Imagine being a child these days. Kids are under pressures that many of us could not imagine and many fear uncertain futures. Negative stories from political parties are splashed across every network while terrorists are killing and being killed for their cause. Children are learning about this clutter on social media, television and in school.
Drugs are more common and deadly for those who sadly fall in that trap. Sadly, the number of kids hospitalized for thinking about or attempting suicide doubled in less than a decade, according to a recent study published in “Pediatrics Magazine.”
I have written and carried out kids fishing programs for more than 40 years. During this time, I have worked with troubled youth and mentally and/or physically challenged. Some talk about their problems but most don’t. They seem to have learned to bottle up emotions – and some eventually explode. Children need releases whenever possible.
Many – especially single moms – ask me at fishing seminars what they can do. I simply answer, “Take that kid fishing.”
Competitive sports are great, but there is competition involved. Fishing with beginners should never be about competition, but having a nice day on the bank or in the boat.
Problem is, adults make mistakes and sometimes turn kids off of fishing. Here are a few rules I have compiled over the years to make their fishing day a great memory:
FIND PRODUCTIVE FISHING: 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.
TEACH THE BASICS: Let the child create his or her own experience. Some adults do everything for the child and this can be a mistake. However, take the time to explain why you are tying on a certain hook or lure.
Kids need to develop self-reliance and putting their own bait on the hook is a start. Yet, don’t force the issue. Some kids don’t want to touch a slimy old worm or minnow. This will change with time and experience.
Children under 7 or 8 are best equipped with a simple rod, reel, hook, line and sinker. Later they can learn techniques for casting and different types of retrieves. But for now, keep it simple.
SETTING 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.
CHOOSE FISHING EQUIPMENT WISELY: Most kids should start with a spincast reel wound with 4- to 10-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.
WATCH THAT BAIT: I took a 4-year old boy fishing several years ago. During the drive in my pickup I heard a terrible, blood curdling scream and turned to find he had opened the container of crickets. The crickets took different positions on his head and face while some escaped. I listened to chirping in my pickup until cold weather arrived. I never did find them all.
PROPERLY FITTING 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. Set a good example by wearing a vest, too.
BE A WEATHER WATCHER: Choose your days well before taking that child fishing. Avoid windy, rainy or cold days. Bluebird days are ideal for the best childhood memories. Remember to take extra jackets for weather changes.
KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE: 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. 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. Don’t forget snacks and potty breaks.
POTTY BREAKS: Be extremely conscious of bathroom breaks. If you think little kidneys and bowels work fast in a car, wait until you get them in a boat. 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.
MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED: Physically and mentally challenged kids on a fishing trip may require special precautions. This special group enjoys simple pleasures. A fishing trip should never be about competition.
Imagine never sweating. Many who live in wheelchairs deal with this daily. Some paralyzed areas of the body don’t sweat. Quadriplegics, for example, don’t sweat at all. Too much exposure to the sun can bring on severe dehydration and severe illness or even death.
Mentally challenged individuals around water is another consideration. Many are excellent swimmers, but don’t count on it. Instead make sure volunteers are capable of pulling a heavy body out of the water. Mentally challenged boys or girls are curious about the lake or pond like any other child.
Ball caps and sun block are required to prevent sun damage. Sun block is important but some can’t use it because of sensitive skin. Check with their doctor for special ointments.
Finally, make sure ramps to the lake and for boarding pontoons are secure and wide enough. The average wheelchair is 30 to 36 inches wide. Pontoons must allow a wheelchair space to maneuver.
Never use a seatbelt or harness that attaches the child to their wheelchair. A chair overboard will quickly sink to the bottom. A life jacket is necessary for the challenged swimmer or non-swimmer. Some attach a safety cord to the watercraft and the challenged person. Bass boats are only recommended for special individuals who don’t scare easily.
Remarkably, the child who you take fishing may take you fishing someday. You will always live in their memory for the experience of a warm pond bank, tadpoles and green sunfish.
Note: Your child may never want to go fishing. My high school chum says she went with her father and treasured the days when her family was on the water and she could sit in camp and read a book while listening to the birds chirp. Today she follows this tradition while her husband and kids fish. There is nothing wrong with her assessment of outdoor fun.
The importance of enjoying the outdoors should never be denied, and our kids have never needed it more.
– 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.