MY WIFE AND I ARE raising two anglers. More than merely a hobby, this simple pleasure will be there for them if they want to seek a thrill or escape anxiety. Watching the excitement my kids first derived from fishing helped me remember the magic of fishing and rekindled my passion for the sport. Here’s how you can excite kids about the “perpetual series of occasions for hope.”
1/ START YOUNG
Seize every opportunity to visit the water. Give them a stroller ride as you visit an aquarium or tour a fish hatchery. Strap a toddler into a backpack carrier and blow his mind as you reel in a fish from a pond. Let them play with the minnows in the bait bucket. And as soon as they know the difference between a twizzler and a rubber worm, buy them a tackle box and let them start their own collection of soft plastic creatures.
2/ UTILIZE YOUR YARD
Even when they aren’t around water, put a fishing rod in their hands and let them play casting games. Just casting a horizontal yo-yo of sorts is fun, and their increasing accuracy will help reduce frustration when they’re actually fishing. Tie on a casting plug and use a hula hoop, a bucket or some other round implement as a target. As they get better in the backyard, they’ll be itching to test their new skills on the water.
3/ CATCH FISH…
It sounds obvious, but success is contagious, and one of the best ways to push the activity of fishing closer to catching is to use live bait. There may be some issues here, as the idea of impaling live bait on a hook may not go over so well. You can try to rationalize with older kids — It’s all part of the food chain and fish would be eating anyway — but don’t push it. Other bait can work too.
My five-year-old son was still occasionally releasing our bucket of minnows in our pond but took a great leap toward understanding live bait and the food chain one afternoon while reeling in one of his many small bluegills. Just as he began to lift the bluegill from the water with his rod, the water erupted and a huge bass ripped it from the hook and soaked two very startled fishermen. There was no time to feel sympathy for the bluegill — just pure astonishment about our close proximity to a very effective underwater predator. I cringed and waited for my son’s reaction to a miniature version of the seal/great white shark video sequence I had managed to shade him from with a deft click of the remote control.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long: “Let’s do it again!”
Consider releasing fish, too. After a quick photo, there is great satisfaction to be gained from watching it swim away, to be caught again — larger. Plus, we need that fish or, better yet, others that broke our line, which surely were enormous, to still be there, lurking. Such fish need to be swirling and jumping in kids’ dreams, keeping them up at night with excitement.
Parents can do significant damage to the cause by stringing up gasping fish and letting them flop around on the bank. Not to say you shouldn’t harvest fish. Just be aware of your child and cross that bridge at the right time, in the right, fish-respecting way.
4/ …OR NOT
Keep in mind the goal is just to have fun, quality time. One common mistake parents make is failing to heed an old saying: “Always leave the audience wanting more.” Famous angler Hank Parker has four boys and 11 grandchildren. “I learned the hard way,” he said. “Leave your rod at home. Let it be fun. Fish five minutes. Quit. Skip rocks.”
Pennsylvania angler Joe Stefanacci loves to take his daughters fishing on the Allegheny River. But if they just want to swim in the river, he knows fishing can wait.
And professional bass tournament angler Laura Starkey Heflin fondly recalls when her son, Jesse, was in grade school and wanted to go on fishing trips. However, once he caught a single fish, he would put his pole down and become more interested in opening his tackle “store” on the boat, encouraging his parents to “buy” new bait from his tackle box. Laura and her son now fish together in tournaments.
5/ AWAKEN ALL THE SENSES
Fishing is a sensory smorgasbord.
Take advantage of this to create a lasting impression of the experience. Help them see fish in the water better by giving them their own polarized glasses. Set them up with a topwater lure and let them watch the nerve-rattling blast from the depths that is sure to follow. And point out the brilliant oranges and blues from common but almost tropical-looking pumpkinseed.
And while you are at it, take a quick sniff of a fish. Along with bug spray, sunscreen and rubber worms, the weirdly sweet fish smell complements the powerfully memorable fishing trip bouquet.
Let them feel the fish, not only through the fishing rod once one is hooked, but have them touch the line as it is nibbling bait. The mysterious vibration traveling up a thin strand of monofilament is communication from another world. When a fish is landed, show kids how to safely hold it, and maybe let them in on the strange pleasure from obtaining a little “bass thumb.”
Listen for fish jumping, frogs croaking and that glorious sound of the reel’s drag being put to work.
And let them savor that honeybun on the way or bag of Cheetos heading back.