By Merry Beth Ryan, Florida Sportfishing Magazine
I often reflect back to the very first time my father took me fishing. I was barely eight years old, but those memories will stay with me forever. From that day on, I was hooked, and continue to enjoy the sport with my entire family. I make it a point to get my niece and nephews out on the water every chance I can. They love visiting their aunt because they know they will be fishing and boating from sunup until sundown enjoying all of the wonders that the great outdoors have to offer.
In today’s society, we all know that outdoor activities often take a backseat to the ever-so-popular video game and computer addiction. PCs were not regular household items when I was growing up, so I spent most of my time outdoors. I have fond memories of fishing from the banks of rivers and lakes where I could safely ride my bike. I clearly remember digging earthworms that I sold to the local boys as bait for a nickel each. Today, I am here to tell you that fishing is definitely not just a man’s sport. Women and children of all ages have great success on the water while creating fond memories that will, no doubt, last forever.
In many households today, fishing is sidelined for more athletic sports such as soccer, baseball, football, and cheerleading. Parents spend what little free time they have commuting their children to and from playing fields. Spending any amount of time enjoying aquatic activities is hard to arrange, especially when you consider that more and more families require both parents to earn an income, leaving little time to plan any sort of family fishing trip.
Families who do enjoy time on the water shouldn’t take it for granted. There are many kids who rarely get the opportunity to experience fishing. On those rare occasions when they do get to go fishing, it is the first few impressions that will either hook them, or send them running back to their IPODS.
Taking a kid fishing can be extremely rewarding. I have been blessed to be able to experience that joy, and I would not trade the memories that I have etched in my mind for the world. However, I will be the first to admit that taking a kid fishing requires patience with a capital “P.” Entertaining young children on a fishing excursion of any duration can be challenging. However, their smiles and expressions when they land their first fish of the day quickly erase any stress.
The old business slogan ‘Keep It Simple Sam (KISS)’ needs to be carefully adhered to when taking kids fishing. Do not bring along your entire tackle collection when kids are in the fishing equation. A light spinning rod, a few hooks, a float, and a bucket full of shrimp or baitfish are all that is required. The float helps give the child a visual cue which will help hold his or her interest and also helps novice angling adults keep track of exactly where the bait is.
Action is the key when taking a young child fishing.
Take a moment and think back to your childhood and what interested you the most. I know we all have fond memories when ‘action’ played a key role in our happiness. Whether it was riding our first roller coaster, helping our mother bake cookies, or roasting our first marshmallow over an open campfire- as long as there was action, we were happy. Fishing can provide that same satisfaction with kids that need a quick pace to hold their attention. Make sure to target fish that are plentiful and hungry. Jacks, grunts, and sea trout fill the bill perfectly. Kids do not have the same expectations as adults. The objective is not so much in catching the biggest or the most glamorous fish, rather to keep the rod bent.
Even catching bait can prove to be the highlight of a child’s fishing trip. In more ways than one, a baitwell full of livies has proven to be a lifesaver when strikes are few and few between. I am always amazed at how much fun kids have playing with bait.
Remember to keep the trip about the kids. You can have your fun on a different day. They are sponges and there is no better time to teach them when they are so willing to listen and learn. Make children feel needed. Assign little tasks that they can handle. This will help boost their confidence. Sure, while we all have visions of what a perfect fishing trip may entail, when kids are along, the rules change. If they decide they would rather splash their hands in the water or play with the bait, let them. Remember, it is the kid’s version of fun we are concerned with, not our own.
Children will make a bad cast or two. They will most likely drop a rod on the deck or get their line tangled in an overhanging mangrove or kick over your tackle bag. That is to be expected. Rather than scolding them, remember that children thrive on praise. Give them all the encouragement you can when things are going well. Let them know they are doing a great job. As their teacher, make sure to give them all the patience they require. Barking orders because they lost a fish will leave a sour taste in their mouths, and that is exactly what we want to avoid.
There are, in fact, plenty of kids who have found their own pathway to fishing. Millions of children today regularly enjoy our wonderful sport while many of their friends choose to stay inside and become video game junkies. These children are building character as well as obtaining good moral values. They’re learning about conservation and how to preserve the beauty of nature- lessons they will carry for a lifetime.
Getting children hooked on fishing will put outdoors on top of their list of favorite activities, which is not only healthy, but good for families and good for society in general. Let’s also not forget that the future of our sport relies heavily on our youth. Educate kids about catch and release. Teach them by example by carefully unhooking and releasing fish so they can swim away to reproduce and create more fish for future trips. If you decide to bring your catch home for the dinner table, teach children that it is best to only harvest what will be eaten and not to be wasteful. If you are a patient teacher and leave a lasting impression, your kids will catch fishing fever!
It’s unfortunate that in today’s day and age, there are so many temptations where kids can go astray. It’s more important than ever to get them involved in fishing and everything that the great outdoors has to offer. You’ll be laying the groundwork for a bright futures. Don’t let your kids be the ones that got away!