How to Become a Fly-Fishing Mentor and Engage the Next Generation of Fly Fishers
Getting new anglers excited about fly fishing is one of the best ways to preserve fishing areas for future generations! Learn how with Fly Fishing Expert Robert Levin.
Each time you step into a stream, onto a drift boat, or stand on a bank ready to cast your fly line, do you take that opportunity for granted? Do you believe that opportunity will be there for future generations like it is for you now? You should not.
Fly-fishing locations everywhere are targets for development, and they often are being sought after by proponents of endless water-sports activities, many of which are not conducive to a fly-fishing environment.
As the population grows, pressure on these often-pristine locations increases exponentially. Quite simply, the longevity of this sport depends in great part on the current generation of fly fishers taking an active role in conservation and sharing the joys of fly fishing with future generations. This may help preserve the fly-fishing locations we currently have.
Many of us were introduced to fly fishing by our fathers or other family members. Unfortunately, many youngsters today are just not that lucky. Therefore, this huge pool of potential fly fishers is not exposed to the fun of fly fishing.
However, there are ways to reach some of these youths. Where I live in Florida, we have worked with the youth members in the Sheriff's Camp program and with other charitable organizations that operate youth clubs. Below, I detail how to become a Merit Badge Counselor with the Boy Scouts.
Volunteer with the Boy Scouts
Over the years, I have been associated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The BSA Scouting program includes a Merit Badge program. One of the current Merit Badges being offered is the Fly-Fishing Merit Badge. Adult volunteers, known as Merit Badge Counselors, oversee this program. The counselor’s job is to review the requirements with the candidates, demonstrate (if necessary) the process that’s involved, and sign off on candidates’ completion of the requirements.
There are no fees to become a Merit Badge Counselor. You have to submit an online application to BSA, which includes agreeing to a background check, and complete a Youth Protection Training process, which is also done online and typically takes around two hours. Women are also always welcome in the Scouting program.
Become a Merit Badge Counselor
The process works like this. Go online to my.scouting.org, and create a free account. Keep in mind, you are preparing to be a Merit Badge Counselor and are not associated with an individual unit, like a troop or team. You are going to be eligible to work with any Unit in your area that has candidates seeking a Fly-Fishing Merit Badge. This can be a troop member, a varsity scout, or a venturer. Once you create an account, you will see the option to complete the Youth Protection Training.
To do this, you will watch a series of videos discussing possible types of abuse youth members can be subjected to. You will learn to recognize the indicators that this kind of treatment has taken place, and what you can and should do about it. After watching these videos there will be a quiz that you must pass, though there will be opportunities to re-take it if you need a second chance. The process takes about two hours, which you can do at your convenience. This process is as much for your protection as it is for the youth members. Following the guidelines, you avoid being falsely accused of placing any youth in jeopardy.
When you finish the quiz, you will get access to a certificate of completion. At this point, you should find your local council, where you should see a listing for the local district executive. Contact that person, and tell them you are interested in registering to become a Fly-Fishing Merit Badge Counselor. They will be able to access the application (seen below) and Youth Training you did online and will take it from there.
You can make local BSA Units aware of the fact that you are offering Fly-Fishing Merit Badge counseling by attending a local district Roundtable, where unit leaders meet each month for program updates. Interested youth will contact you and make an appointment at your convenience.
Passing along your skills and experience to the next generation is one of the paramount ways we have of ensuring the longevity of fly-fishing opportunities. What you need to volunteer will cost you nothing. A local unit will usually provide a candidate with a merit-badge pamphlet, and there is a downloadable workbook to help keep the candidate organized. The unit leader gives the candidate a “Blue Card” for you to keep their records on. After they have met all the merit-badge requirements, they submit this card to their unit. If all goes well, their Unit Leader will award them with a new badge!
This pastime can be shared with other adult fly-fishing buddies. It fits perfectly with the requirements of the BSA Buddy System, as you cannot work alone with an individual youth member. There always needs to be others present, like a parent, scout leader, other adults, or other youth members.
The fly-fishing club I belong to has nine trained and certified fly-fishing Merit Badge Counselors, and we work together with units in our area. This activity is rewarding and worthwhile. I encourage you to consider doing it.
If you don’t belong to a club, you still can contact one. Some clubs don’t have an organized outreach program for working with youth, but most are ready to help the children in their area that have an interest in fly-fishing. Many will have some pieces of old gear that they are willing to donate for this purpose. We were able to get a bunch of old rods and reels, as well as fly-tying tools and materials, for youth members to borrow to complete the merit badge requirements. The kids get to walk away with all their newfound knowledge and all the flies they learned to tie! This is all part of what my club calls its Outreach Program. The candidates and their parents do not need to go out and buy a bunch of things in order to earn this Merit Badge, which helps with participation.
Interest them today, and these locations will be there tomorrow! You can do merit badge counseling at your convenience and do as much or as little of it as you have time for. Working with these youngsters helps ensure the interest of the next generation in the sport of fly-fishing. They will be the voice to foster the preservation of the places we enjoy this pastime. Conservation and education have always been an important part of this activity. You can help keep it alive.