florida called the Legion Anglers. It's an American Legion sponsored fishing team project that targets Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their family members, and encourages them to get involved in their local American Legion post through fishing tournaments. The South Miami American Legion Post kicked off this program and put the very first team in the Miami Blue Water Fishing Classic last May. The team took 3rd place and consisted of all disabled combat vets. The captain and crew were from the local US Coast Guard District.

      You have no idea how long it took, how much effort went in to convincing the old farts at the American Legion that this was a good idea, or how many bureaucratic hoops we had to jump through just to finance this thing! It's hard to blaze trails and do it right. But once you kick a door down, anybody can walk through behind you.

      Standing in the Generation Gap isn't just the title of an article I wrote to stir the pot of discussion.

    2. Thanks, Ken. Good to hear you're fighting the good fight. Well done with the veterans program. We owe much to those guys and gals.

  10. Steve, I'm a bizarre guy. I have a nasty penchant for brutal honesty. Take my own motives, for example. It usually takes more than one thing I care deeply about intersecting somehow to get me to actually step out of my selfish comfort zone and DO something. I also readily admit that I don't do anything...not a darned thing...without some personal hope of gain or fear or loss. Forty-six years of keen observation of humanity (current and historical) and honest introspection have also led me to the conclusion that I'm no different than anyone else.

    America's combat veterans are a demographic cross-section of our society, but they are a slice right off the top 1% in terms of QUALITY of character, conviction, the will to act, civic awareness, and moral sensibility. They also have considerably more and better quality skills and training than the general public when it comes to: organizing events and operations, functioning as teams to accomplish goals, using and adapting technology and tools not directly intended for a specific purpose to accomplish a task, and adapting to and overcoming stressful and rapidly changing situations. And these attributes have been tested and proven in battle where the grading scale is live or die.

    Now I humbly ask you: can you possibly imagine a better pool of Americans from which to select employees, look for new friends, or recruit volunteers or club members? It's not rocket surgery! But the other 99% of Americans...well, actually the 85% of Americans who studies show do not even have a relative whom they know personally who has served in the US military since 9/11/2001...are clueless. To the vast majority of Americans, these combat veterans are just a scary bunch of weirdos who were crazy enough to volunteer to kill or be killed...thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, gun nuts, and bloodthirsty warmongers. That's the only explanation for "rushing toward the booming cannons and the rattle of musketry" that makes sense, right? Who in their right mind would do that if nobody MAKES you do it? Right?

    There are between 1.5 and 2 million Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans wandering around the USA, a huge percentage of whom are still wondering "what's next" to some extent or another. Let that sink in...

    SOMEBODY is going to help them answer that question. Let THAT sink in! Burn that in REALLY GOOD...because it will be one of the most profound factors determining the future of the world for the next fifty to one hundred years. It will absolutely determine most aspects of the course, tone, and texture of America for that same time period.

    "Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it." ~ Hanibal of Carthage, as quoted by General George S. Patton, US Army (and many people since)

    1. As a culture, we are forged in the crucible of our wars. We name our generations and decades after them. Most of our national holidays have military significance tracing their roots to our wars. Our national monuments and parks are mostly related to our wars. Our schools, bridges, highways, airports, etc. are named after our warriors. I could continue, but it is actually the intangible fabric of our morality and our value systems that are most profoundly altered in the aftermath of our wars, and each generation of warriors returns home to write their own manifesto in the choices they make, the literature they create, and the children they raise.

      We don't owe MUCH to "those guys," Steve. We ARE the product of "those guys" past and will become the product of "those guys" present. I am one of "those guys" from previous conflicts. My father landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. My brothers have been in every major and some minor US military ground conflict from Vietnam until today. My wife is a disabled combat veteran of the 1st Armored Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2009-2010. We ARE the 1/2 of 1%, but I've been out of the fight since the end of 1993.

      Since 2007, I've been doing what I could to try and help put "Humpty" back together again. I've been doing that through fishing and volunteer peer mentoring services. I have done it in conjunction with the military, VA, and serious-minded and well-trained orgs, not just going off half cocked with no real training in psychological first aid, counseling, suicide prevention/intervention, social services assistance, grief counseling, casualty assistance, first aid, CPR, event planning, org leadership and team building, etc. The military provides ALL of that stuff to volunteers free of charge. You just have to have to actual intent (instead of flapping your yap) to go and DO become properly equipped to actually help people effectively instead of getting them drowned, run over by trains during parades, or killed on shooting range. (but I digress)

      Suffice it to say that combining these OIF-OEF veterans and ANYTHING that matters in a postive, wholesome, constructive, FUN way that re-engages them with their communities is GOLDEN! But since they know what the hell they're doing, you better bring your A-game.

    2. "I have a nasty penchant for brutal honesty."

      And for long posts.

  11. Yeah, that too. I write books and curriculum for a living. Occupational hazard!