When it comes to fishing, Greenwich resident Ryan Keller is . . . well . . . hooked. Fly fishing, spin fishing, junking and trolling, he does it all -- from dawn to dusk. "Other kids will play lacrosse and football, and I go fishing," says Keller, 15, a rising ninth grader at Greenwich Country Day School.
To date, Keller has reeled in a long line of trophy fish. The first catch he remembers was a bluefish that was bigger than he was. (He was just a little boy at the time.) Since then, there was the 45-pound yellowfin tuna caught with the help of his dad, Rich, and a boat captain off Costa Rica. There was the bluefin tuna he caught 40 miles off of Nantucket. And there was the day he and his dad caught more than 100 striped bass off Montauk. "They were three feet long," Ryan says.
Then there was his trip to the Florida Keys -- the first time he ever went after the famously elusive bonefish. "People spend their whole life trying to catch one," he says, "It's unbelievably hard." But catch one he did -- a 10-pounder.
From talking to Keller, it is obvious he is passionate about his sport. He just wishes other kids would share his enthusiasm. Often, he finds himself alone when he's out fishing on Long Island Sound. "It's a travesty. Kids are not exposed to fishing," he says. "Future generations won't care for it."
Unless, of course, someone does something about it -- like Keller.
This past week, the teen became proactive by launching a two-week beginner's fishing workshop at the Sportsman's Den in Cos Cob, teaching a new generation of fishing enthusiasts the tricks of the trade. "Classes for ages nine and up are offered without an adult and ages 6 - 8 with an adult -- cost of $100," read the notice in the local newspaper.
When the first recruits showed up last Tuesday, Keller was ready with his PowerPoint presentation, practice fly rods and outdoor fly casting targets. A seven-year-old arrived holding the hands of his father and his fisherman grandfather from Peru. They were followed by a teenage girl, and another young boy walking shyly in the door. Soon, Keller was demonstrating his fly casting technique to his young students.
Billy Ingraham, owner of Sportsman's Den, was impressed. "(These kids) have never been exposed to how much fun it is to fly fish or to fish with an artificial lure," says Ingraham.
Until now, that is.
"It's all Ryan's idea" says Ingraham of Keller's workshop. And, he is quick to add that Keller is good for the sport. "We'd like to help anybody who's supporting fishing." he says.
In addition to his workshop, Keller also has launched an organization called Junior Angler USA with its own website (www.JuniorAnglerUSA.com) with the single aim of introducing kids to the joys of fishing. To realize that aim, he's even prepared to hand out Junior Angler scholarships to those kids whose families can't afford his workshop fees.
Keller, who is an advocate of catch and release, also will be donating a portion of his fishing class profits to the local Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited to support its conservation agenda.
And, ultimately, that is what Ryan Keller is all about -- handing down the sport of fishing to the next generation to come. He wants others to feel the passion he does ". . . the mystery of not knowing what you'll catch or if you will even catch anything." For him, it's the excitement of getting in touch with a wild animal.
"You," he says, "are the first person the fish might have ever seen!"