Just Kidding Around: Returning Fishing's Biggest Favor
Photo Credit: Jeff Phillips
Years ago, on a fishing lake far away, a young boy tossed a jointed crankbait into stained bayou waters and began to reel it back in while his 30-something-year-old dad watched.
Sometime during the retrieve, a sudden jolt of aquatic electricity transmitted itself up the line when a Louisiana largemouth bass made the sudden decision that the shad-colored lure passing through the strike zone was simply too tempting a morsel to pass up.
With the ambushing attack that followed, the bass was hooked. And so was I.
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Now into my middle years, I often think back on that angling trip while easily identifying with country music legend George Strait.
Strait - who is wrapping up his unparalleled country music career this weekend at Jerry Jones' gigantic football stadium - has crooned a popular tune over the years that simply says, “Dad, this could be the best day of my life.”
Amen, King George, amen.
Because that long-ago summer day near Baton Rouge with my dad was without question one of the best days of my life.
Why? Because my dad, now 75 years young, took the time to take me out into the wild and teach me how to fish. I've never forgotten those times, which went on to spur a lifelong passion for angling and a career writing about and photographing time spent on the water.
Such is the power of mixing kids, summertime water and eager fish.
Georgia fly fisher Chad Foster knows all about such power, having learned his own angling skills from his father, who learned similar skills from his father.
Foster, an educational and motivational speaker these days, caught his first fish on a fly rod armed with a popping bug around the age of 11. Like the sporty bluegill that he landed from that Louisiana city-park pond, Foster was hooked on the outdoors from that point forward.
“I knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time on the water hunting and fishing,” said Foster. “That’s something that was instilled in me by my father. I still feel that way.”
Such feelings are not surprising according to my friend Dr. Bill Harvey, a retired Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist, who now lives in Port Lavaca where he pursues a passion for photography.
“We know from very sound survey and social research that the way that most people historically become introduced to the out-of-doors is through their family, particularly women and children,” Harvey once told me.
“A lot of men may be introduced to the outdoors through other men who are their friends. But for children and women who become interested in the outdoors, it is almost always through their families. That’s the avenue to the out-of-doors.”
Interested in doing your part this summer to help a youngster find that pathway to the outdoors world while discovering the lifelong thrill of fishing?
Then you're in luck since this week's (June 1-8) celebration of National Fishing & Boating Week (http://takemefishing.org) is currently in progress with free fishing days, numerous fishing events, and plenty of helpful anglers standing at the ready around the country.
While I claim to be no expert at helping introduce someone to the sport, I have gathered a fewtips over the years that might help to make your summertime fishing trip an adventure that will never be forgotten or outgrown.
First, remember that safety is the number one priority on any fishing trip. Because of that, wearing a properly fitting and legal PFD (personal floatation device) is a must when on or around the water. And that's not to mention having a strong respect for the water, taking extra care around sharp hooks and lures, and wearing protective sunscreen.
Next, concentrate on having fun by targeting easy to catch species like bluegills on crickets or worms that are fished under bobbers. Along those same lines use tackle, bait and gear that are both beginner-friendly and uncomplicated.
Be sure to make your angling trips an adventure for kids by doing such things as taking special trips to the tackle shop together for equipment and license purchases, poring over lake and river maps together, and actually packing your fishing gear a day or two in advance of the trip.
Once at your destination, offer to bait hooks and land fish for your young angler if necessary, all while giving them the space to do it themselves if they so wish.
On such outings, keep snacks, water or even Kool-Aid handy for the downtime when the fish aren't biting. A good book, a video on a tablet or smartphone, or even a game of some sort can also help deflect boredom and keep a child in the game long enough to be successful.
When the fish are biting, there will be plenty of smiles and laughter from your young angler, so have a digital camera or smartphone standing by to take pictures and videos of their fishing activities and their catch.
Speaking of their catch, allow your young angler the option of keeping fish for the table if the law and necessary conservation practices allow for it. Catch-and-release is an important consideration in many parts of our nation, but where piscatorial abundance allows for it, so too is a good old fashioned fish fry.
One big key to keep in mind when taking a youngster on their inaugural fishing adventure is this: Youthful anglers have a short attention span, so don’t overdo it. If the action is slow and the fish aren’t biting, consider taking a hike, looking for frogs or snails, skipping rocks across the water, or even packing up early and heading out for an ice cream sundae.
Finally, always remember that there’s more to a successful fishing trip than just catching fish. Help your youngster soak in all of the wonders of creation, including the birds, deer, squirrels, rabbits and even the beauty of a morning sunrise as you teach them how to love and respect the outdoors world.
If you enjoy angling, then return the sport a big favor this summer and take a youngster fishing.Should you do so, you'll never regret it and odds are neither will they.
In fact, they might just croon with King George one day that it was the best day of their life.
Editor's Note: For more details on learning how to fish, visit the National Fishing & Boating Week Web site at http://takemefishing.org/fishing/fishopedia/how-to-fish.