By Kenneth L. Kieser
The old Model-A Ford roadster raised dust in my mom and dad’s gravel driveway. My great grandfather, Milo Rose, only moved the car that he had purchased in the early 1920’s from his wooden garage for fishing or hunting trips. The year was 1957 and I, their four-year-old great-grandson, was always included on their fishing trips.
I can close my eyes and remember those fishing adventures 63-years later. The old Model-A Ford had a musty smell and Grandad’s purring engine made the entire car shake. On arrival my first effort was to peer inside his metal tackle box, a treasure chest with tin boxes full of swivels, sinkers, hooks and other fascinating stuff including a few red and white bobbers. I, too, was fascinated by the freshly dredged creek minnows swimming around in a coffee can.
Next came the adventure of trying to squeeze a worm or minnow on the hook. I was allowed to put the bait on without help. Grandpa helped me cast. Then I was handed the cane pole. Grandmother would advise me on leaving the bobber sit there a few more seconds. Or as she would say, “You never know when a big, fat catfish, bluegill or crappie is going to take that squirmy bait. Pull it in too soon and the big fish won’t have a chance to bite.”
Taking the trouble to include me on those trips may have seemed like an afterthought to my grandparents. But this many years later I still remember that warm pond bank and my grandparents.
Perhaps you will be remembered in 60 years for your efforts of taking a child fishing this year. The correct preparation and effort may plant a fishing seed in your child that could last a lifetime. Let’s consider some rules that will help create future fishermen and women:
THE REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF–Sandwiches snacks and drinks are mandatory. My great grandmother was an excellent cook. She would make fishing trips a picnic, adding to the adventure. Of course, knowing there are goodies close by might become a distraction when teaching fishing skills. But early trips should be about associating fishing with pleasure.
This is a good time for your child to learn the importance of picking up their trash and taking it to a suitable trash can. Point out trash that some left on an earlier trip and show how it spoils the beauty of nature. Sadly, it is not hard to find examples on most fishing lakes or ponds.
Be extremely conscious of potty breaks. If you think little kidneys and bowels work fast in a car, wait until you get them in a boat. Don’t hesitate to make several trips to shore–even if the fish are biting. Bathroom facilities are always welcomed, but not always present. Remember to bring a small spade and toilet paper. Burying waste products is an important environmental lesson for kids and some adults. Be sure that you dig the hole at least 75 feet from the shoreline to avoid drainage into the lake or pond.
Finally, use this opportunity as a learning experience. Even the most careful scouting and planning will not mean the fish will bite. While waiting, point out nature like a swimming water snake, soaring hawks, tadpoles and fluttering dragonflies. Your child will start appreciating nature at an early age.
FIND PRODUCTIVE FISHING FIRST–You can bore any child by spending a couple of hours trying to find a spot where the fish are biting. Locate good crappie or bluegill water and know the best techniques for catching either species. Scouting or experimentation will be more accepted later after your child is hooked on fishing. But your child must catch fish on the early trips and size is not important.
TEACH THE BASICS– Let the child create their own experience. Some adults do everything for the child and this can be a mistake. Encourage the child to do as much for themselves as is possible.
Take the time to explain why you are tying a certain hook or lure on the line. Younger children will have trouble mastering a well tied knot on monofilament, but they can pick out brightly colored lures or certain bait. Kids need to develop self-reliance and putting their own bait on the hook is a start. Yet, don’t force the issue. Some kids don’t want to touch a slimly old worm or minnow. This will change with time and experience.
Children under seven or eight are best equipped with a simple rod, reel, hook, line and sinker. Later they can learn techniques for casting and different type of retrieves. But for now, keep it simple. They will want better equipment as their skill levels increase.
SETTING THE HOOK– An eager child will likely lose a fish or two by setting the hook too hard. Teaching them to set the hook quickly but gently will improve their technique. Remember to let them land a fish, even if you have to set the hook and hand them the rod. You can explain setting the reel’s drag when the child develops more skill and understanding.
CHOOSE FISHING EQUIPMENT WISELY– Ultra-light rod and reels are excellent for children. You can purchase less expensive versions that will no doubt eventually be damaged or destroyed. But take you child on a successful fishing trip and you might be surprised how prized that fishing rig will become. Note that some kids still want to learn with a spin cast reel. I highly recommend Zebco in this instance.
Your child’s reel should be wound with four to six-pound test line. Find a small, inexpensive tackle box and stock it with a few jigs, bobbers, hooks, weights and other neat stuff. Teach your child to neatly arrange and organize. Early attention to organization will pay off in enjoyable trips as long as the child fishes.
PROPERLY FITTING LIFE VESTS– Each child in your boat must wear a life jacket. Make sure the vest fits snuggly and comfortably. Trying to fit an adult-sized vest on a child’s frame is a mistake. The child will be uncomfortable and it is an unsafe act.
Remember to avoid boat rings, inner tubes or float toys. Instead, take you child to a store and find a Coast guard approved version that fits. Convincing the child to wear that vest, even on hot, sticky days is the adult’s responsibility. You can set a good example by wearing a vest too.
BE A WEATHER WATCHER– Choose your days well before taking that child fishing. Avoid windy, rainy or cold days. Blue bird days are the best for the best childhood memories. Remember to take extra jackets for weather changes.
KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE– Boredom in youth may strike at any time–even when the fish are biting. Forcing children to stay out longer than their attention span allows is a good way to turn them off from fishing forever.
Remarkably, the child that you take fishing may take you fishing someday. You will always be marked in their memory for the experience of a warm pond bank, tadpoles and green sunfish.