Parents and grandparents are all in the same boat
by Jim Gourlay
It all started with the best of fatherly intentions. I would take my two sons, aged six and four at the time, fishing for the afternoon at a local lake. They were encouragingly enthusiastic.
When I emerged from the basement minutes later with an armload of gear, I discovered two additional neighbourhood kids and our family dog also sitting in the vehicle with expectant smiling faces, especially the dog—unauthorized guests of my sons. What the hell! Four little kids and a dog going fishing: what could possibly go wrong?
Tackling up at the lake, I was tying a hook on a line and nipping the loose end of the knot with my teeth when one of the impromptu little cherubs threw a stick into the lake, followed closely, of course, by an excited canine.
The dog snagged the fishing line en route, and the hook violently penetrated my lower lip, almost ripping it off my face. A single drop of blood sailed into the air and landed right on the nose of one of my sons as he reverently looked up, watching and learning from his Dad.
The irony and humiliation of hooking myself in the lip were only slightly more severe than the pain of extricating a barb from an extremely sensitive area of the anatomy by feel and by car mirror. This had been a spontaneous spur of the moment notion devoid of any planning whatsoever. I had done just about everything wrong.
Then there was the time our daughter, then aged eight, unexpectedly decided she’d like to try fly fishing in the Margaree River in Cape Breton while we were there visiting. I couldn’t have been more delighted and scrambled to find clothing and equipment to get her geared up.
The water was cold, so warm clothing was called for. At streamside, I got her fitted out in an extra pair of warm pants to serve as long-johns. Everything was ill-fitting, including the chest waders. They were made from neoprene and getting too-long bulky waders to sit properly so she could walk safely was a bit of a trial and error contest. Then we had to huff and puff and get the boots to fit over the neoprene booties. Then a pair
of sweaters under a fleece top, all with the sleeves rolled up to fit, and a rain jacket over all that. Next, it was necessary to tighten the safety strap and mess around to get the too-large eye protection glasses to sit securely on her face. All that remained then was to adjust the hat to fit her head size.
Eureka! Big sigh of relief. Good to go—elapsed time, about 35 minutes...
…At which point she announced she had to pee!
Taking kids fishing is not for the faint of heart—or the disorganized. I’ve learned some things.
We are blessed in this part of the world with an abundance of fresh water resources, for the most part publicly accessible. We enjoy opportunity everywhere to get children away from technology to spend meaningful time with a parent in a natural outdoor setting.
Technology is the easy route. For parents it’s a convenient way of amusing children and kids love it. There’s a place for that—on a long drive, for instance. We use movies to keep our grandchildren occupied when necessary—for short periods.
But there are statistics everywhere in the western world verifying that overuse of technology is negatively impacting the intimacy of family units, displacing healthy physical activity, and denying children precious first-hand exposure to the natural world—which is a crime.
Taking kids fishing, however, requires know-how and careful planning. Taking kids fishing in a boat, in deeper water, even moreso.
Safety is the first obvious consideration.
Properly fitting PFDs are a legal imperative—and they must fit: adult versions don’t cut it with youngsters.
But also important to assure safety are protective eyewear (against sunlight and hooks); hooks that are quickly rendered barbless by simply squeezing with a pair of pliers; sunscreen; insect repellant, and a first aid kit. (Just the basic stuff—bandage, gauze pads, alcohol cleaning pads, aspirin, etc.) Those things are all mandatory.
Beyond safety come comfort and enjoyment. Most requirements are no more than common sense
A whistle or other noise-making device sounds all very boyscout-ish; but can be invaluable if one or more youngsters decide to explore the shoreline and become too adventurous.
Clothing to suit the weather and the environment seems like common sense, but it’s often overlooked. Shorts and t-shirts just don’t cut it much of the time—especially on a boat. If sweaters, rubber boots, rain gear etc. are not used nothing’s been lost—but if they do become necessary because of an unanticipated weather change, and you don’t have ‘em, the outing can be completely ruined. Kids who are cold, wet and whining are not having fun—and neither is the adult in charge.
A disorderly boat strewn with coolers, tackle boxes, rope, anchors and the like can become downright dangerous, especially in choppy water. A wet deck, similarly so. Hard and fast rules are necessary—no running: no horseplay.
If a child does go out of a boat, a float and line can be a vital aid for quick recovery out of cold water.
Boats are close-quarters fishing so heaving hooks around while casting can present risks. Instruction in safe and proper casting technique (sidearm is preferred) is mandatory and treble hooks on lures can be easily replaced with barbless single hooks, and should be. The fish don’t care.
Beyond safety come comfort and enjoyment. Most requirements are no more than common sense.
Don’t give kids adult fishing tackle. They have small hands and a child’s strength. Too large equipment will prevent complete enjoyment. Simple, kid-sized gear is relatively cheap. Don’t wait until the outing to conduct casting and other instruction. Do it ahead of time in a controlled environment.
In fact, anticipation and preparation are big part of the fishing experience, even for adults. The learning experience can be broadened and deepened by taking the kids along when shopping for new equipment; soliciting advice from tackle shop proprietors; buying fishing licences etc.
A spinning outfit between four and five feet long and a reel spooled with 6 or 8lb monofilament is probably best
First time out, they need to be taught the absolute basics—how to grip the handle with thumb on top keeping the rod in front of them, how the reels turns and how to react to a bite without becoming overexcited.
If fly fishing is your thing, kids can be taught to be relatively proficient quite quickly and at young age. My oldest took his first trout on a fly at age five. A boat, however, does not provide a safe environment for more than one youngster fly casting.
Kids need to hear emphasis that it’s necessary, each and every time, to check no-one is near before casting. They need to be shown how to operate the reel for casting, the timing, and to end with the rod pointing where the bait is supposed to go.
The simplicity of bait and bobber works extremely well with kids by providing something on which they can focus attention—and, when that bobber bobs, their day (and yours) is totally made.
Appropriate provisions are vital. Kids need frequent breaks and lots to drink, especially on warm days. Bathroom breaks, therefore, need to be planned and scheduled. (Unless there is a head, a small bucket can suffice for boys on board. Accommodating girls requires being a tad more inventive.)
Don’t forget about limited attentions spans. Adult anglers have a saying that fishing and catching are two very different things. Kids don’t buy in to that philosophy. Youngsters bore easily—so it’s imperative to have lots of action. Certain species can provide this—mackerel for instance, or various species around wharfs. Most don’t. On freshwater lakes in summer trout can be tough because they go deep during the day.
A commonly overlooked species is yellow perch. With bait and a bobber—which kids love—they can be caught by the dozen during the warm months (and they’re good eating besides). We have them just about everywhere except insular Newfoundland, but trout are plentiful in lakes on The Rock. Where they exist, smallmouth bass can provide constant action, as (unfortunately) do chain pickerel, an illegally introduced invasive species that is ravaging trout and other stocks in some areas.
Simply moving the boat, especially a fast boat, frequently to a different spot can provide the brief respite kids need throughout the day.
There are three basic requirements for this operation—patience, patience and patience. Understand you are on their trip: they are not on yours.