By Louisa Sax
In an era dominated by screen time, pixelated entertainment and virtual friends, finding a kid who genuinely prefers investigating snakes, exploring tide pools and learning new fly-fishing techniques is nostalgic — and somewhat rare.
Eight-year-old Elena McDow is one of them.
Elena has grown up in the Cayman Islands and shares a love of all things ocean with her family. You can tell that this little enthusiast was born with an intrinsic pull to nature. Having been introduced to boating and fishing as a 1-month old, Elena’s first memory is catching a mahi-mahi with her father, Captain John McDow, from a kayak. Since then, “just chasing fish” has been her passion, and she hopes to one day become a fishing instructor.
Elena achieved her ultimate goal of completing the IGFA Inshore Grand Slam in 2019 at the age of 7; the International Game Fish Association believes she might be the youngest angler to complete the challenge. Catching a slam requires various skills, preparation and focus, and it requires the angler to catch a permit, tarpon and bonefish on the same day under IGFA rules — that includes making the cast, hooking, fighting and bringing in the fish unassisted. Not only did Elena catch two permits that day, one of her permits and her bonefish were caught on fly. She further demonstrated her skills by tying her own fly and tippet. Her next big goal is to catch a sailfish and blue marlin unassisted. Although Elena loves inshore and fly fishing, she finds marlin fishing the most exciting because of their acrobatic jumps, the thrill and intensity of the strike and having such a big fish on the line.
Elena shares her passion on her Instagram account @fishingwithelena and interacts with other young anglers as she shares techniques and learns new skills. Her biggest role model is Chasten Whitfield, a young female angler who spends her time providing disabled and disadvantaged children with the opportunity to experience the rush of fishing through her own nonprofit organization, Chastenation. Elena often travels to meet and spend time on the water with young anglers like herself, but she also enjoys teaching friends at home how to fish and gives them the confidence to “do their best, learn and have fun!”
Elena may be young, but she is making a big impact. She is a volunteer for the local Department of Environment, where she helps walk the beach looking for and marking turtle nests. She also encourages other kids (and adults) to become actively involved in the community and saving the planet. According to Elena, she suggests: “Picking up trash every time you go fishing or go to the beach. Helping with group beach clean ups. Don’t cut down mangroves, and using Instagram to teach other people about how to protect our environment.”