Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Mentor Mentality: Kids Require Thoughtful Guidance

The future of anything has always rested in the hands of
teachers. When it comes to fishing and hunting, this is especially
true. Teachers, mentors, guides-call ‘em what you will, they hold
the fate of the future of our outdoor traditions.

Jason Mitchell has been a fanatical fisherman and hunter since
he was a young boy. He was essentially born with the “want to” that
kept him out even when he was cold, tired, hungry, thirsty. You had
to drag him out of the boat, off the shore, away from the hunting
fields.

To this day, there is no way to pull Jason away from these
pursuits. He grew up to be an accomplished fishing and hunting
guide out of Devils Lake, North Dakota. Then, when legendary
outdoor broadcaster Tony Dean decided to retire, he hand-picked
Jason to carry his torch into the future. That was the beginnings
of Jason Mitchell Outdoors television.

Along the road, Mitchell has witnessed the birth of many new
anglers and hunters. He has contributed heavily, in fact, and
refined a strategy for successfully introducing youngsters, and
nurturing their development until they become active
participants.

Going well beyond the usual cookie-cutter advice you hear about
bringing kids into the outdoors, here is a glimpse into that
philosophy.

Q: Do you think there is a right and wrong way to approach a
day outdoors with kids, from the mental outlook of the
mentors?

Jason: Definitely. You have to pace yourself, and be patient. Hooks
in the carpet, pop spilled in the boat, getting hung up a lot, it
all tests your patience. If you’re a high energy go-getter,
throttle back and know things aren’t going to be perfect.

Q: When it comes to how long you should stay out there,
you’ve said that there is no simple answer to this. What do you
mean by that?

Jason: For one thing, it’s important to pay attention to the
signals each youngster gives you. They don’t always come right out
and say they want to go in, because they don’t want to disappoint
their parents, or seem like they’re a wimp or something.

Some kids want to stay out there forever. I was like that. When I
was a little kid, I would get furious because my dad wouldn’t stay
out all day. There are a lot of kids who don’t want to be out there
very long, but with the right mentoring, they grow up to be avid
and great fishermen.

Being a kid is confusing; you don’t know who you’re going to be.
You might collect baseball cards, try different sports, get
interested in girlfriends or boyfriends, and just dabble at things
to see what you’re good at. You find what you like by trying
things. So when it comes to how long to keep kids out there, it’s a
case by case evaluation. Be honest with yourself, and pick up on
all the signs they’re giving you. Don’t force it. Expose them, and
keep the outings short if that seems like the right thing to do.
Don’t push it. Let ‘em warm up to it. Let it come over time. It’s a
matter of repetition.

You just never know, and I don’t have all the answers, but it seems
like if you try to have good intentions and stay conscious of your
role, and tune in to the kids and what they seem to want, you’ll do
the right thing most of the time.

Q: You’ve also said that, in order to help kids grow
attached to the outdoors, you have to help them soak in the entire
experience. Tell us more about that.

Jason: I don’t think you should have this attitude that you’re out
there trying to kick mother nature’s butt. It’s not about
outfishing the other people who are with you. Fish and game live in
the coolest places in the world. Obviously, catching fish is
important, especially for kids, but point out the other
things.

One thing that disappoints me is when some hunters, for example,
learn everything they can about calling ducks, but don’t take time
to learn more about the plants, the other birds that live in
marshes. The whole picture fascinates me. If you can get into this
mindset, that you’re fascinated by nature, that will add a whole
new dimension to the kids’ experiences.

Show them what’s out there. Even if you are catching fish, take
time to try to guess where the loon is going to pop up next. Tell
them about loons.

Q: Still, sometimes it seems like mentors rationalize away a
lack of catching fish by talking about quality time and all the
birds the kids saw. Isn’t it important to focus on trying to lead
them to fish, and game?

Jason: Yes, of course. But in the big scheme of things, catching
more fish or big fish, or shooting things will come as you do it
enough times. How can you catch more fish? The only answer that’s
real is to keep fishing.

For kids, it starts with being out there. It will all happen, if
they develop a passion for being outside. Just remember, it’s the
people who go a lot who have the most stories about days when they
didn’t catch anything.

Q: Being out in the elements brings up the whole discussion
of comfort. How do you keep kids comfortable out there?

Jason: You gotta dress them in clothes that are right for the day.
There are better clothes for kids now, and a lot of what they would
use for any outdoor activity can be the right stuff to have them
wear for fishing and hunting, to start out with. So dress them for
the weather, but pay attention to how they’re doing, too. Different
kids have different thresholds. If it’s freezing, go back to the
truck and warm up.

Q: What else do you think makes a good outdoor
mentor?

Jason: Doing it. It’s easy to talk about it, to give that lip
service to it. It’s different to put your own ambitions on hold and
take a kid. You’re donating your day to their future. Let’s say
you’re an accomplished fisherman, and your idea of a good time is
to be on a big lake and stay all day, and fish for five bites, in
order to catch one big fish.

If you’re serious about taking kids, you have to put your own wants
aside and set up the day for them. Set up in a bay where they can
catch a bunch of little sunfish, whatever it takes for them to have
a ball. Those kids, when they turn 20 years old, are the ones that
are now driving the boat for dad. As a guide, I’ve seen dads taking
their kids out for the first time, and I’ve seen kids taking their
parents out for the last time. It all eventually comes full circle,
and that’s pretty special. At that point, you forget all about
putting your own wants on hold temporarily.

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