The year 2018 is another year full of infinite possibilities and outdoor adventures plus my 31st year of writing this column. I am thankful that you read my work. Please contact me with questions or comments. I had some favorable feedback for several of you this past year and I am grateful.
My grandchildren all asked if I would take them fishing this past year — making the past 365-days a great success. I introduced my six grandchildren to fishing and they loved it. My hope is that I have started out six future conservation ambassadors.
They may never work for a game and fish department. Perhaps they will just use the outdoors while setting a good example for others, the same example I will always show them. Sadly, many from my generation think differently about conservation.
Imagine visiting our lakes to find trash everywhere and stunted fish that you wouldn’t eat because of the pollution they lived in. That is exactly what we would have if not for watchdogs like the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation and groups nationwide. Want proof of how bad it could be? Look at the trash on public lake shorelines. People just don’t seem to care.
Crosby, Stills and Nash once sang, “Teach Your Children.” That is exactly what every conservation minded adult must do. Their generation will soon be in control and lakes, rivers and streams are at risk without the proper measures. Their generation will have slobs too, so our kids must become the watchdogs.
Many of you have children and grandchildren, your future fishing buddies. But those that don’t might join big brother programs or other similar groups. Many inner-city children would love to spend some quality fishing time.
But there is a catch — as always. Parents or guardians must train to take kids into the outdoors. Here are unwritten rules that I have written in columns and books:
Treats: Sandwiches snacks and drinks are mandatory.
Point out the work of slobs: This is a good time for your child to learn the importance of picking up their trash and taking it to a suitable trash can. Point out trash that some left on an earlier trip and show how it spoils the beauty of nature. Sadly, it is not hard to find examples on most fishing lakes or ponds.
Bathroom Breaks: Don’t hesitate to make several trips to shore — even if the fish are biting. Bathroom facilities are always welcomed, but not always present. Remember to bring a small spade and toilet paper. Burying waste products is an important environmental lesson for kids and some adults. Be sure that you dig the hole at least 75 feet from the shoreline to avoid drainage into the lake or pond.
Nature: Even the most careful scouting and planning will not mean the fish will bite. While waiting, point out nature like a swimming water snake, soaring hawks, tadpoles and fluttering dragonflies.
Scout: You can bore any child by spending a couple of hours trying to find a spot where the fish are biting. Locate good crappie or bluegill water and know the best techniques for catching either species. Scouting or experimentation will be more accepted later after your child is hooked on fishing. But your child must catch fish on the early trips and size is not important.
Don’t Do Everything: Let the child create their own experience. Some adults do everything for the child and this can be a mistake. Encourage the child to do as much for themselves as is possible.
Take the time to explain why you are tying a certain hook or lure on the line. Younger children will have trouble mastering a well tied knot on monofilament, but they can pick out brightly colored lures or certain bait. Some kids don’t want to touch a slimey old worm or minnow. This will change with time and experience.
Children younger than seven or eight are best equipped with a simple rod, reel, hook, line and sinker. Later they can learn techniques for casting and different type of retrieves. But for now, keep it simple. They will want better equipment as their skill levels increase.
How to Set the Hook: An eager child will likely lose a fish or two by setting the hook too hard. Teaching them to set the hook quickly but gently will improve their technique. Remember to let them land a fish, even if you have to set the hook and hand them the rod. You can explain setting the reel’s drag when the child develops more skill.
Kid’s Fishing Equipment: Ultra-light rod and reels are excellent for children. You can purchase less expensive versions that will no doubt eventually be damaged or destroyed. But take your child on a successful fishing trip and you might be surprised how prized that fishing rig will become. Note that some kids still want to learn with a spincast reel. I highly recommend Zebco.
Your child’s reel should be wound with four to six-pound test line. Find a small, inexpensive tackle box and stock it with a few jigs, bobbers, hooks, weights and other neat stuff. Teach your child to neatly arrange and organize. Early attention to organization will pay off in enjoyable trips as long as the child fishes.
Life Vests: Each child in your boat must wear a life jacket. Make sure the vest fits snuggly and comfortably. Trying to fit an adult-sized vest on a child’s frame is a mistake. The child will be uncomfortable, and it is an unsafe act.
Remember to avoid boat rings, inner tubes or float toys. Instead, take your child to a store and find a coast guard approved version that fits. Convincing the child to wear that vest, even on hot, sticky days is the adult’s responsibility. You can set a good example by wearing a vest too.
Weather: Choose your days well before taking that child fishing. Avoid windy, rainy or cold days. Bluebird days are the best for the best childhood memories. Remember to take extra jackets for weather changes.
Bored?: Boredom in youth may strike at any time--even when the fish are biting. Forcing children to stay out longer than their attention span allows is a good way to turn them off from fishing forever.
Including Friends: A friend will sometimes make the child want to stay longer. Naturally this doubles the demands on adults. Ideally, there should be an adult for each child under 10.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.