This piece was published in Pennsylvania Outdoor Journal a year or two ago.
Every Kid Would Love to Fish
When I see a youngster fishing with a parent, I consider that child lucky whether he or she catches anything or not. Every three to five-year-old introduced to fishing loves it. The first good-size largemouth my son caught at age three, a 13-incher, seemed to give him the sense that the world is his for the plucking, and to care for as well, as he released a living creature himself. When he grew just a little older, he wanted to fish almost every day after pre-school. And I was willing to take him for an hour or two a couple or several evenings a week after work. Since he truly loved to fish, his total intent was infectious and I found my own desire to fish fully reawakening after a 25-year slump. Suddenly he caught as many bass as I did, a five-year-old with masterful finesse of plastic worms.
I had done something right in how I had introduced him to fishing. And from that advantage he had developed very much by his own efforts, yet by always being visible to me, and with me as his own source of know-how.
At ages two and three, a parent or guardian needs to do all the casting for a youngster. Not only is such a young child simply too small to put a bait or lure out there, he has very little idea yet of the pursuit, the placing of the lure or bait where a fish might be. Buy him a rod of his own. Cast for him. The ideal lure for bass, if you’re not using nightcrawlers or shiners, is the plastic worm since you can help him retrieve it slowly. Let him reel in a fish; help him if it’s big.
I went ahead and built for my five-year-old a 3 ½-foot spinning rod for trout, the same size rod I use with salmon eggs. When he was three, I cast salmon eggs for him on the same rod he used for bass, and he caught some trout. He had not yet caught a “pickerel pike,” at five; but he felt very eager to do so. So late in April I took him to a pond I knew had pickerel in it, and baited his hook with live shiners. He caught one that afternoon, all he needed to fill his day.
Kids are interested in catching all kinds of fish. My son is 12 now and hasn’t yet caught a carp, very much wants to. Without time to fish for carp early this past fall, I did at least buy a mulberry purple bait concoction and gave it to him to add to his wide selection of lures and tackle, a promise that we will go this next year. It’s important to show kids very different methods that varieties of fish species require to be caught. By age three a boy or a girl has a rudimentary grasp of many differences of approach; how it is you fish should be pointed out. So long as a three-year-old grasps that there is a way to do it, by the time he is five he may be on top his game with at least one method, and possibly more.
By the time a child is six, have him learn to tie knots. Kids this age become interested in such skills, want to do such things. To know the Uncle Homer knot or the uni or both are notches they can cut on their belts. It’s the same with different lures and methods. A six-year-old wants to know how to use these devices so fascinating to him. As long as you relate to him at least one way to use each of the lures he owns, he has a basis on which to build upon variations of method. Tell him there’s more than one way to do, but show him at least one way.
For example, with weightless plastic worms I told my son to cast and count slowly to 20 before he twitched the worm off the bottom, then to count to 10 and twitch it again by moving the rod tip about a foot or two, and so on. He got that down pat after a couple of outings. Seeing this under control, I told him so. Always confirm with your son or daughter that he or she has it right:
“By now you know what 20 seconds feels like, don’t you think?”
“So now just fish that plastic worm by what feels right.”
And as I noted earlier in the article, he was a young master in his fifth year, very intent upon catching fish while watching his dad doing just that. So, besides how I instructed him, he imitated me. The best you can do for your son or daughter is be an active, open model from whom he or she can learn by observing.
As kids grow older, all sorts of other life influences draw them in many other directions. Fishing for them may seem removed from the mainstream of life. And we older adults always used to speak glowingly of getting away from it all. Today kids don’t seem as much to share that value of getting outside; they seem to want to be very much with their generation’s technological involvement. However, older kids are very environmentally aware. If you train them to recognize that equipment, tackle, methods, approaches, environmental appreciation, and successes are like any other endeavor in life, they might understand, as they grow even older, and that they really got their basic education and appreciation of life out fishing with dad.
Matt's Uncle Jim points out how to use a particular camera.