Future Fishers: Teach ‘em Young! - The Fisherman

Future Fishers: Teach ‘em Young!

Two girls showing off a black fish
Olivia and Madeleine Quine teamed up to land this feisty smallmouth bass, coached along by their father.

With the arrival of spring fishing, now is the time to plant the seeds of tomorrow’s anglers.

Even as a young child, I was obsessed with fishing. My dad used to take my brothers and me all over to fish. One thing that I noticed as we got older was that dad never actually fished anymore, he just watched us. It seemed a little odd but that was just dad, I guess. Now fast-forward 20-plus years and I have two kids of my own: Madeleine and Olivia. My older girl, Madeleine, absolutely loves to fish, and I started her jigging for panfish at the age of 3. She’s almost 5 now, and yeah, I also fish when we go out. However, late last year I found myself smiling away while I watched her catching crappie from my dock. As I sipped on my gas station coffee and chuckled, I finally realized why the old man did this.

It is so important to get your kids out there on the water and to teach them about fishing and nature in general. Too many kids sit in front of the television or tablet just wasting away their day stuck inside. I made it a point to get both of my kids involved and teach them about, and to respect, nature. Teaching them about different fish, what they do and why is a lot of fun. I feel like the world’s smartest man as I explain with confidence from my experiences. Then I remember that I’m talking to a 2- and a 4-year-old. They have retained some of that information and I just take it for what it is.

Girl looking at a bucket of bait
Keep the outings short and fun to make certain that the enjoyment lasts. Let the kids play with the bait, and teach them respect for the catch.

One thing you have to remember is that children, in general, have a pretty short attention span. They might want to go fishing one minute, but then minutes into an outing they start complaining about it being boring and that they want to leave. Having the essentials and a plan is crucial. I plan half an hour to an hour trips and see where they go. Usually short trips work out well. Bring plenty of snacks and a drink for your child. Go on mild days; if it’s too hot or too cold or rainy, odds are high that they are going to be complaining in short order. So plan accordingly and it could be a great trip. Plan poorly and you are going to have a rough day; pay attention to what they need. Oh, and sunscreen is a must!

What was really special about teaching my girls how to fish was that I did it in the exact same spot that my father taught me about 25 years earlier; I did things a little differently though. I gave them each a cheap spinning reel to play with. They liked spinning the handle and flipping the bail; it was a toy to them.

We started actually “fishing” in the fall of 2017. Instead of using a spin cast reel like I did, I set up Madeleine with a 40-inch ice fishing rod that had a Shimano Sienna 500 on it. Making it fun is absolutely necessary, so I gave her an old utility box of mine and various soft plastic lures to get her started. She had some Senko-style baits, curly tail grubs, tubes, lizards, frogs, crayfish, you name it. I also threw in some hard baits but removed all of the hooks, and of course I included a bobber. She had her own tackle to use along with that ice rod of mine, and she really bought into it and had a sense of ownership as well.

At first there was no casting. I showed them both how to vertical jig between the boat slips along the dock. I tied on a Micro Finesse soft plastic from EuroTackle and showed them how to lift the rod up and down. I remember both girls saying, “They are really cute buggies, daddy!” I reminded them that the fish like the buggies too. After working with them for a few weeks, Madeleine was doing it all on her own. Up, up, down, pause, boom! She was pulling in bass, crappie, perch and sunfish like a pro. After that we practiced casting. It took a little while but now she even flips the bail back over after she casts instead of forcing the handle to turn.

After conquering the docks, Madeleine looked over a list of fish from the Angler’s Guide produced by the Connecticut Fish and Wildlife department. They have a list of all probable species of fish to catch in Connecticut, and she pointed to the picture of a brookie and said that she wanted catch one. It was perfect because we got to use all the same gear that we did at the docks and we made the short trip to the stream where I first trout fished oh so many years before. I know every rock, hole and undercut in this section of the river, and I brought Madeleine to the first hole; within a few minutes she landed her first brook trout. The excitement of that moment was intense for the both of us.

After losing another brookie, we drove up to the next spot. A few casts in and we were able to cross rainbow trout off of the list. Madeleine was even really good at letting most of the fish go, too. Eventually she caught a few white suckers, but those were to be fed to the pike later on so they did not gain their freedom like the trout.

Girl holding a tackle box
Setting up that youngster with a tackle box of their own (less any hooks until they’re ready) is a great way to instill a sense of ownership and pride in their gear.

Early on, my wife was skeptical about our girls truly liking fishing. I assured her that if the girls were not having fun, that I would not force them to do it. I turned out to be pretty lucky because they are obsessed like I was and still am. I always make sure to take pictures and capture that moment to make memories. The list of fish we got had allowed us to set goals, and we have been crossing them off as we go. Madeleine has caught 11 species of fish in a year and a half. I’m just going to keep doing my thing and embrace it. My younger one loves to come fish, but Olivia still needs help. Making these memories has been some of the best times of my life and this is just the beginning. Both Olivia and Madeleine have great aspirations for this year and I hope to help them achieve their goals.

There was some apprehension about holding the fish, being bitten and being poked by the fins. At first they would only hold shiners from my bucket, but once past the initial fear, they love holding up their catches with pride. Being able to pass down my love of fishing and the knowledge that I have feels amazing and has only just begun. It fills me with so much joy to share something that I love with them.

Kids are the future of fishing and we need to teach them right so that we are able to preserve what we have for future generations. Another thing that we do on each and every trip is bring a bucket to collect trash. They know that we carry out what we carry in, and then some. I believe that teaching them to keep our water bodies clean and how to care for fish (including releasing them) will have a huge, positive impact. If we don’t teach them young then the future of our fisheries is doomed.

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