A Maine Original

A Maine Original

Greg Ponte and I had 12 kids practicing roll casts on a May afternoon in Maine. When my three toughest students threw in the towel, I knew they wouldn't

  • By: Kathy Scott
Greg Ponte and I had 12 kids practicing roll casts on a May afternoon in Maine. When my three toughest students threw in the towel, I knew they wouldn't get off that easily. I glanced across the pond and watched Greg Ponte work his magic on them. He studied the trio, now sitting against the brick wall of the school, and walked over to them.

"We were going to practice this part next," he told them casually. "You cast from a seated position a lot when fishing." I could see that they were all intrigued and completely outmatched by Greg.

"How's that?" one asked.

Within 10 minutes he had the three back on the shore of the pond, each practicing their casts, once again part of the group.

The group was my middle school fly-fishing class, which is part of the regular curriculum at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield, Maine. The class was born four years ago when a student demanded I give him a good reason why we couldn't have a fly-fishing class in school. Of course, I couldn't give him one, but I hadn't a clue how to begin.

Enter Greg Ponte.

At the time, Greg was president of the Kennebec Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and just coming off a major effort to remove the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine. Although he was ultimately successful in getting the dam removed, Greg saw two things occurring in fly-fishing that concerned him.

"When I looked around almost everyone in fly-fishing was over 40," he said. "Who was going to care about coldwater fisheries in the future?" He also felt that the traditional way of introducing kids to the sport-the single-day fly-fishing festival-was not very effective in bringing kids to the sport.

"They may get things started, but you don't approach the kids with the mindset that they are going to be doing all this themselves," he said.

With those concerns in mind, Greg helped launch the fly-fishing program at Lawrence Junior High. But that's not the end of it.

Greg's enthusiasm has been contagious. The number of his schools has grown to a full dozen in four years. He has also been instrumental in organizing Maine TU's first conservation and fly-fishing camp to be held this summer.

All this volunteer work might be a big load for most people to carry but not for the 49-year-old retired Merchant Marine deck officer; Greg is doing a lot more. He has organized fly-fishing classes for adults through adult education efforts, and he's arranged a program for experienced anglers to mentor kids. It's no wonder Greg was awarded the National TU Distinguished Service Award for his service to youth.

Along with his present position as the Maine TU council chair where he spends endless hours giving testimony and holding meetings, Greg's personal involvement in programs directed at youths is only expanding. Greg says from the heart, "If we can get one kid to care about the future, or one adult to understand that he or she can help these kids, it's all worth it."

He is amazing.

That's why he's my hero.