“A legacy is not about what you did while you were there it is what happens when you are gone.”
It is profound, and it is simple, it is here where we make our stand.
It is the only place, we got.
Every moment of life that ever happened, does so here.
Every molecule of fresh air breathed, does so here.
Every drop of water, every grain of sand, everyone you have ever loved or has loved you back … here.
And yes, this is a story of our past, our present, our future, the gifts given to us and the gifts we will give to those who will never know our names.
What got us here, conservation five or six decades ago.
Conservation for today.
And finally, the gift of conservation we will pass on five or six decades from now.
The legacy of those anglers who came before us, and the legacy we will leave for those anglers who come after us.
“Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.”
My buddy Gene Gilliland is the B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, here’s what he said when I asked him to be a part of “a different kind of Conservation story … story being the key word.”
“You know DB, I’m a biologist, a scientist, with a passion for bass fishing. So when I read your questions, my pragmatic brain wanted to answer with facts and figures. I was telling Pat (Gene’s wife) what you had planned, and she panicked, knowing how you’ll probably want to hear stories and I tend to give presentations. She helped me shift from focusing on just the nuts and bolts and look more introspectively. So what follows is a compilation of history, science and a little emotion.”
In case you don’t know Gene, that’s him on the right of the photo, (all of us who know him knew right away which kid was him, a little mini-me there) in the middle that’s Ray Scott, next to Ray on the left: “His name is Charlie Steed. He was my best friend growing up. Bass Club. Boy Scouts. We learned to fish together. He passed away from cancer in 2010.”
Rest in peace, Charlie, may your lines always be tight and your catches always trophies.
“I’m in front of the very first live-release tank that B.A.S.S. built after Ray started promoting catch-and-release in bass tournaments. Sort of through an evolutionary process, I developed an understanding and appreciation for the resource that was giving me so much enjoyment. That appreciation made me want to do what I could to protect it, make it better. I had no idea at the time, but when my dad snapped that photo, that moment in time, set me on a course in conservation that has lasted 50 years.”
I’m not scribbling down notes while Gene talks, this isn’t an interview. I gave Gene homework a couple weeks ago, told him I was going to send him a few questions, all he had to do was write out his answers … and I’d cut and paste them in … this is as close a conversation with Gene you can get without sitting across from him in some Waffle House.
“Outlive your life.”
Come to think of it, I’ve actually been watching people fish since the 1950s when I went with my grandfather and his buddies to “the foot of Niagara Street,” so they could go “fishing.”
I put fishing in quotes because I actually don’t remember seeing any fish. Stogie cigars, saw that, bologna sandwiches, yep that too. “Ballantine’s (local ale)” uh-huh. Fish?
As I write this I have playing over and over again through my headphones the genius that was Ray Charles and his rendition of "America the Beautiful."
“…But now wait a minute, I'm talking about
America, sweet America,
You know, God done shed his grace on thee,
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in a brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea…”
Take it away Gene:
“We owe a debt of gratitude to so many who came before us. Those who had vision. In the early 1900s when leaders in the conservation movement like Teddy Roosevelt created policy that said fish and wildlife must be public resources ... owned by the people … with management entrusted to government … for the benefit of the people.
In 1950, Congress created a system where anglers pay a tax on fishing equipment that helps states fund fishery programs.
The boom in bass fishing was the handiwork of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, TVA and other water authorities in building dams that impounded millions of acres of water in reservoirs. Most were built for flood control, water supply or hydropower, but bass populations flourished as a byproduct … and so did the sport of bass fishing.
The passage of the Clean Water Act. People were tired of seeing rivers catching on fire, lakes and reservoirs so polluted they were unusable and unsafe. Enviro-activists in the late ‘60s pushed for laws that cleaned our land, air and water and have provided benefits decades later.”
Old school, a lot of what Gene just wrote there didn’t do much for the people who did that stuff. They didn’t necessarily do it just for them, they did it for us as well.
Sure, not without some controversy then, and now. I’m not sure fish and wildlife belong to anyone but to the fish and wildlife involved, but the point is that those before us weren’t just thinking about what it was they were standing in. They were also thinking about what we would have to stand in and enjoy.
“Lots of people just don’t 'get it.' They don’t stop to think about how they are reaping the benefits from the battles that others fought years ago – and how what they could be doing right now might help others in the future. The big things matter, but so do the little ones. Not everyone can or wants to be on committees or a board or deal with the politics, but anyone can join a B.A.S.S. Nation club and be part of efforts to secure the future of fishing. Lake cleanups. Habitat projects. Access improvements. Youth education.”
Thank your grandparents, thank your aunts and uncles now gone, thank that crazy old guy who sits on the porch down the street.
Thank them for scenes like this:
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
We say, “Children are the future,” but in fact, they are not …
We are the future, all of us alive right now in the present, what we do now, us, old folks, middle-age folks, children, all of us are the future.
Some of us, obviously, have a longer future than others, but the future and how it will be affected, is our time and our place right now.
Tomorrow begins with us.
“Absolutely. And so many people take this for granted.
Clean water will become the next big thing … the most important commodity on Earth, and sustainability will be the new buzzword in natural resource management. Government and industrial planners are discussing right now who will get the water 50 years from now. Recreational fishing and the benefits it brings to society is losing ground to other priorities. Anglers will need to fight for their share of water. It is critical for us to be engaged in those talks at every level – city, county, state and nationally. That’s where the B.A.S.S. Nation and our corps of dedicated volunteer state conservation directors lead the charge.
But B.A.S.S. can’t do it alone. We need every angler to look beyond their next cast and become advocates for the sport of fishing – for the sake of their kids and grandkids and great grandkids. We need to demand that 'seat at the table' to represent anglers. Demand to be considered in long-range plans. If we don’t, future generations will be left without a pot to fish in.”
Gene says there “for the sake of their kids and grandkids and great grandkids,” and to be honest, I could of cut that out, did one of these … things and dropped it, but I have two points that tie into it:
1: If you have right now kids, grandkids, and even possibly great grandkids teach them not only how to fish, but teach them also that, fishing, boating, swimming in clean water, hiking, camping, sitting on a bench and looking at trees is not a tiven.
Teach them now, you gotta work for this stuff and you gotta do it now.
2: I’m writing this not for a moment for any of those kids mentioned who are here today. Know this, I’m writing this for the great great great great great great great great grandkids.
I’m writing this for the young child, the man, or woman, who tosses a line in the water in 2121, 3121 … and beyond.
We know they will find the buried trash we left behind, let us hope they will also find the treasure of nature we left them too.
“You can’t have a footprint that lasts if you are always walking on a tiptoe.”
“I think fishing as a recreational sport will probably still be around 50-plus years from now, but the differences will be where rather than how. We are already seeing little but detectable changes in long-term water temperatures that affect where fish can live or not live, how fast they grow, their habitat and food supply. Habitat will change. Vegetation will change. Water flows will change. Bass may flourish further north than we find them now as cool water species are replaced (more bass and fewer trout or walleye). We will need to prepare for those coming changes.”
Now the final question I asked, a quote paraphrased: “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, that the world is better off with you having tried.”
“I had a supervisor tell me once that all he really hoped people remembered him for was that he made a difference. That kinda sums up why I and so many others do what we do on behalf of fishing and our fisheries. Not for personal recognition or gain – but to make a difference. Doing things that will benefit other people, somewhere, sometime. And hopefully inspiring others to get involved so they can make a difference too.”
I know Gene, known him for a while now, also knew Noreen Clough the B.A.S.S. Conservation Director before Gene who passed in 2015 … I want you to know their names … even though I know that’s not what’s important to them.
I have met conservation folks in B.A.S.S. from all over the country. They too care not that you know who they are, but that you will help them do what it is they do.
Because it is our time and our place to do something for god's sake.
I am far from being a tree hugger type, but I also know that we need this planet much more so than it needs us.
It is only stupid to spoil it, make conservation, your stand.
Take it away, Mr. Charles …
“My God he done shed his grace on thee,
And you oughta love him for it,
Cause he, he, he, he, crowned thy good,
He told me he would, with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea
Oh Lord, oh Lord, I thank you Lord