How to survive one of angling's trickiest rites of passage: teaching kids to fish
Daddy, what if we catch a whale? Would it pull us all the way around the lake?” My then five-year-old daughter’s apprehension was clear as we slowly cruised across the water one beautiful summer’s day several years ago.
My son, who was seven at the time, saw things a bit differently. “That would be fun! Can we catch a whale, Dad? Can we? We could go fast. This motor is way too slow.” I remember thinking the same thing when I was his age—getting to our fishing spot was always the longest boat trip ever. This trip did feel long; maybe because we were using the same motor my own dad used all those years ago, a little electric job that was definitely not built for speed.
Squirming with impatience, my son soon decided to kill time by bugging his sister. “Never mind a whale,” he said. “I think we should try to catch the Lock Mess Monster.”
“It’s a big, huge dinosaur that lives at the bottom of a lake.”
“Is it in this lake?” My girl’s eyes were bulging like those of a fish that’s been out of water just a bit too long.
“Nobody knows where it is,” my son replied, using his spookiest voice. And on went the banter, all part of the experience of family spending time together in a boat. When we finally reached our spot, however, it was time to put an end to the teasing.
“Okay, you two,” I said, “we’re going to just try to catch some regular fish. Hand me your lines so I can put worms on your hooks.”
I should have known that no seven-year-old boy is going to pass up the opportunity to handle a worm.
“Oh, can I put the worm on?” asked my son. “They feel cool.”
“Yuck! Gross!” My daughter clearly felt differently.
“Girls think everything is gross. Can we take her back to shore, Dad?”
“No one is going anywhere—except the fish,” I said. “Now get those lines in the water.”
At that, they manoeuvred their rod tips over the side of the boat and pressed the buttons on their spincasters. An instant after I heard the bloop-bloop of two worms hitting the water, my son announced, “I think I’ve got one, Dad.”
“You just put your line in the water, son. I don’t think you have a fish just—Hey! You’ve got a fish! Reel it in!”
In my rush of excitement (the kid caught one within seconds, after all), I had neglected to tell him how to actually reel it in. So he proceeded to pull up hard on the rod, and his catch—a beauty—burst out of the water. Momentum caused the end of the rod, with the fish still attached, to sail directly over his head. He managed to turn with his catch, only to see it hit the water on the other side of the boat. The impact freed the fish, and the empty hook flew back toward us.
Now, a child with a fish hook in the eye is not easily explained to said child’s mother, and with visions of just such an accident running through my mind, I leapt to my feet to avert disaster. In my efforts to stay inside the boat, I could only protect my son by throwing my arm in front of him. It worked—the hook and my hand intersected just before I slammed down into the bottom of the boat.
So much for Dad the Fisher King. But my beaming son didn’t seem to mind. “I caught a fish, Dad! I caught a flying fish.” The look of joy on his little face allowed me to swallow a whole boatload of curses, and the pain soon disappeared. I had been restored to the throne.
Fishing is not just a sport—it’s a legacy, a ritual passed from generation to generation. Remember what it was like as a kid? Remember how your dad seemed to be the greatest fisherman in the world? That’s something every kid needs to experience. And every dad deserves the chance to feel like the king of all anglers. At least once.