When Dennis Zimmermann’s friends and colleagues heard he had won a fishing award, some of them asked, “Was it for the biggest or the most caught?”
Actually, the award recognized his leadership in promoting fishing as a recreation and for helping restore and enhance fisheries.
“Well,” says Zimmermann a week later, “That’s what most anglers do, anyway, everyday.”
So, it was appropriate that he was able to invite his friends and fellow anglers to a luncheon in his honour, because “the whole community helps.”
Yes, a fishing community can guard its secrets carefully. But Zimmermann has taken to various forms of social media to spread the message that fishing is a wonderful way to connect with loved ones and with nature.
“I love sharing,” he says. “Fishing is my way of connecting with my community.
“Some people connect through dog training or power skating; mine is fishing.”
And what a noble pursuit. Zimmermann says a recent study shows that couples that fish together, tend to stay together.
And look at the obituaries and you will see many photos of the deceased when they were most at peace: fishing or out on the lake.
“The objective is not the biggest or the most fish,” he says. “The objective should be getting outside and connecting with your family – your partner, grandfather, loved ones, whomever – and with nature.
“We need to connect with our resources. We don’t know where our food comes from and we spend too much time in front of our screens.
“If we don’t connect with our resources, we are not going to value it and we are not going to protect it.”
As the executive director of the Yukon Salmon Sub-committee, and as the trust manager of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Trust, Zimmermann is already helping “to restore, protect and enhance fish wildlife in their habitat.”
In his free time, however, he has been educating his community through the Yukon Fish and Game Association’s Youth Hunting and Fishing Camp and Yukon Outdoor Women Program.
He has taught city of Whitehorse recreation classes on stock lakes programs and he has taken school classes out fishing.
Then there was Zimmermann’s recently closed blog, Fish On Yukon, and a previous gig as a What’s Up Yukon columnist writing Been There, Fished That.
But you can still see his videos on NorthwesTel’s Channel 9. His first one, Family Fishing Connection, won an award for being the best instructional fishing video for community television.
“He is quite effective with his online activities,” says Steve Gotch, an area director with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “He doesn’t have one tool that is solely effective, it is his complete spectrum of approaches.”
Gotch adds that being the Yukon recipient of the National Recreational Fisheries Award does not mean Zimmermann is just this year’s best … he is the only Yukon winner that he can remember.
This summer, Zimmermann will focus in on his key message. It is a nationally branded business called Family Fishing Canada.
“I am trying to promote family fishing opportunities in Canada,” he says. “There is a nature deficit disorder out there, so I am trying to get family and kids outdoors.
“And I see a good way would be fishing.”
Zimmermann says the fish is just a bonus.
“Men are not the best communicators, and I put myself in that category,” he says, then adds, “Unless I am talking about fishing.
“But being on a river or lake and you are not talking to someone there, you are still communicating. There can be an incredible connection when you are out fishing together.”
Zimmermann says he remembers his first fish, and he also remembers the first fish caught by his sons, Zachary, 12, and Max, 9.
“A young kid catching a one-pound rainbow trout is an experience that is just as impressive as them catching a 20-pound King Salmon another time.
“It has the same feeling.”
Yet Zimmermann warns that taking your children fishing needs a change in attitude. His new business aims to help with this.
He explains that he only started fishing 15 years ago, and it was usually just with his buddies. But, when his sons came along, he had to re-evaluate.
“I would go out there with my children and chuck our lines in and they wouldn’t do anything right; our lines would get tangled and my line would hardly touch water.
“I was frustrated, they were frustrated, and we wouldn’t catch fish.
“So, I’d leave my rod at home and focus on them and the fishing. But, now, I fish alongside of them and sometimes they out-fish me.”
To not miss out, his wife, Hillarie, would join her husband and sons and it became more of a family experience.
“There are still times when I would fish hard,” says Zimmermann.
“But kids don’t want to be in a boat for six hours trolling. You need to limit it to an hour. You have to have lots of snacks and dress them warmly and have things to do.
“Family fishing is as much about catching frogs, whittling sticks, making little fires and making spears, as it is about fishing.”
But taking your children fishing can be an investment, says Zimmermann: “When they get older, they will call you and take you out fishing.”
Darrell Hookey is a freelance writer living in Whitehorse.