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By Marc Bush, Twisted Waters Guide Service | Mack's Lure Guide Staff
One of the first memories I have of fishing was with my grandfather on a farm pond for panfish. “Gramps,” as I called him, would sit in his lawn chair and watch the bobbers. I would cast my little Zebco 404 out with a red and white bobber, a small hook, and a nightcrawler. Within minutes, I would be reeling in to check the bait.
Gramps would always remind me that the fish were in the water, not in the trees — that we were going after fish, not squirrels and birds. And so, we would watch the bobbers. When one would start moving, he would let me know when to set the hook and reel it in. If we lost one, no problem. There were more to come.
To this day, I look back impressed with the level of patience he had. He had no idea of the lessons that he bestowed on me — or maybe he did.
Later in life, fishing become more of a competition. How big? How many? Where and what was caught? What did my buddies reel in? The gear changed, as well. Bobbers and worms were replaced with spinners and crank baits. That old Zebco was replaced with a spinning rod. The list of changes goes on and on.
When I started taking my own children fishing, I had to remember the lessons of my grandfather. I, however, was still in competition mode and I thought that I could teach them how to fish while I brought in dinner. I’m not too proud to say that I made a lot of mistakes that took a little time to recover from.
First off, marathon fishing trips with children is seldom a good idea, especially when you are fishing for species like salmon and steelhead. As a fishing guide with more than a few years of experience, I have a few guidelines for people that are taking their children out with them on the water. I let my customers know that when the kids are done, we either take a break or the trip is going to come to a conclusion. I have no intention of being responsible for a child hating a sport that I love.
That being said, no one knows your kid better than a parent. If the snacks and electronics need to be broke, out, by all means, keep the youngsters entertained. I can attest to this with my own experiences. The kids were young, and a buddy of mine and I were fishing for silvers on a cold, rainy October day. The fishing hole wasn’t burning a hole in the sun, to say the least. Thus, as you could guess, the kids had just about had enough. My buddy and I, however, were in let’s-figure-this-out mode. The kids covered up with a blue tarp in the front of the boat and I rode it out. I couldn’t get either one of them to go fishing with me for more than a year after that. A good time was not had by all.
Keeping youngsters entertained is not always an easy chore. When I have customers that have young kids they’re looking to introduce to the sport, I always recommend taking them for something that has the potential for some good, consistent action.
One of the best opportunities for this is the Columbia River shad run. If you have never experienced this fisher, you are doing yourself a disservice. It is an incredible opportunity to introduce people of all ages to fishing. Boaters, as well as bank anglers, have a very real opportunity to of finding non-stop action for hours.
I took my own kids down to the Columbia River, below Bonneville Dam, and let them fling shad darts. My daughter was just learning how to casts with a spinning reel and this was a perfect opportunity for her to get some practice in. At one point, she exclaimed very loudly that she had made a particularly bad cast. On the retrieve, however, she caught a fish! At which point I told her that ‘it must have been a good cast.’ Fish on!
Another option is to take kids to a stocked lake. These fisheries have many opportunities to catch an abundance of fish, including trout and panfish. Most local lakes, likely close to home, provide great conditions to expect success from the banks or on the boat.
A few years ago, I started guiding yellow perch trips at a local lake close to my home. The kids absolutely love the action and, when you’re using light gear, they can bend the rod over a bit. This fishery can also turn old codgers into little kids in seconds. It takes them back to that farm pond when they were kids. And the fishing is easy — so when the clients and kids get the hang of it, my only job is to make sure the worms are on the hooks.
Another thing that I think is very important when taking kids out to teach the sport of fishing is to leave your rod in the garage. Make the trip about them. If you are trying to fish while also trying to teach, one will suffer, so eliminate one of the distractions.
Now, if you’re fishing the farm pond with the kids, sometimes it does help to have another line in the water, but if you are drift fishing for salmon, this added distraction can prove to be very frustrating.
Back in the day, I took the kids down to a very popular location on a local river. It was just before Thanksgiving and the chum salmon were just coming in. The bank was a little crowded, but the fishing was lively. A few of the locals were there and they were a great help. I got the kids set up with the amount of lead they recommended, and the kids got their lines wet. On this trip, I never took my rod out of the rack. I made it about them.
When you have kids that are learning and there are a lot of anglers around you, it can be challenging and sometimes intimidating. Novice anglers don’t always watch for what’s behind them and other anglers aren’t always aware of what is going around them, either. This is a great opportunity for a lesson in angling etiquette.
That day, my kids learned about walking behind other anglers and to always look for people walking behind them before they start flinging hooks around. If I had been trying to fish while all of this was going on, things may have gotten ugly. Instead, we had a great day on the water, got some chum for the smoker and I didn’t have to pull a hook our of anyone.
Pay attention to the kids. When they are getting bored or tired, let them take a break. Doing so can sometimes turn into quite the adventure. My kids built one of the best driftwood forts I have ever seen while partaking in their break.
They would also look for gear and do a little bank clean up. My son had quite a corky collection at one time and would try to sell them to the other anglers on the bank. His prices, admittedly, were a little high at times, but people seemed to enjoy his attempts at selling reclaimed fishing gear for profit.
As a fishing guide, I have taken some of the lessons that I learned with my own children and applied them to my young clients. I have had the entire range of kids in my boat, ranging from those who want to catch whatever we happen to be after to kids that have almost no interest in the day’s activities.
One of my own children is super focused. She is very competitive and does not accept defeat well. Everything she does is done with the mindset that she is trying to achieve perfection. When she was old enough to bait hooks, she started to work on the boat with me.
My son, on the other hand, is more of the laid-back type. He doesn’t get overly excited, and I’ve seen him hand his rod off more than a few times when he has hooked up and they are struggling. He has never worked for me on the boat, but he has worked for others.
And then I have another child that has no problem with fishing — as long as she isn’t the one doing it. All of this is absolutely fine, except for when you have to explain to your wife that you had to fire, then rehire your kid in a matter of hours.
All in all, each of my children love the outdoors, even with my shortcomings as a mentor.
As anglers, one of the most important things we can and must do is introduce new people to the sport that we all love from our children, our grandchildren and our friends’ children to the kid down the street that has a parent deployed to lands afar or the 38-year-old that has never fished a day in his life, but acts like a 12-year-old. Each of these kids presents an opportunity to grow out sport.
When it comes down to it, it’s most important to have fun and be safe. Teach and be teachable. And if you’re teaching someone how to fish, remember to leave your rod at home.
Marc Bush owns and operates Twisted Waters Guide Service and is a member of the Mack’s Lure Guide Staff. You can learn more about Bush and his guide operation at TwistedWaters-GS.com. Bush is licensed to guide in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.