My many years as a classroom teacher and district supervisor in the Carteret Public Schools included many memorable classroom moments with students. Some of my fondest memories of working with high school youngsters, however, are related to my role as an advisor to the school’s innovative Outdoor Education Program.
Carteret, NJ is my hometown. I was born and raised there, a small blue-collar community situated on the northern fringe of Middlesex County. The borough has always had a significant immigrant population giving the municipality a rather cosmopolitan personality. Many of the town’s heavy industries that years ago provided significant numbers of good-paying jobs have either moved elsewhere or gone out of business.
As a youngster, I did fish in Carteret – not in the tidal Arthur Kill, which separates New Jersey from Staten Island, but in a freshwater lake in the borough’s public park. When I was a kid, the Arthur Kill was so polluted from the many industries located along its banks that the water looked like black ink. There was a saying about the corrosive pollutants in the river at the time: “If you fall in the Arthur Kill, don’t worry about drowning – worry about dissolving.” Although situated on the Arthur Kill, very few of our district students over the years had opportunities to do any saltwater fishing.
Back in the 1980s, our school offered an enrichment extracurricular activity designed to introduce the student body to outdoor activities that would teach them life skills not taught in conventional classrooms. The innovative program included whitewater rafting, freshwater fishing, and party boat fishing field trips in supervised settings. Faculty members with related skills helped students get the most out of their field experiences. I helped out every year with their annual Raritan Bay fluke party boat trip.
The annual fluke charter sailed on the Misty Morn out of Morgan Creek. The party boat’s dock was relatively close to Carteret, it fished the sheltered waters of Raritan Bay thus minimizing the odds of students getting sea sick, we always caught plenty of fish, and the Bouchard family – the owners of the boat – was wonderful in working with youngsters who were first-time anglers.
My role as an advisor was to give students a pre-trip presentation so they knew what to expect and how to prepare for their party boat trip. On the boat, I helped them bait their rigs and assisted them in landing their fish. To spice up their time on the water, several organizations (like bait shops, fishing publications, and tackle manufacturers) provided t-shirts, fishing caps, and other angling gear to reward pool winners. For all intents and purposes, their party boat trip was a real party boat outing.
The annual Misty Morn fluke charter was an excellent opportunity to see students in a different light, and to have them see faculty members in non-traditional roles. It was also rewarding to see the few students who did know something about fishing helping out those who were novices.
It really did not matter what the students caught as long as they were catching something. They always seemed to do pretty well in handling the challenges involved in fishing. Faculty advisors and members of the Bouchard family were always near to lend a helping hand or to explain what kind of fish someone just brought on board. As a career educator and parent, it was extremely satisfying to see youngsters getting so high on fishing.
Now mind you, I did find time to fish. My favorite spot was in the bow. It was a great spot for the students to be able to watch an expert catch fish. My fishing time was only in short spurts since my first priority was to ensure that the youngsters caught fish.
My last trip on board the Misty Morn before I retired was a particularly good one for everyone: great weather and lots of fish. But I knew I was getting older when I heard a sophomore from the middle of the boat say to a friend: “The old guy in the bow caught another one!” Since I was in the bow, I looked around to see just who this old guy was they were talking about. There weren’t any other advisors in the front of the boat, but I had just landed a nice fluke. Imagine my surprise when I realized that they were talking about me! However and whenever you can, help get youngsters hooked on fishing.