We gathered all of our fishing gear and loaded the canoe Saturday night. The event has been talked about in our house for months now. The anticipation has built. The smiles doubled and redoubled. My sons love to fish in the Lake Colby Father's Day Kid's Fishing Derby. This was the first year we were going to use a canoe and not fish off of the dock on the beach.
To my family, and to me, the event is about spending time together. That's what is talked about the most. Next is the smile that appears on my face when I hear my sons talk about hoping to win a prize for catching a big fish.
I brought my fishing pole as a backup and a "just in case" for either of my boys that might need it. I made about three casts at the urging of my boys so we could all fish together. In case any of you are not clear about the rules of this fishing derby, only children under 16 years of age, that catch their own fish are eligible to enter them in one of five categories for fish caught in Lake Colby between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. There are only two prizes given for first and second place in each of the five categories. Prizes go to the biggest two fish in that category, based on weight. In the case of a tie, the first fish weighed in wins. No kid can win prizes in more than one category, and only one place per category. All of these rules are fair and work well.
What doesn't work well is when parents catch fish and have their child(ren) weight them in as their own. This year I witnessed family members catching fish and putting them in the same bucket as the children entered in the contest. I was going to keep this to myself and discreetly approach the Fish and Game Club members whom I know after we went back to shore. But one of my sons noticed it also and stated, "They are putting those fish in the same bucket. That's not fair, Dad." And no, he was right.
At a little before noon we beached the canoe and my sons took their individual buckets to the weigh-in station, and I approached the club members about what I had seen. I started my conversation by saying, "I know that you don't like conflict, but I saw (description withheld) ..." and I told them what I saw. I ended it by saying that I didn't know for sure that the fish would be entered by the kids and that none of it would be provable, but I wanted them to be aware. One of the club members then told me that, "Yeah, I saw the same thing by a father in a canoe, but we can't do anything about it. The derby is on the honor system."
"So you won't do anything about it?" I asked.
There was some more discussion after that. I walked away, disgusted, but couldn't let it go and went back over and asked for clarification on their position. It was restated that there was nothing they could do about it even they "know this goes on." I told them that if this was the set of values that the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club is not going to uphold, then the club might as well just disappear.
I have always been a supporter of the organization, which is the oldest civic organization in Saranac Lake. I was the president of the club for six years. This is not what I thought the club would stand for or stood for now. Has it become club policy to take the easy way out and to avoid conflict at all costs? Now I know that some of you reading this may be SLF&GC members. Also, I know that not all of, or even most of, the members subscribe to this and will be just as shocked as I am at the answer I received.
The goal of the parent should be to spend time, good quality time, with their children and grandchildren, not to teach them that winning at all costs, without integrity and honor, is most important. During this event I, too, heard an adult speak to a child in a way that made me hope my own sons didn't hear it.
"Dad, did you hear that?"
Too late. This, of course, is not any reflection on the Saranac Lake Fish & Game Club.
My reason for this letter is to bring to the attention of the community the disappointment for the legitimate participants of the event. Children should not be penalized for being able to catch their own fish. Nor should they have to compete against adults catching fish and having their children enter them as their own. I heard adults next to me talking about how and where they caught a winning fish. In the same spirit of the contest, if a child is too young to go up and claim a prize they have supposedly won, then we can all assume that they didn't actually hook and reel in their fish.
My son asked me why they should even compete in the contest when cheating is rewarded. That is a good question.
Now believe me, I am absolutely opposed to giving all kids the same reward for the sake of equality. Competition is a good thing and teaches kids about the world in which they will grow up. But we should all be teaching these kids that honor and integrity are paramount in all aspects of their lives. Lessons taught now and reinforced by example are lessons that children will embody. This goes for both good and bad lessons. Teach them that winning the right way is the only way that matters.
Ethics are taught in hunter's safety courses. When I taught in these courses I concentrated on this subject. I always taught that being ethical was doing the right thing even when no one is looking. In Iraq I told my soldiers to "do the harder right over the easier wrong."
We all need to be teaching our children, and the children of our community, to do the right thing. Cheating should not be rewarded. It is our responsibility to be role models and live up to the standards that we want our children to teach their children. We should not, as individuals, or as an organization that is supposed to hold high the ethics and principles of true outdoorsmen, be reinforcing rule breaking. It would have been difficult and uncomfortable to confront the rule breakers, yes. But do you think the children witnessing that would have learned a valuable lesson that day? I do.
I did what I thought was the right thing before submitting this letter. I met with the SLF&GC president, and we talked this event over. He was as surprised as I was. We discussed options and potential solutions to fixing this problem and making the contest fair and fun for the kids. I offered my assistance in any way that I can. I applaud the openness of the leader of that organization.
In closing, I will leave the decision to my sons as to whether they want to participate in the event next year. I hope that this letter starts people talking and discussing this issue, and that it helps eliminate this type of behavior in the future.
Greg Moore lives in Saranac Lake.