BUFFALO, N.Y. I'm thankful for the rain.
The cold, wind-driven drops pound my face.
A storm has blown up in Lake Erie, and blew straight into Buffalo and the Bassmaster Empire Chase tournament site.
The tent I'm under is mad, howling in the wind.
Light chairs fall in a heavy gust. Bass boats assault the wooden dock. Seagulls hide behind blue trash barrels.
The Bassmaster stage is empty, and the voice of the announcer, Lurch, is just an echo on the breeze.
I'm in a Bob Dylan song as all around me people seek shelter from the storm.
But I, for one, am thankful — thankful for the rain.
I just looked into the eyes of a child and asked him his name.
I asked the child how old he was.
I asked the child, why he wanted to fish with the Future Fisherman Foundation.
"I'd like to be a pro fisherman when I grow up."
I turned to ask the next child the same question, but over my left shoulder I then heard " ... and ... I'm doing it for my grandmother. She's dying. She may die today. She has cancer and is back home in the hospital. She wanted me to come here and fish, she said it made her proud — I did it for her. She may die before I get back home."
Again, I am thankful for the rain. The water from the sky above landed on my face, disguising my tears.
The children in the bass boats
Jake Johnson is a 14-year-old from Carter Lake, Iowa.
His dream is to turn pro, like Ken Cook, whose boat he was on today. Jake is a young angler with the Future Fisherman Foundation, a group that strives to "Get kids hooked on fishing, not drugs."
We've all seen enough news stories to know what that message means and where these children come from.
"Fishing keeps me moving," says Suzette Martinez, 12, from Harbor City, Calif., " ... moving keeps me out of trouble."
From 13-year-old Ingrid Camberos, "Fishing is a new experience for me, when I'm out there it keeps the bad things out of my head, the bad things escape."
Aaron Patterson, 13, of Sanford, N.C., and standing over 6 feet tall, looked down into my eyes, kid-to-man, and said, "Being on the water calms me. Lots of not good stuff is going on around me that upsets me and puts me in a bad mood — fishing makes me calm."
I have no comeback questions. I don't know what to say. Or what notes to write down. It's me and these five kids, alone in a tiny room in the bass trailer.
What they are basically telling me is that they feel safer at sea than on dry land.
It's not about the fish. It's about the future — these children. And they're scared.
Some of these children here today have never been on an airplane, others have never touched a fish, and one would only touch a smallmouth with a single finger.
As they walked by, they told me, "It was amazing out there," or as Robert Moore from Jackson, Miss., said on stage, "I had to wrassel that fish for a while."
Suzette, who rode with Steve Kennedy told me Steve was, "Really cool. He taught me how to cast."
Aaron Patterson and Krysta Johnson, winners of today's tournament, fished with Derek Remitz, and both said they learned a lot out on the water today.
Aaron: "He showed me how to cast and fish with a baitcasting reel."
If you are interested in learning more about the Future Fisherman Foundation and their mission, visit their Web site, www.futurefisherman.org.
Krysta: "I asked him why the fish in the livewell were swimming on their side and he told me about the bladder they have inside them. And how coming up from the depth affects them ... and then he 'fizzed' the fish (something about sticking a needle into the bladder to relieve the pressure)."
None of the children got "fizzed" today, but the smiles all around showed that a day on the lake with the Bassmaster Elite pros was just the pressure release these kids needed.
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For comments or story ideas you can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com