The Next Generation
Starting a Youth Club Isn’t As Hard As It Seems
By David Hart
The latest report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
paints a grim picture for the future of fishing. According to
the survey, which gauges fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing
activity among Americans, the number of anglers dropped a
whopping 15 percent between 1996 and 2006, and fishing-related
spending dropped even more. Worse, the recruitment rate for
children was down 15 percent, as well.
So what can a bass club do to curb that downward trend? Start
a youth club, of course. The benefits are obvious: More boys and
girls who fish now translates to more adults who carry on the
fishing tradition throughout their lives. And they are more
likely to pass that passion on to their own children.
“State fish and wildlife agencies depend on license revenue
to pay for conservation police officers, biologists and programs
that not only benefit individual fisheries and fish species, but
the environment as a whole,” said Mark Gintert, national youth
director for The Bass Federation. “Anglers are often the best
and most vocal advocates of clean water, so without a strong
support base, our waters will certainly suffer, and so will our
The short-term benefits are far more tangible, however. The
mere sight of a child landing his first bass or the biggest
largemouth of his life is almost as thrilling as catching a
“It’s really a lot of fun working with kids in a youth club,”
said Doug Clifford, youth director for the Ohio Bass Federation.
He has helped his state’s youth program grow from a handful of
Federation-affiliated clubs to 15 throughout the state. “I’ve
been doing it for a long time and I haven’t gotten tired of it
yet. I really look forward to every meeting I attend. The
enthusiasm and maturity these kids show is really amazing.”
The first step for any club interested in starting a youth
group is to gauge interest from the membership. Without a strong
commitment and a willingness to support a youth club, both
financially and with manpower, there’s no point in moving
forward with the idea.
“It really doesn’t take a huge amount of work, at least not
for the entire club,” said Clifford. “You certainly need someone
who is willing to step up and serve as the adult leader, and you
need the general support of the membership, but it’s not really
He added that once an adult club decides to move forward,
it’s critical to figure out exactly what kind of youth club it’s
going to be. Will it consist of serious anglers who want to
compete in tournaments against other youth clubs, or is it going
to be a club for all kids, no matter how skilled they are at
fishing when they join? It’s counterproductive to drop two or
three really good anglers into a club full of boys and girls who
are just learning how to tie basic knots, especially if the
club’s focus will be tournament fishing. Clifford said the best
clubs he has been involved with are clubs that don’t place any
emphasis on competing or winning. That’s not why most kids fish
and frankly, it’s not the best path to introduce beginning
anglers to the sport.
“I know most adult clubs take their tournament fishing pretty
serious, but I’ve seen a lot of kids get burned out on
competitive fishing before they reach adulthood. The whole idea
of a youth club is to foster a love of the sport and I think the
best way to do that is to focus on having fun,” he added. “There
are certainly plenty of boys and girls who excel at tournament
fishing at a young age and who stick with it when they become
adults, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to push them too hard
Keep ’Em Busy
In other words, keep your youth club focused on fun for
everyone. Clifford said the most important—as well as the most
obvious—way to maintain the young anglers’ interest is to take
them fishing. One of the biggest hurdles any adult club will
face when it wants to take a youth club fishing is rounding up
enough boats to accommodate everyone. That’s not too difficult
to overcome, at least not for youth clubs that aren’t focused
entirely on competitive bass fishing. Clifford said many youth
clubs rarely fish from boats. Instead, they visit local lakes
with ample shoreline access.
“There is a youth club here in Ohio that goes to a small lake
that has been heavily stocked with bass and bluegill, so there’s
almost a guarantee that everyone will catch at least a few fish.
That’s real important to maintaining a high level of interest.
If the kids go to a lake and only one or two of them catch
anything, they’ll get discouraged and they’ll lose interest
pretty quick,” Clifford said.
Most kids don’t care what they catch, as long as they get the
chance to feel the tug of a fish on the end of their line. For a
tournament-oriented club that wants to focus on bass, however,
boats are a vital part of the club’s success. Without them, it’s
tough to pull off a full-blown bass tournament. Clifford
admitted that rounding up enough adult boat owners willing to
shuttle kids around a lake on a nice Saturday can be tough, but
it’s not impossible. Club members can, and often do use any boat
they can safely put in the water. It doesn’t have to be a brand
new Ranger. The kids are just happy to be in a boat with a
fishing rod in their hands.
He said most Federation-sponsored clubs hold three or four
tournaments a year, but there are many more activities the young
anglers can undertake when they aren’t fishing. Clifford said
most clubs are involved in conservation projects like fish
habitat restoration, lake or river bank clean-ups, and other
projects that benefit local waters.
“I know of a couple of clubs that hold fishing events for
other children and even nursing homes. The kids turn into
teachers themselves and they really do a great job at it. They
discuss tactics and tackle at indoor meetings and they’ll even
go to outdoor shows in the winter as a group. Sometimes, they’ll
have guest speakers like a local pro or a fisheries biologist,”
A youth club, like an adult club, isn’t free. So who pays for
it? The kids, of course. Sure, adult members can kick in money
if they want to, but Clifford said it’s not critical to the
success of a youth club. In fact, he said the most successful
clubs, as well as individual boys and girls, do best when
parents provide no financial support at all—the kids are forced
to take charge. Instead, the youth members should institute a
nominal annual membership fee of $10 or $15. That’s not much,
but it’s a good way to start building a coffer for expenses like
trophies, snacks and other incidental items. In order to pay for
larger projects and big-ticket items that may come up over time,
clubs can hold fund-raising events like raffles and drawings of
donated items. The club members will have to solicit potential
sponsors to get those items, but Clifford said he is amazed at
how ambitious and responsible kids can be when they are give
important tasks, especially when it directly benefits their
club. In some cases, the kids can solicit financial support from
various businesses like local tackle shops or even businesses
that have no connection to fishing.
“You have to remember that a youth fishing club shouldn’t
just teach kids about fishing, it should teach them
responsibility and the value of money. These are all lessons
they need to learn before they reach adulthood and a club that
they are responsible for funding and maintaining is a great way
to reinforce those lessons,” he said.
In other words, the youth club’s adult mentor should provide
plenty of guidance, but she should do it from a distance.
Clifford said it’s important for parents and adult club members
to give the youth club plenty of space, as well. However, they
should also be there when the kids need assistance. Sometimes
the boys and girls simply don’t know how to find and approach
businesses for sponsorship.
The Liability Factor
Perhaps the most common question Clifford hears from clubs
considering sponsoring a youth club has to do with liability.
Fishing is an extremely safe activity, but the risk of a boating
accident, an errant hook, or some other injury is certainly a
“If the adult club is a sanctioned Bass Federation club and
the youth club is under your watch, then the club and its
activities will be covered by the TBF’s insurance,” explained
Clifford. “If it’s not a TBF club, boat insurance policies
typically cover all passengers, but you should always check with
your insurance agent before you start taking kids out.
“There are all kinds of measures that can be put in place
that remove any question of risk to the children. Adult clubs
can institute a boat speed limit for youth events and they can
make sure all kids are fishing in pairs when they are with a
The real risk is not mentoring children to become the next
generation of conservationists and environmental advocates.
Starting a youth club does take time and a commitment, but once
you take the plunge, you’ll be surprised at how much fun it is
to watch boys and girls develop into skilled anglers. The future
of fishing depends on it.
For more information, contact The Bass Federation at
330-993-0014, or visit www.bassfederation.com; or The Bass
Federation Nation at 877-BASSUSA, or
have solid youth programs and a support network to help your
club sponsor a youth program. The Bass Federation is affiliated
with FLW Outdoors; The Federation Nation is affiliated with
Fishing On Course For College Scholarships
Of course, the main reason most anglers want to introduce their
kids to bass fishing is to give them an entertaining and
educational pastime that will serve them throughout life.
But hey, you know what? Fishing may someday be a way to pay for
their education, too.
With the growth of youth clubs and competitions, ensuing
tournaments have grown into the college ranks such as the
BoatU.S. National Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship (www.collegiatebasschampionship.com.)
(Twenty-nine collegiate bass teams fished in the inaugural
BoatU.S. Lone Star Spring Breakout bass tournament in March
One of the ultimate goals for this kind of college competition
is to establish a process for funding and awarding fishing
scholarships to college students.
Can you imagine? Now that would be yet another reason to teach
your kids to fish!
— Taylor Wilson