Congratulations! You’re a dad or a mom or a grandparent now and naturally, you want to introduce that perfect, fragile, miniature person to the sport you love. It’s easy enough at first because they love holding your hand and slopping through mud and picking up the cigarette butts left by the neophyte that fished there the day before. (ugh.) Their world is so small that when you are with them, you are literally the only thing in it. And that fish you let her reel in, it was a big moment, but it really doesn’t count as her actual first one.
My daughter is seven now but I started teaching her to actually fish when she had just turned 5. It was an overcast day in early May, I got Lila all revved up to go fishing. We went next door to the neighbor’s compost pile, it’s an epic compost pile trust me, and I tasked her with collecting all the worms while I turned the fragrant black soil with a shovel. She gleefully filled a sour cream container with worms and dirt and we headed for the little trout pond down the street.
Make Every Trip A Lesson
This pond is basically a manmade pit filled with water, it’s amazingly deep but the sides are steep and structure is pretty tough to come by unless you’re in a boat. The one standout spot is a little brook that spills into the pond at the northeast corner. So we set out from the lot with me carrying everything and Lila chasing grasshoppers and butterflies in her little ‘strawberry boots’. The walk is about 1/3 of a mile, not a long walk for me, but I was instructed to “slow down daddy!” no less than three times in that distance.
We got to the stream and I stopped. I asked her what she thought would happen if a worm was washed out of the bank of the stream and fell into the water. After some careful thought she pointed to the pond and said, “It would go out there!” My heart swelled. We dropped a few leaves into the brook and watched them ride the current out 30 feet into open water. I explained to her that the fish have learned to check this little inflow when they’re hungry. We rustled our way to the water’s edge and I tied a tiny circle hook onto the 6-pound mono leader. We were fishing a 5-foot ultralight spinning rod paired with a 500 size reel.
Watch The Line
In my time teaching my little lady to fish, I have come to the fast conclusion that fishing with bobbers is a no-no. It fosters the expectation that something obvious will happen when a fish takes the bait, not easy to unlearn. Instead, I have her concentrate on watching the line. We don’t do bobbers at all. Line watching is an important part of fishing and the transition from watching the line to feeling for contact is a short learning curve.
I threaded a juicy worm onto the hook and she clumsily heaved it into the gentle current. With my Costas on I could see the writhing worm being ushered along by the dissipating flow. A sunfish darted out and inspected the bait. “Watch the line,” I cautioned. Not even a full second later the floating 10-pound braid was skating on the surface like a water strider. Just as I had instructed, she pointed the rod at the fish and reeled fast until she squealed, “got one!” Man, it’s easy to forget that sunfish are strong for their size and put up a good battle on ultralight gear. I scooped the fish up and unhooked it, she held both hands out flat and I placed it there like it was resting on a small bed. She looked at the fish with an unexpected reverence, the sunny laying still long enough for me to snap a photo. Then the little green and yellow creature flopped out of her hands, spiking her in the fray, I could tell it hurt, but she bit her lip and reached out to take the rod for another cast.
She put quite a few fish on the bank that day, including a rainbow trout that popped off right at the shore. She carried herself with an extra puff of pride, she parroted all of the things I had taught her along the way and that pride seemed to stem from feeling that she knew some things about fishing. I could tell she was hooked when she cried because it was time to leave. You can’t put a price on days like these, they are the moments we never forget.