GIVING BACK - How to become a mentor in the outdoors

We can all remember the story of how we were first introduced to Fly Fishing. Often it passes through generations of family or is slowly developed through the love for fishing or the outdoors in general.

Regardless of how we began, sometimes there is a key turning point in our fishing career when someone decided to offer their time and advice to help us improve. Often unofficial, this de-facto 'mentor' can have a huge influence on someone's desire and ability to pursue their love of the outdoors.

This article is a reflection of my own story of being introduced to Fly Fishing which translated in a love for the outdoors and has shaped my life. 

My hope is that this story encourages you to make the effort to become a mentor yourself and introduce someone young and/or new to the outdoors and help foster future passions.

My start was a bit different

With no fisherman in my family at all, it's surprising that I was born with a burning desire to fish. This started off a wharf as a little kid and naturally/unexpectedly evolved to fly fishing.

I got my first fly rod for my 12th birthday and began my journey by being dropped off at the river alone or heading on day trips with the local angler club. Regardless of how I got to the water, it usually resulted in me just battling away by myself with no clue to what I was doing.

Therefore it's not surprising that took me about 2 years to catch my first fish!

It felt like I was the only kid in an old man's sport. This was pre-social media days where the only real way to meet other anglers was at the local angling club, only problem being that I was the youngest by what felt like 50 years!

I couldn't have felt more like a 'fish-out-of-water' if I tried.

Me back at 15 years old when I had all the enthusiasm but little idea of what I was actually doing. 

Mentorship made the difference

However thing changed when one day someone took the time to foster my passion and helped improve my angling skills as a youngster.

On an overnight club trip, I was paired up with a man named Craig, likely in his 40's at the time. He was essentially my chaperone, picking me up, taking me to his favourite spots, teaching me some tips and tricks and helping me out.

What was initially a one-off tuned into a regular occurrence as we went on a trip away every few months or so. The effort Craig made to become my 'Mentor' resulted in me excelling in the sport and eventually becoming a fishing guide.

I had grown up and moved away so our days came to an end, but about a decade later I got a message from Craig as he was looking for a guide on his upcoming South Island trip. The tables had turned and it was now my time to share my knowledge with him, something I never considered a possibility 10 years earlier.

 

How I became a mentor

Sharing your passion with someone else doesn't need to be difficult. Sometimes it's as easy as reaching out and letting people know you are keen to help.

At the beginning of the fishing season last year I decided that it was a good time to put myself out there and offer some help to someone else in the community. To do this I just posted on the local community Facebook page, offering a fly-fishing  mentorship to a keen person under the age of 18. I was quickly contacted by many keen parents interested to get their kids involved.

After sorting through the responses, there was one that stood out. I was contacted by the father of a kid named Fletcher, 13 year's old and already a keen outdoorsy kid. He had already bought his first fly rod and his dad pointed out that he didn't know enough about fly fishing to teach him, so he was reaching out to see if I could help. Fletcher was already practicing his casting at home taking himself out on the local river to try it, and his dad even emailed a photo as proof!.

The story was strikingly similar to mine growing up so it was an obvious choice. I soon caught up with Fletcher for our first day on the water in which he managed his best fish on fly. This season I took him on an open day trip and we managed to grab a couple of personal bests too!. 

It's great to see how much he has already progressed from only half a dozen days of tuition. He's even been using his improved skills to take out mates and help them catch fish, how good!

The first fish landed, a key milestone in the mentoring journey!

It's a two way street...

As a mentor you can become both a teacher and a student.

When you help someone learn the ropes it also reinforces your learnings and gives you a better view on why and how you do things, making you a better angler overall. It can be surpassingly tricky to explain something that you are used to doing by instinct and experience. 

Conversely, I believe it is equally valuable for the mentee to both both the doer and the watcher. As a guide, I learnt more in one year just watching people catch fish than I did in 5 years fishing myself. 

That's why it's important to approach the relationship as a partnership, rather than just a teacher/student. Initially things may be more weighted towards teaching, but with enough time it may get to the point where the value you get is as much as the mentee. 

The tables turn as Fletcher has a go at netting my fish, it was a success!

A few parting tips

1. Put yourself out there. It's unlikely you will just stumble across someone to mentor so you may need to make the effort to reach out. This can be as easy as posting on Facebook Group or letting your local angling club know you're keen to become a mentor.

2. Start slow. Beginning with just a few hours at the local stream is sufficient, then slowly building up to full day trips and even multi-day trips. This will help you get comfortable with each other and better understand the ways you can help.

3. Don't be too over bearing. As a former guide I find this one tricky as I'm used to taking charge! But, try taking a step back at times and let the mentee solve the problems themselves. This will ensure they become confident in the process rather just relying on help. As they say, "Teach a man to catch a fish......."

4. Setup a schedule. Life can be pretty busy these days so putting in a rough time schedule around your meetings helps provide certainty and enthusiasm. Agree to meet on a regular basis, either once a month or every few months, whatever suits your schedule. 

5. Don't give up. This can be a tricky one, as things get busy in life it's easy to forget your mentoring and put it on the back burner. If this happens, try making the effort to reach out and let your mentee know that they're not forgotten and that you will be back on the water again when a time suits. 

 

So if you have ever considered lending you skills to help someone new into the sport, there is no time like the present. You will likely feel personally rewarded as you watch someone now under your guidance and who knows, one day they may be your guide....

 

Young or old, a mentorship is usually becomes a positive lasting relationship

 

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