There’s no denying that feeling that “tug” is what turns kids on to fishing. I can remember the first times my son, Paul, felt his line go tight. His eyes got wide, he smiled from ear to ear, and started giggling uncontrollably. It was as if a lightbulb went on in his little head, and he’s been “hooked” on fishing ever since.
As such, whenever you endeavor to teach a youngster to fish, I think it’s important to stack the odds in their favor as much as possible. A stocked pond, worm and bobber have launched more people down the path of fishing than we might imagine, and that’s great.
That said, I also think it’s important to teach young anglers the lesson that we all inevitably learn in time, and that is that fishing is so much more than just catching. Paul is now 11 years old, and the lessons I’m teaching him these days focus more on the things that go into fishing than just pulling on fish. That involves the functional—like instruction on how to tie knots, and reading water to decide where fish might be—as well as reminding him from time to time to soak in the views and appreciate the wonders around us.
We live in Colorado, and we do a lot of fly fishing. As such, while we were snowbound over this past weekend, I set up the fly tying vise, and taught him how to spin up a few simple patterns. He surprised me by just how quickly he grabbed on and enjoyed it. In fact, his little fingers are whipping together some interesting bugs that I’ll bet will catch trout. Moreover, he’s proudly organizing his own fly box in neat rows; I can sense the wheels turning in his mind as he imagines casts in the months ahead.
And that not only made me proud, it got me thinking about how important it is to involve young kids in that planning and plotting that goes into good fishing, no matter where or what type they choose.
If you’re cleaning your gear, enlist their help. If possible, setting up their own tackle box or vest can be a really big deal. The other day, I noticed that the little guy has his tackle box right next to his bed, and he spends a lot of time sorting through it.
Because anglers are stewards for our waters, it’s also important to teach the conservation ethic early on. Stopping to pick up a piece of trash and explaining why you do so will sink in deeply, believe me.
In the end, when it all comes together—the planning, the preparation, and the appreciation—that’s when you know you’ve taught a young one how to be a real angler.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.