Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Take a Kid Fishing

This is a short article I wrote for the July/August 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Fishing and kids seem to go together better than helpless women and railroad tracks. It's one of those activities that youngster’s just pick-up easily and enjoy naturally, without any added pressure or encouragement. Put a fishing pole in the hands of a child and watch a strange transformation occur. Eyes glazed from watching too much TV are awakened, tongues wag no stop from exhilaration and little legs and arms vibrate with the excitement and anticipation of a possible catch. Even the most bored and despondent kids, will be transformed into industrious sportsmen in training, as their inquisitive minds attempt to unravel all of the mysteries of the fishing sport. As they delve deeper they will eventually come to realize that all aspects of “fishing” simply cannot be learned in a lifetime. Perhaps this is part of the attraction, the sport of fishing can be as complicated OR as simple as one desires. It need be no more complicated (unless one chooses) than a simple stick, line, hook and worm. It is a sport of the rich and poor alike and each has an equal chance of scoring a true personal trophy.

Casting and Retrieving: A four year old can be fairly proficient in understanding the dynamics of casting and reeling, and both these skills were taught to my sons soon after they began walking. Kids readily learn these introductory fishing skills, as long as parents take the time to provide instruction in a fun and supportive manner. Small “kid sized” rods and reels fit well tiny hands and short arms and are well worth the investment. With fun designs like Batman, Diego and Barbie your child is sure to go wild when they are unveiled. Even if your budget is more modest, have no worry that any kid will be entertained for hours with a stick having a bit of line attached to the end. Neither fishing nor the equipment for fishing needs to be complex for kids to become hooked. What is most important is the quality of time you spend with your child in these situations and how enthusiastic you are about being outside. Practice sessions, casting and reeling in lures, are done absent of hooks, until kids develop the motor control to cast and retrieve effectively. Even then, parents will be wise to keep a watchful and vigilant eye on an exuberant youngsters back casts. Casting is made more enjoyable for kids when you tie a plastic bait (salamanders, worms, crayfish, fish, etc) onto the end of their line. The often wildly colorful lures and combined wiggling, jiggling action make it difficult for any kid to resist exhibiting strong interest. Casting and retrieving on a lawn or driveway, affords a place for instruction that is readily accessible and free of some of the distractions found in more “fishy” situations. Parents need not worry about lures stuck in trees, on lake bottoms or anyone falling into the water. Start by having kids cast beyond a specific point, so they can increase their distance. As distance improves, have them cast lures into hula hoops to help them improve accuracy. With continued practice, 5 year old kids should be able, with guidance, to cast a hooked lure and reel in live fish, eels, mudpuppies, bullfrogs and anything else that manages to bite their hook. Once the introductory practice and preparations finally start to come together, little fishermen are afforded the opportunity to graduate to becoming big fishermen. During this transition, parents should still closely supervise and direct fishing activities but hooked lines can now be used. (*Of course kids can start MUCH younger using hooked lines, if jigging for sunfish or ice fishing and under direct parental supervision. Casting and retrieving is a completely different skill set, requiring a higher level of muscular control. Younger kids are likely not to have the physical ability to safely cast a hooked line without impaling themselves or others, therefore caution should be exercised.)

Introduce Hooks: Kids are introduced to hooks by allowing them to handle them and practice hooking them into soft plastic lures (like worms, frogs and salamanders) and then removing them. This practice allows them to understand how hooks work and helps to develop the fine motor skills necessary to hook wiggly worms, squirming grubs and soft rubber baits correctly later when in actual fishing scenarios. Be sure to describe the parts of the hook (Point, shank, barb, eye, etc.) to your child and how different size hooks and styles are used to catch different types of fish and unique fishing situations. Also, describe how a hook can be safely removed from skin and clothes, if an accident occurs, so that children do not panic should there be a mishap. At five years old they will be too young to tie mono to the hook so parents can tie the mono to a large swivel and let kids attach the swivel to the eye of the hook. Large hooks are easier for small fingers to manipulate but parents may want to switch to using smaller hooks once the fishing actually begins, depending on fish being targeted.

Casting a Bobber: When fishing, a large bobber rigged to the line helps with casting distance and allows an excellent visual reference for kids. The anticipation of watching and waiting for the bobber to go under the water is exciting for kids, when the fish cooperate.

Know the Lingo: Fishing lingo, vernacular and jargon is often picked-up by sportsmen over a lifetime of pursuing fish. These words and catch phrases (no pun intended) are unique to the sport and when uttered for the first time by young kids, utterly adorable. Imagine a four year old telling you, with a look on his face as serious as a heart attack, that he thinks he just had a “dribble” and he better reel in the line to see if it still has a worm. If that doesn’t make you smile, how about picturing a five year old approaching a perfect stranger at the boat launch and asking “Hey Mistah, whatcha usein for bait?” When you finally reach the point in your child’s fishing education, where the kiddos are having random conversations with other “rival” fishermen at boat launches, it’s important that you sit them down and have a serious heart to heart talk about two of the most important aspect of fishing, secrets and exaggeration. In these ensuing conversations, children must be taught who can and cannot be trusted with fishing secrets and to whom and when it is perfectly acceptable to blatantly lie. For parents looking to speed up their child’s education, this might also be a good time to work in the “We don’t need to tell Mommy everything” discussion. Speaking of secrets, I almost rolled off the dock last week when my five year old brought his mouth close to my ear and in a low whisper said, "Daddy, I have a fishing secret, you haftah be careful when your fishing to be quite so you don't scare away the fish". This was funny, because it wasn’t something that I had ever directly taught him but rather was most likely something he garnered himself from our quiet interactions at the lake.

Whenever possible, ensure fishing with a child is a safe and enjoyable experience. Don’t expect every second to be perfect but make sure to create scenarios that kids will want to return to again and again. If something unexpected occurs (like someone gets hooked or falls off the dock), at least make sure to salvage the day with a trip to get ice cream. The trick is to always end on a good note AND while the kiddos are still wanting more. If they start screaming and crying when you tell them its time to go home, you have done your due diligence.

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