I don’t have any children of my own, but I was one, and one of my fondest memories was of my father tapping me on the shoulder at 5 o’clock in the morning and saying, “Bud, you going?” The answer to that question was a foregone conclusion to this 5-year-old boy, as it is for most children if they’re given a proper introduction!
When I arrived on the Suncoast almost four decades ago, I was fortunate to meet Captain Jonnie Walker. Walker, a fishing “institution” in Sarasota, loved taking kids fishing and his counsel, “Take a kid fishing and someday they might take you,” has always resonated with me. I’ve written many of these words before but if something bears repeating, this is it!
Nothing is more important than how we introduce children to fishing. Experiences on the water leave indelible memories and they should be uncomplicated and as much fun as possible. Creating realistic expectations can be the key to kindling a passion for the outdoors in children. 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 to keep them engaged. Children are naturally curious, they love to play in and on the water and are fascinated by the creatures that inhabit the natural world. 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, such as swimming, snorkeling, and wildlife identification.
Being on the water provides an excellent opportunity to teach kids about their environment and about boating safety skills. You could also make a game out of learning basic nautical terms, such as port, starboard, bow, and stern.
Every child I’ve ever had on the boat wants to drive, so let them, even if it’s just sitting on your lap with their hands on the wheel! Consider giving them something to be in charge of, such as making sure everyone knows where the safety equipment is. It’s also a great way to interject a stealth lesson in responsibility!
Try and think like a kid when fishing. Children would rather catch a dozen pinfish in a half-hour than wait for the Big One. Action is paramount because kids are easily bored and distracted. Kids might actually be more interested in collecting shells, counting crabs, or looking for manatees or dolphins than fishing, so be sensitive to what’s bringing them pleasure.
Consider starting kids fishing with an ultra-light outfit that fits them. Rig 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 the fish you catch, you’ll teach them an important lesson that many anglers never learn.
It’s also important to emphasize safety by bending down barbs and making them aware of fish with sharp teeth or barbs, like catfish and stingrays. The first experiences on the water are very important, so consider options 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 they might just teach you a lesson in seeing the world with new eyes.
Captain Jonnie Walker can be reached at 941-232-4970. You also can check out his website.