We were discussing how to get kids involved in boating and fishing during the Growth Summit in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, and it got me thinking about my high school fishing club and the salty charter captain who ran it.
It was the spring of 1968, turbulent times in our country but not so much yet for the members of the fishing club at the Westerly/Ward Senior High School in Westerly, R.I. We were just awakening to the rumbles coming from Vietnam and our cities and the strange transformations taking place in our older siblings.
I was an awkward 14-year-old freshman and passionate about everything to do with fishing. Girls were strange creatures who existed at ocean depths still out of reach.
The club was the brainchild of Al Anderson, my 9th grade biology teacher who a year earlier had begun a fledging career as a part-time charter captain. Capt. Anderson left teaching in 1981 to charter full time and is still going strong at age 75. He can still bark orders with the best of them.
I have stayed in touch with the good captain over these 40-plus years, fishing with him on a number of occasions. Capt. Anderson has had quite a career. He is a 2012 inductee into the International Game Fish Association’s Fishing Hall of Fame, having tagged about 60,000 fish, including more than 42,000 striped bass, a record not likely to be surpassed.
We met last year at a memorial service for our friend Tim Coleman — click here for story about Tim — and he told me he had an old photo to send from the fishing club.
He emailed me an image. I opened it, and there we were, all nine of us — Peter, Ed, Ronny, Joe and the rest of the gang (I’m third from the left, standing) — back from a cold but productive cod-fishing club trip to Sharks Ledge, about 6 miles south-southeast of Block Island, R.I.
“I was thrilled,” Anderson recalled. “Everyone caught fish.”
I thought of the photo two weeks ago during the Growth Summit III meeting in Chicago. At the time, we were talking about ways to get more youth involved in boating and fishing — and how to keep them in the sport through the high school years and early adulthood, when it’s easy to go astray.
Maybe it was easier back then? Probably not.
I spoke with Capt. Anderson yesterday about the club and about getting kids involved in fishing and the water. “The secret is to introduce them to a type of fishing that allows them to have some success,” Anderson told me.
“You take a youngster fishing who’s never caught a fish, and he catches something — it could be sculpin or a choggie, a fluke or a small bluefish — and he’s hooked. He’s hooked.
“The thrill of trying to catch a fish and then catching one. Boy oh boy.”
Anderson also told me that, a few years back, six of the guys from the old high school club booked a fishing trip on his charter boat. That made us both smile.
This past summer, Capt. Anderson contacted me to let me know he’d found a good pile of big striped bass and had a couple of open slots. I decided it was time to introduce my son, Michael, son-in-law Dan Kroeber and son-in-law-to-be Eric Bolinger to the ways of the captain. I booked a trip, and the photos tell the story.
Capt. Anderson let Michael take a turn at the wheel of his 42-foot Carolina built sportfisherman.
Dan Kroeber (right) and the mate hold the big fish of the day.
And four happy blokes steam back after a day on the water.
“Take a kid fishing,” Anderson says. “Show them that they can be successful.”
It helps keep us all on track.