Voice of the Bay: Bristol’s Bob Sousa on the impact of fly fishing on his life

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Bristol’s Robert J. Sousa spent more than 30 years as a Fisheries Scientist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He has made it his life’s work to promote environmental conservation. The Vietnam veteran and URI graduate who has a PhD in Biological Sciences is the author of The 24 Greatest Flies You Don’t Leave Home Without and Learn To Fly Fish in 24 Hours: An Hour by Hour Start-Up Guide. Sousa created the Fly Fishing Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts and was the lead writer for the Merit Badge series: Fishing, Fly-Fishing, Fish & Wildlife Management. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Boy Scout National Fishing Committee and is Vice Chair Emeritus – BSA National Fishing Committee of the American Fisheries Society. He was the 2013 recipient of the Scouts’ prestigious William T. Hornaday Gold Medal, which recognizes major contributions to and service in environmental conservation.

Finding Peace: In Vietnam during a monsoon I just needed to go fishing. I had a stick, string, and paperclip. It wasn’t about catching fish, it was about going fishing. Chaos around me. You do stupid stuff to stay sane in an insane environment.

Encouraging Inclusion: I recently updated the Fish and Wildlife Merit Badge booklet. [Merit badges are updated every five years.] My effort is to ensure a gender-neutral text as well as using numerous photos of young women (and young men) doing a broad array of fish and wildlife management activities.

Captured Audience: The Boy Scouts is the largest youth program in the country. At the annual jamboree we attracted 50,000 kids to the fishing venue. I saw it as an opportunity to give kids a fishing rod, get them excited about fishing as a way to stay off the streets and away from guns, while teaching them about conservation and doing something good for the environment.

Lasting Memory: A scout had cancer and his Make a Wish was to get his fly fishing merit badge. There are 10 requirements. No problem. I can teach casting and fishing at the same time. He caught a fish and then a couple more. He was looking up at me trying to give me a smile. He completed all 10. I heard the ambulance come, which took him to the hospital where he died. I put the last smile on this kid’s face. That’s why this stuff means so much to me and why we volunteers do what we do.

Hometown Asset: Bristol has a beautiful resource on all three sides and environmentally you have to invest in that. Everybody who buys a fishing rod or motor boat fuel pays a tax on those purchases and everybody doing that is making
a contribution.

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