This post is a Reel Time column I write for the Anna Maria Island Sun.
Thinking back on the significance fishing and the outdoors has had on my life, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of protecting the resource so future generations have access to the same opportunities we’ve had. That’s why you read so much in this column of the need to get involved in issues revolving around water quality. What’s equally important is how we introduce children to the natural world and fishing.
I was reminded of this last week when I was contacted by Chris Marsh. who is visiting the Island from Atlanta with his wife, Laura, and their two girls, Ruth and Rachel. The girls leave home for college this year and the parents had planned to take them to Montana on a “trip of a lifetime” fishing adventure. When the pandemic changed their plans, they decided to drive to Anna Maria, where they found Heron’s Landing, an accommodation they fell in love with. As so often happens in life, what appeared to be a setback turned into a fantastic adventure for parents and the girls. It began with a memorable afternoon fishing with Captain Logan Bystrom. In Chris’s words, “They now know the real thrill of sportfishing,” after jumping several tarpon and landing two.
Chris originally called me thinking I was a guide but I was happy to introduce them to Jenny Moore and the Anna Maria Boat Company. The new company is run by Moore and her husband, Captain Justin Moore, who are longtime friends that I knew I could depend on to find a competent guide for the day. Not an easy task during the height of tarpon season. They didn’t disappoint and on Sunday Captain Kyle McWorther, who works with the Moores, introduced them to Anna Maria Sound and our fantastic inshore fishing.
Those first experiences on the water leave indelible memories and it was apparent that Chris and Laura had learned that lesson. His description of introducing the girls to fishing dovetailed with what I consider fundamental to transmitting the love of fishing.
First and foremost, we should strive to make fishing uncomplicated and as much fun as possible. Creating unrealistic expectations can discourage young anglers and be the difference between the kindling of a passion or an aversion to the activity.
The basics of fishing are not complicated to learn, are easy to teach children and don’t require expensive equipment. If there’s a cardinal rule to getting kids interested in fishing, it’s to make sure and keep them engaged. Children are naturally curious; they love to play in and on the water and are fascinated by the creatures they find there. Catching fish isn’t their main objective and you shouldn’t make it the focus of an outing. It’s important to plan a trip that includes other activities like swimming, wildlife identification and snorkeling as well as fishing.
Being on the water provides an excellent opportunity to teach kids about their environment and boating safety skills. It’s important to let kids be a part of the adventure, and getting them involved is a great way to interject a stealth lesson in responsibility in children. Give them things to be in charge of, such as making sure everyone knows where the safety equipment is.
Don’t start children out with cheap fishing rods and reels. Provide them with decent equipment that’s light and manageable. An ultra-light rig with 6-pound test line is a great way to start. Try and think like a kid when fishing. Children would rather catch a dozen pinfish in a half-hour than wait a half-hour for a chance at a bigger or better fish. Action is paramount; kids are easily bored and distracted.
Consider starting kids fishing with a small popping cork that they can watch for signs of action. If you can start teaching kids that the enjoyment of the adventure isn’t measured by the number or size of fish you catch, you’ll teach them an important lesson that many fishermen never learn. If you can make the experience interesting for them, even if they don’t catch anything, they are more likely to want to do it again. Kids might be more interested in collecting shells, counting crabs or looking for manatees or dolphin than fishing, so be sensitive to what’s bringing them pleasure.
It’s also important to emphasize safety, bending down the barbs on fishing hooks and making them aware of fish with sharp teeth and stingers like catfish and stingrays. These first experiences on the water are very important and you should consider a plan of action in advance in case the fishing isn’t great. The last thing you want to do is bore kids by sitting on a spot too long. Keep your eyes and ears open and you might learn a lesson or two from them!
The Marshes started their girls in stocked ponds initially hooking and landing the fish for them. According to Chris Marsh they quickly grew out of that and were fascinated by creatures large and small, including tadpoles, and even seaweed.
Those formative years were apparent when they told him, “Dad, you threw that cast net for hours at a time for us, that must have been so exhausting!”
Take your kids fishing, make it uncomplicated and fun and they’ll learn lessons and have memories that last a lifetime. Captain Logan Bystrom can be reached at 941-713-1265 and at his website. Contact McWorther and the Anna Maria Boat Company at 941-228-8973 and check out their website. Reservations are available at Heron’s Landing by contacting Maureen Kraker at 713-498-3549.