I have always found fly-fishing to be an empowering channel for helping communities reconnect to the outdoors and the natural world. My journey of using fly-fishing to connect to local communities began in India, where I shared my passion for fly-fishing with local communities that inhabited the river’s edge. My aim there was to inspire a love for the Golden Mahseer, an indigenous, bio-indicator, freshwater-fish – found in the Himalayan foothills, and fostering protection for their surrounding watersheds. In order to protect the fish of my dreams, I learned it is important to support a natural way of living that has nurtured healthy ecosystems for centuries.
Now in a totally new landscape – I find myself in the heart of America’s political capital, Washington DC. The surrounding areas are largely concrete jungles compared to my previous Himalayan home, but still I find hidden natural gems surrounding the Anacostia and Potomac River.
One of those gems is Kingman Island, led by watershed champion – Lee Cain of Living Classrooms. Kingman Island, once a landfill site, is now a rehabilitated island with a small oasis of wetlands that creates the ideal breeding ground for local aquatic-life.
What was my call to this urban angling adventure? My wife and TT partner Aikta recently reconnected with the amazing and soulfully rich organization, Life Pieces to Masterpiece (LPTM). LPTM is an arts and human development non-profit located in Northeast DC – Ward 8 (known as an underserved area). LPTM provides opportunities specifically to African American males, ages 3-25, to discover and activate their innate creative abilities to change challenges into possibilities.
LPTM was looking for opportunities to connect the young men more deeply to the natural world, so I decided to put my FFF casting instructional-abilities to the test and participated in LPTM’s annual summer program – “Connecting Communities Across the Globe”.
Like any meaningful expedition or angling-pilgrimage, this too began with an intention. In my eyes, this was a magnificent opportunity to revitalize fly-fishing for future generations among a population that has historically had very little exposure to fly fishing. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate to them how fly fishing can be a catalyst for our deepest connections to the natural world.
I know that connection well. I’ve experienced it personally and I’ve witnessed it among India’s first-generation fly-fishing guides – all from local indigenous river-communities – whom I had the privilege of training. I know fly fishing not only creates livelihoods for locals, but most importantly it cultivates local watershed conservation leaders.
My intention was inspired by my short interaction with legendary fly-casting instructor Lefty Kreh during my FFF graduation-ceremony. He spoke about the dilemma of the fly-fishing industry. Simply put, there is not enough new-generation participation. So I thought, why not bring the spark of fly fishing to our youth, and specifically to youth in urban environments that are looking for meaningful ways to connect to their local environment?
So off I went, intention clear, doing my best to plant the seed of fly-fishing in these young men. We began with some on the ground casting basics, and then one-by-one, I took them out onto the river via canoe and we put our practice to the test – cruising around in canoes provided by Living Classrooms. The landscape was surprisingly quiet and serene, despite it’s urban surroundings. We saw Egrets and Great Blue Herons while we rolled a cast out to just about anything we saw move in the water. Watching the young men be still and practice tuning into the environment was very rewarding. I found them very attentive and eager to perfect their casting skills and to learn more about the eco-system to perfect their fly fishing skills. At the end of the day during their reflection circle some of the boys shared that fly fishing taught them perseverance and patience! What amazing insights after only a few hours on the river! That is the power of fly fishing. That is the power of spending time in the outdoors.
After our day together, LPTM created paintings using their signature art style – all are collective creations that use scraps of painted canvas sewn together to create their images. Really cool stuff! Check out some of the paintings they made about our day together! What amazing young men! Spending that day together inspired a lot in me and I’m looking forward to more opportunities in the future.