Fishin' with the kids

Supporting our Future:                   
    We?ve all got good stories about how we got into the sport of fishing. Quite often they revolve around a family member introducing us to angling at a young age. I remember that for myself it was my father and grandfather that sparked my interest. For my father it was usually a planned fishing expedition where I was brought along. These early outings with my father tended to be structured. We?d be going after a particular species of fish, have particular bait, and really go for putting a lot of fish in the boat or on shore. My grandfather?s idea of fishing was somewhat different and usually revolved around my cousins and I in a boat fishing with worms and bobbers while he regaled us with stories. Both ways were a pretty fun way for a young boy to spend some time enjoying the great outdoors. The skills learned were to become very important to me later on in life. For example I learned from a very early age how to run an outboard. Cleaning fish was another critical skill learned, but of course when I?m fishing with my father I still let him have the honours. For some reason the old man still does a better job of it. At any rate, both were very different approaches to introducing me to fishing, and both worked in their own way to cement the skills, knowledge, and values that made me the angler I am today.                 
    The point is, whatever your story happens to be, there is always someone that gives you that spark that will lead to a lifetime of angling enjoyment. Of course, if you are thinking of mentoring a child you might also run the risk of leaving a bad taste in their mouth and ruining fishing for them as well. I have a very good friend of mine that just doesn?t get fishing, which is very strange since his father is probably one of the most prolific fishermen I know. Knowing his dad though, I?m sure that when this friend was younger he was probably pushed into it a little bit, probably so much that it soured his desire to fish. Over time it became a point of argument with him. Whenever I?d plan a fishing trip with some buddies, this guy would inevitably bow out, or if he did come it would be more for the company than to wet a line. That all changed a few summers ago when, as adults with children of our own, we planned a camping and fishing trip up north of Parry Sound. I was really surprised when not only did he agree to come out and fish with us, but he seemed to really enjoy himself. It just goes to show you that while fishing for him still might not be as important as it is for me, his dislike for it might stem back to his formative years. So don?t despair if you?ve made mistakes along the way, the damage can be undone. Anyway, enough of the psychobabble, this article isn?t about why certain crazy people don?t like to fish, it?s about the kids. The point I?m trying to make is, teaching our future anglers the art of the sport of fishing is a very important task that requires some clever planning, some reverse psychology and yes? even a little bit of luck.                 
    For my own kids I decided to really do it properly. I have two young kids, my daughter Emily (8), and son Mason (6). Believe it or not Emily is my little fisherwoman. She took to it instantly, and I really don?t think there is anything I could have done to damage her love to fish. Mason on the other hand is a little bit of a challenge. He likes the idea of going out and spending time with dad, but in practice he?s usually done after the first fish. It just doesn?t seem to excite him. In searching for the answer to why, I came across a few truths that might be useful for others who are trying to get their kids excited about fishing.                 
    First and foremost kids think very differently than we adults. They?ve got to be busy and active physically (most of them) and their minds kind of follow suit. So sitting in a boat floating around waiting for the big one to hit won?t be as fun for them as it might be for us. Neither will be constantly casting heavy lures into matted weeds, because that?s going too far the other way. The little tykes will be tired out before they get to ten casts, whereas we will take a little punishment before we give up. No, in my experience, your best bet, especially the first couple times out is to pick a spot where they can catch many fish in a short amount of time, still have the ability to take a break now and then, and then go back at it. I?m talking about panfish. Give your little guy or gal a light action rod, a worm and bobber and watch the excitement build with every fish. Okay, this definitely is not a very fun way for us adults to fish, not that it?s not entertaining to catch these fish by the dozen, but because we?re constantly baiting hooks and taking fish off. It is entertaining however to see their little eyes light up, and occasionally they can even catch a monster. One of the biggest bass I ever caught was on a worm when I was about 11 years old. Oh yeah, the big ones will occasionally go for a light snack.                 
    To further their experience, I often make a game out of it. Not a competition though, because as I?ve learned the hard way (at least with my kids), fishing competitions between siblings, even in fun, can get be serious business for young minds. For some reason my daughter likes to rub it in when she wins, (must get that from her mother) but more on that later. The game I like to introduce the kids to is a pretty simple one and it actually gives them a useful tool they?ll use later on if they choose to continue making fishing an important part of their lives. I try to get them to identify the species of fish they?ve caught. We used to keep a count of how many different species we managed to bring up on any particular outing, but once again my daughter turned that into a competition so now we just see whether the kiddies can identify what?s on their hook before they send them back. Without knowing it I had my eight year old knowledgeable enough to tell bass species apart, even some of the different panfish species. That was pretty gratifying as a parent. My little guy was getting into it a little bit too, which was pleasing. The trick with him is not to push. Don?t force it on them and you?ll find that they take to it naturally.                
     Another trick is for their first few times out pick a shore location and not a boat trip. Bathroom breaks and alternative activities are much easier to do and find on land than they are on the water. Bring plenty of snacks and force them to take a break now and then, even if the action is good. This will help teach them that the fish are there whether they are or not, that will come in pretty handy later on in life. Another little tip is to avoid going ice fishing as a first timer activity. It?s cold out there for the little ones, and unless you?ve got quite an outfit there won?t be much to do if the fish aren?t hitting. A few years after introducing my daughter to fishing though and she?s wanting to go ice fishing all the time. (More on that later too) I actually have to disappoint her at first ice or when I think conditions are a little too harsh.                 
    Funny enough you know, I never did have to force fishing on Emily. Within a year I had her lipping bass like a pro. Of course I had to watch it this past summer when she caught her first pike. We nearly had an injury. Luckily I stopped her just before she stuck her thumb in that toothy grass-snake?s mouth. (That could have been one of those potentially souring moments I was speaking of earlier). How would I explain to her mother how Emily lost her thumb? As a parent you need to tailor your approach to the particular kid you?re teaching. With Em there was very little effort involved, she just took to it, and there are certainly kids like that. Mason on the other hand requires a different, low key approach. The first few times we went out I was frustrated when he?d pull in one rock bass and was suddenly done for the day. Here we had driven a half hour away from the house to fish and he was done in two minutes. Once I realized that I needed to roll with the punches a little bit he came around. I even came back to the cottage this past summer to find him out on the dock fishing all by himself. Apparently he?d been there for some time. The ?hands off? approach works with some kids who are a little more stubborn (my wife say?s my little guy gets that particular trait from me). At any rate, by sticking to my little methods I?ve brought Mason along quite well. By my estimate he?ll be as thrilled to go fishing as Emily is in about another year.                 
    There you have it, my thoughts on introducing the sport to our future and how important it is to make a good first impression on our youngsters. Feel free to weigh in with what works for you. I?m sure everyone has their different approaches or stories. The bottom line as far as I?m concerned is to make it fun and exciting, especially the first few times out. Just like in the act of actually fishing though, once you have ?em hooked, nine times out of ten you?ve got them.    
    Before I sign off I thought I?d share a few tales of my daughter Emily and her young fishing career. It?s enough to make a father proud. Of course I guess most parents would say something like that. At any rate, what would a list of tips be without a few success stories?                 
    As I said above, one of the largest bass I ever caught was on a worm and bobber while fishing for crappie up north. I was in the boat with my two cousins and we were really pulling in the fish. The crappie we were catching were usually too small to pull our full sized floats all the way beneath the surface, and so it was with quite a bit of surprise when all of a sudden I looked up and found my bobber was nowhere to be seen. My bail happened to be open and as I looked down I saw line stripping off. I remember setting up and bringing that hawg in after what seemed like an hour fight. My cousins later told me that I horsed it in and it was in the boat in little under two minutes, but for an eleven year old it seemed like much longer. At any rate, these paragraphs are not for me reliving my youth, they?re for the kids. Though, it?s interesting to note how similar Emily?s first experience with a big bass was to my own.  This past summer I figured that Emily was a strong enough angler that she could start to learn how to do certain things for herself. I trusted she wasn?t going to put a hook through her thumb while putting on a worm, and that she was coordinated enough with her casting that father and daughter could go out together and I wouldn?t have to spend all my time doing things for her. We could actually fish together, not just her fishing and me helping, which is a magical time to fish with your kid. Our first couple times out that summer I let her bait her own hook and do her own thing. I also made her take her own fish off the hook, teaching her how to grab certain fish and how best to unhook them. Things were going great, then came that day we went down to one of my favourite shore fishing locations.                     
    We cast our bobbers out when no sooner did I get the, ?Daddy, I?m snagged up?. Sighing I reeled in and went over to see what I could do. It was a strange situation though, here she was straining on her rod and her bobber was gone.                 
    ?Ease off on it,? I told her, thinking she was indeed caught on bottom. She leaned forward and her rod was still bent, plus her bobber never came back up. ?What happened I asked??                 
    ?As soon as I threw it in, my bobber went under and now I?m caught.?                 
    She had a fish on, there was no doubt about it. Keeping to my guns and not yanking the rod away from her was pretty hard, but I was determined. ?Okay, I think you?ve got a fish. Start reeling!?                 She did as I instructed her and as soon as she started to bear down on that fish her drag let go. Sometimes on the cheaper reel?s (like the one?s designed for children) the drag catches and it takes a good tug to start it going. Once it does though, watch out! Especially if you?ve got a runner on the line. Emily?s fish took off like a shot for deeper water, which was likely why it stayed on her hook despite having a sudden surplus of slack. I did help Emily out then, not that she couldn?t do it herself, but because she only had two hands. I tightened her drag up a bit and told her to reel.                 
    It took her a few minutes to bring that fish in. I told her to take her time since she had some pretty light gear, but I was confident she?d get it in being as we knew we had a fairly good hookup. Besides netting it for her, and the little drag adjustment, I didn?t help one bit. It was a nice one too, about a 3lb Larry! Well done. That?s my girl!                 
    The next story happened last winter. Being as Emily was coming along pretty good I decided it was time to introduce her to the joy of ice fishing. I know what I said earlier, but I thought if I prepared enough for the trip she?d be good to go, besides I figured she was already hooked on fishing so there wasn?t any danger than one miserable outing would wreck it for her. So I got her bundled up, packed some snacks and colouring for her and away we went to my boss?s house for a little ice fishing derby. Everyone put a dollar in the pot for the first fish, another for the biggest and the third dollar for the most fish caught. It was a fun bet, and a pretty friendly competition so I let Emily join in. After all, I thought, maybe she?d at least catch a perch before anyone else and maybe win something.                 
    Well, we went out and dropped a few holes through. I put Emily?s Dora chair near one and got her all set up with a rig. That was her hole. I told her to keep it skimmed and to check on her minnow from time to time. The day wore on and the people we went out with gradually began trying different spots, but Emily and I stuck to our guns, more for the reason that we had a pretty comfortable little setup and moving was far more trouble than it was worth being as the bite was slow.                 
    Eventually lightning struck, and lo and behold it struck on Emily?s line. I actually did have to help her with this one and we landed a nice laker. It was the perfect size for eating. Not only was it the first fish, but it was the largest, and since it was the only one? well you get the picture? Now the argument became, who?s fish was it? I had to bring it up after all. Eventually the other people out on the ice ruled in Emily?s favour. It was like getting voted off the island.                 
    My rather competitive daughter still gloats about it a year later.                 
    ?Remember that time I beat you at ice fishing daddy???                 
    It?s annoying, but hey you can get in a lot of trouble for selling a kid nowadays so I put up with it. Now I?m looking forward to getting her out on the ice again in 2011. We?ve been pretty busy most weekends so far, but sooner or later we?ll get out and then we?ll see who the champ is. I wonder is she?s big enough to auger her own hole? If not, I guess she?ll have to learn.                 
    Knowing my luck Mason will come out and beat us both. Kids? what can you do?
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