Fishing teaches kids so much more than how to catch fish. Plus, it’s fun.
I’ve got to admit that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. I host a television fishing show for a living and, because of that, I get to fish in some of the best spots in the world, with some of the best anglers and guides on earth. From time to time I’ve had the chance to go fishing with celebrities – people like actor Gary Burghoff, hockey legend Bobby Orr, and former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Pat Hentgen to name a few. But my biggest thrill comes when I have the opportunity to go fishing with my kids.
Teaching youngsters about fishing is one of the best investments you can make in their future well being, and the lessons that kids learn when they’re on the water can help to set them on the right course throughout their lives. You see, besides passing along the obvious fishing skills, fishing teaches them to have patience and to respect their environment, and it gives them insight into the value of life. Fishing can instill a sense of responsibility and accomplishment that they just can’t get by watching television or going to a mall. And since most kids have a natural curiosity about nature, the chances are good that they’ll jump at the chance to go fishing with you.
It’s important not to push too hard when you’re teaching a child about fishing. Remember, it’s got to be fun for them. Kids have short attention spans and sometimes they get bored, especially if the fish aren’t co-operating. They may decide that it’s more fun to chase frogs or skip stones across the lake and that’s fine. Forcing them to sit and fish when they’re not interested will only turn them off the sport. Let them run off some energy if they need to and sooner or later they’ll be back to give fishing another try.
When you take a young person out for their first fishing trip, try to keep everything fun and exciting for them. Forget about trying to catch trophies and concentrate on fish that will provide lots of steady action. Perch, sunfish and rock bass are perfect to get a kid started on. They’re eager biters and are usually pretty easy to find whether you’re fishing from a boat or from shore. I like to use floats whenever I go fishing with children. The kids really get a kick out of watching it wiggle and go under when a fish bites. And don’t forget to bring along lots of snacks and drinks. As adults we sometimes forget how quickly kids can become hungry or thirsty.
Besides sharing an enjoyable day in the outdoors, fishing gives you a chance to really get to know your child. Some of the best conversations you’ll ever have with your kids will come when you’re together fishing. There’s something about being in the outdoors that seems to get them to relax and open up to you. When they’re fishing, they’re not distracted by telephones, video games or television and they seem to enjoy talking about whatever’s on their minds. It’s as if being out there fishing somehow softens the wedge that often appears between parents and kids.
Once when my son Darren was just 11 years old, I took him on a fly-in trip to Knee Lake in northern Manitoba, which is known for its incredible pike and walleye fishing. We got into a shallow part of the lake where the pike were busting the surface and going completely nuts chasing minnows around. I’d never seen a pike feeding frenzy like this before! I figured that it would be fun to try some top water baits on these aggressive fish and I hoped that Darren would really get a kick out of watching the pike explode on his lure. I’ve got to admit that I was pretty excited too.
Darren and I were both using a surface bait with a propeller on it, similar to a buzzbait. Well, let’s just say that we had a blast. The pike were absolutely killing our lures. Since I was filming a segment for the Real Fishing show at the time, I thought it would be a good idea to promote the lure we were using to beat up on these pike. With the camera rolling, I looked at Darren and asked if he thought he could find room in his tackle box for it. He looked at me with the most apologetic look you can imagine and said, “Nope, I like it, but my tackle box is already full. I don’t have any room for it.” Talk about a classic moment.
At the end of that trip, I asked Darren what he thought about it and he immediately responded by saying, “Dad, this is the best.” At that moment, all the years of baiting hooks, fetching drinks and untangling lines suddenly seemed worth it.
Accidents and even minor irritants can lessen the enjoyment of your fishing trip, but a few precautions and additions to your equipment list will reduce the risks.
Hats. If shade is unavailable, hats will increase the amount of time that you can stay in the direct sun.
Sunscreen. Even with hats and long sleeves, reflected sun from the water will strike your face. On warm days, comfortable clothing (tee shirts, shorts) will leave lots of exposed skin to be protected by sunscreen.
Insect repellent. Water and bugs go together and certain times of day (dawn and dusk) that can be particularly good for fishing are also mealtime for the little critters. A good repellent will limit their effects.
Life jackets (PFDs). Even if you are fishing from shore, life jackets or personal floatation devices (pfds) are a good thing to have for small children or weak swimmers. Of course, they don’t do much good unless they’re on and properly fitted. Find places to fish where the water is shallow near shore and the bottom slopes gradually. This will also allow kids to wade around and search for bugs and things if the fishing is slow.
First aid kit. With a basic first aid kit you can handle the occasional nicks and scrapes. Be sure to include a spray or salve for insect bites and stings, as well as any special medications that your child may require.
Hooks and casting. Hooks are the most likely cause of accidents while fishing. Barbed hooks create special concerns. Handle all hooks carefully and teach kids to always look behind them before casting. If a hook penetrates below the barb, get medical help.
Footwear. Plan on feet ending up in the water. If the weather’s warm, consider old shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. In cooler weather, waterproof boots are a good idea.
Ethics and Respect
We all want children to respect our natural environment. Kids need to see that our aquatic resources belong to all of us, and that we all need to take care of them. What may be harder to get across is the basic respect that all living things deserve, even those that we may kill to eat. The best way to instill this attitude is to model this behaviour yourself. Some things to consider:
Don’t litter. Litter is not only unsightly, but it can harm fish, birds and other living things. Fishing line is particularly bad. Take back everything that you brought on your trip, and consider leaving the area better than you found it.
Have fun, but don’t be overly loud or boisterous. These behaviours not only spook other anglers, they spook the fish as well.
Obey the law. Be sure you have the current Ontario Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary. Know and be prepared to explain the rules and abide by the limits and other regulations contained in the summary.
Keep only those fish that you plan to eat, and handle them carefully. Release the others quickly and properly. The summary has good tips on proper release techniques.