AUSTIN (KXAN) - Keith Miller, 35, a Waco attorney, is arguing the case of his life: He wants to convince a jury of his peers that they should all go fishing and take their children with them.
"I think there's over 600 different water bodies here in Texas," Miller said. "It's just amazing the amount of opportunities we've got here."
To make his point, Miller drove to Austin Friday to cast his line in the cool waters of Barton Creek, just before it flows into Lady Bird Lake. At his side were staff people from Texas Parks and Wildlife and Ed Gerhardt, founder of Houston's Junior Anglers and Hunters of America . Miller had contacted the state agency people before coming to Austin and they put him in touch with Gerhardt. Together, the whole bunch is working hard to put fishing poles back in the hands of Texans.
"Studies have shown that people feel like they don't really have time to go fishing or they don't feel like there's close access to fishing spots," said Ann Miller, aquatics education director for the Parks and Wildlife agency. "So that reluctance to go fishing stems from just not doing it for a long time."
Keith Miller, by contrast, has been fishing as often as possible for a very long time, since he was just 10 years old and casting his first lines from a boat with his father and grandfather.
"I hooked this fish yelling, 'Dad, Dad, I got a fish!'" said Miller. "And he said, 'No, you don't; no, you don't.' And he kept driving in to the dock; he didn't want to stop. And then my grandfather said, 'No, he really does have a fish!'"
Quite a fish, as it turns out: The boy had hooked a 19-inch northern pike, one of the country's finest sport fishes.
"I was excited, but, you know, the excitement went away real quick because I wanted to go out and get the next bigger fish," Miller recalled.
The man's enthusiasm is "money-in-the-bank" for Parks and Wildlife.
"Because of social media and gaming, kids are indoors a lot," Ann Miller said. "We do want to reach them through social media but we want to get them outdoors and enjoying nature and seeing their connection to nature. If we miss this generation of children, if this generation of children does not get outdoors, they won't feel that connection to nature. They won't understand the role they play, their responsibilities towards the outdoors, towards conserving our natural resources. Without that deep understanding, perhaps they won't vote in ways that help us preserve our natural resources in the future."
Meanwhile, down in Houston, Junior Anglers and Hunters is exposing 100 inner-city children a month to outdoor activity.
"We partnered with Houston ISD, which is the 7th largest school district in the nation,"Gerhart said. "It's a difficult environment to work in, particularly with the number of children they have from underprivileged homes and the high diversity ratio that they have in their schools. These are kids that otherwise wouldn't get out. We've found kids that don't even know what a fire ant is in these schools. And that's hard to believe because even in the urban environment, you've got them. But they don't get out enough to even have that knowledge."
Despite those drawbacks, though, the children respond eagerly.
"We know we're making a difference with the kids because of the smiles we see from ear to ear," Gerhardt said. "Last week, we had a large group out for spring break. One little boy caught an 8 1/2 pound bass the first time he had ever been fishing. That's a lifetime achievement for a lot of fishermen.
"He will remember releasing that bass and putting it back in there, taking the care to make it live. Part of what we're trying to teach these inner-city kids is the value of life and life's values. You start with little pieces and when they can understand the responsibility of protecting a fish, I think they can move to the next step a lot easier than they were able to do before."
Meanwhile, back on the creek, Miller hauled out his first catch of the first day. It's a sunfish, sparkling in the bright light of the gorgeous spring day. It's not big; in fact, it's just real, real small. But it is a fish! One down, 364 to go!
The best news of all may be that after kids and families take Miller's message to heart, reach for their fishing poles and head to the lake, the coast or even a neighborhood pond, they can fire up their computers or their phones and head to Miller's Facebook page for a daily report on how his crusade is fairing.
Oh, and by the way, he'll be Tweeting, as well.
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