We All Need a Mentor

Another Father’s Day has come and gone and I again feel fortunate to have been in the middle of three generations of Kuhrs sharing space in a boat on the water.  A cold front had the bluegills tightlipped, but we found some small perch to keep our 4 year old occupied.  I doubt she’ll remember much other than being buzzed by a dozen pelicans and a really fast boat ride.  I’ll certainly remember sharing those moments with her.


Mentors come in all forms - parental figures, friends, teachers, colleagues, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow volunteers.  Sometimes seeing a complete stranger out doing the right thing can be enough to inspire us.  Let’s face it, none of us would be where we are if it weren’t for those mentors helping us along the way. 


Aside from my father (that probably deserves an entire column in itself), my early trout fishing mentors are friends that I still meet up with.  Jon, Travis, and I (along with a few others mixed in) have been fishing together on the opening weekend in May since our mid 20’s.


Now they didn’t put the fish in my creel – but they taught me the basics.  They’d bring me along, show me how to read the maps, find good fishy-looking water, then leave me there to figure out the rest of the puzzle on my own.  Looking back now, it’s exactly what I needed.


They also introduced me to this organization with the initials TU.  The “Save the Wolf River, Stop Exxon Mining” bumper stickers led me to an awareness of the impacts that our choices as a society can have on our natural resources.  Much like the “No Pebble Mine” stickers of today – it’s just the wrong type of mine in the wrong place.


Years later I would find myself alongside other volunteers teaching veterans at the VA Hospital in Milwaukee how to tie flies.  One day a WWII veteran named Royce walked over and stopped me in the middle of tying and said “kid, you don’t know the first thing about tying flies, do ya?”  I promptly replied, “No sir I really don’t – can you teach me?”  For the next six weeks I was not allowed to pick up the bobbin – I’d just show up, sit, watch, and listen.  Thank you Mr. Dam.


We recently held a fishing outing for some of our Veterans On The Fly participants at Rushing Waters Fisheries, yes the trout farm.  This isn’t fishing, it’s catching – but it’s a good way for the veterans to hone their skills.  It also feels pretty good to spend four stress free hours sharing stories, smiles, high fives, and fish slime.


Some things are easily learned, and some important life lessons will come from little league coaches and serve you well for years to come.  But you can’t teach things like respect or humility.  These characteristics are earned over time through shared experiences.  If you ever have the opportunity to work with our military veterans through one of TU’s Veteran Services Partnership programs, please take it.


The Wisconsin Women’s Fly Fishing Clinics, which take place every June in Avalanche, offer another chance for us anglers to share our knowledge with others new to the sport.  I was able to help with the “On The Water Intermediate Skills” class this year and had a blast!


For most of us who aren’t professional guides, we get to experience the joy of walking streamside with an angler and calling out all the things they’re doing right.  No need for criticism, these women will recognize when something’s not working and ask how to correct it.  It also allows us to show off the restoration work being done on trout streams in Wisconsin.


One of the best ways to reaffirm your knowledge is by teaching it to someone else.  Wisconsin TU’s upcoming Annual Youth Camp is a perfect example.  You don’t need to be an expert, you just need a positive attitude and a willingness to share your passion and experience with the next generation.  Keep an open mind, and these new anglers and conservationists will convince you that there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful for the future.


If you schedule won’t allow you to participate in one of these state or regional events, keep it local.  Take a kid fishing, hike the local streambank with your neighbor, maybe have coffee with an elected official and talk about why cold, clean, fishable water matters to you.  Show up at one of your local TU events this summer, make a new friend, and volunteer together.


Be a mentor when you can, and let yourself be inspired by the work of those around you.  We’re all in this together.


Much Respect,

Mike Kuhr