fishing with kids
“By my 11th birthday I still hadn’t actually caught a fish and was beginning to doubt that I ever would.” — from Blood Knots by Luke Jennings
Saturday morning and the thermometer already has crawled higher than 80 degrees. The dog days of summer have arrived with all the force and charm of a blast furnace.
The blazing heat of late summer has warmed most of the state’s lakes near the temperature of bath water. It’s enough to cast a lethargic pall over fish and fishermen. Many anglers have gone nocturnal, driven to the darkness by the wicked combination of heat, humidity and sulking fish. August is not the most productive time to be on the water.
This is of no concern to my young buddy Braxton, who is pointing wildly at something in the water while his dad fumbles with some fishing tackle.
Braxton is impatient.
Braxton wants to fish.
Braxton is 7 years old.
I’ve been invited to join Braxton and his family at a neighbor’s pond, which floods about a third of an acre and is loaded with bluegill, catfish and an occasional bass.
Braxton’s dad knots the hook, crimps on a split shot, clips a bobber to the line, hands me the rod and goes to work on another rig. I dig a worm from the Styrofoam box and start to thread it onto the hook. Braxton stands very close, watching with keen interest. I ask if he wants to help, and he responds with a vigorous headshake. He then apparently changes his mind and quickly reaches for the hook. Thankfully, I’m the only one who’s stuck. We work together and after a couple of tries the worm is more or less affixed to the hook.
“Know what this for?” I ask, pointing to the golf ball-size red bobber. Braxton nods furiously.
“When it goes under I got a fish!?”
I’m not sure if I’ve been told something or asked something but decide that pro bass fisherman Kevin VanDam couldn’t have explained it more succinctly.
“That’s right,” I say. “When this goes under, you got a fish.”
Casting is a bit of a challenge even with the nearly foolproof Zebco 33 rod and reel combo. But after a couple of misfires Braxton heaves the rig toward the water where it lands with a plunk about five feet from the bank, just beyond the weeds. The water swarms with bluegill.
The boy plants his feet near the rocks that line the shore and grips the rod with both hands. A U.S. Marine would not show more determination to succeed.
He starts to rip the line from the water.
“Not yet. Wait until your bobber goes under.”
Braxton fidgets. He lays down the rod, and then picks it up. About 15 seconds have passed—an eternity to a youngster holding a fishing pole.
“Not yet. But get ready.”
There’s a magical, mystery-tinged air to fishing that youngsters enjoy in abundance but fades with the arrival of adulthood. Maybe it’s the anticipatory excitement of it, an uncluttered sureness of the merely possible, a secular version of Hebrews 11:1.
Fishing with kids strips the sport to its core. It’s Fishing 101, sans the cane pole. Zoom lizards, Zara Spooks, Carolina rigs and buzz baits will come later. Catch and release is an unfathomable mystery. This is a mano-a-mano blood sport. Standing in a creek or on the bank a young fisherman wants only combat. He has no interest in sport or fair play. Those important qualities will be taught and instilled in the process. Now, he wants meat. Nothing else will suffice.
There’s a life lesson here, too. Fishing empowers youngsters with something that can’t be given, bought or forced, something that can’t be seen but is always felt: the confidence that they can do it. They can succeed.
Like most kids his age, Braxton has the patience of a passing shadow. That’s why we’re here. Pond fish are friendly and usually cooperative.
He squeezes the rod and looks at his dad, who points at the red floater.
The bobber twitches then lunges beneath the surface. Braxton squeals. Me, too. For anglers of all ages, it’s the most exciting moment in fishing.
Fishin' Rules, for the supervising adult:
1. You must catch fish. No minimum size required. Young anglers need steady action.
2.Use live bait (crickets are cleaner, worms more reliable).
3. Bring snacks. A hungry young fisherman is a whiny young fisherman.
4. Be flexible. Fishing is fun, but so is throwing rocks and chasing butterflies.
Readers may contact Gary Garth at email@example.com