Paul Nabham, author of "The Geography of Childhood," writes: "The percentage of children who have frequent exposure to wild lands and to other undomesticated species is smaller than ever before in human history."
"Our children," writes Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," "are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world."
In the past two decades, to be sure, the Bay Area played a pioneering role in outdoor education. The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley connected youth to the soil and set precedents for the entire nation. Urban agriculture in low-income communities -- the community gardens in West Oakland (People's Grocery, City Slickers, OBUGS, Planting Justice); Acta Non Verba in East Oakland -- all flourish today. Youth are growing their own food. Even public libraries, like the Mission Branch in San Francisco, the Main Branch in Oakland, offer outdoor garden activities for kids.
But something is still missing from the outdoor movement -- fishing. Even with the growing popularity of outdoor education, childhood fishing is actually in decline in the Bay Area. Six months ago, Sports Authority in Emeryville closed its fishing department. Sports Basement in Walnut Creek no longer sells fishing equipment. The Outdoor Pro Shop, a major fishing equipment outlet in Oakland, is closed.
Fishing-deficit disorder in the East Bay? A bit of an enigma. It's not as if we live in a desert. The ocean waves crashing on the beaches and cliffs of the Pacific; the magnificent San Francisco Bay through which salmon, halibut, stripped bass, herring, starry flounder and sturgeon migrate; the vast nutrient-rich Delta, with a thousand miles of sloughs, lagoons, marshlands and tidal flats; the American and Sacramento, mighty rivers that empty the snowpack from the Sierra -- water sustains us, uplifts us.
On the perimeters of the Delta, sanctuary for hundreds of species of birds, short drives from Oakland, are lakes and reservoirs, well-kept and managed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District and the East Bay Regional Park District. Spring is a good time to head over to San Pablo Reservoir or Lafayette Reservoir in Lafayette or Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. Water levels are low right now, but the trout are biting, and soon the lakes will teem with the kind of fish that are easy to catch for kids -- bluegill and sunfish.
Luckily, there are several tackle shops that can get kids to put away their cell phones for an afternoon: Bay Tackle in El Cerrito, Central Avenue Bait in Alameda, Fish First in Albany, Sportsman's Center in Castro Valley, Walton's Pond in San Leandro -- all can get the family started.
It's a general rule that a kid who does not fish by the age of 12 probably won't fish at all. As outdoor writer Tom Stienstra notes: "Kids who don't fish rarely develop a love for the outdoors as adults, or do much to protect it."
PBS nature shows are great. But fishing is the surest way to connect kids to nature.
Paul Rockwell, a Montclair resident, is the former children's librarian with the Albany Library. He is parent coordinator of Gone Tubin', a float tube fishing club for youth." For more information, contact gonetubin2.org.