By Nick Simonson
My Godson Gavin has an active imagination. We’ve been Power Rangers, battled aliens in the backyard, turned invisible by walking under the curtain of a willow tree, and told ghost stories while eating s’mores by the bonfire. There’s no shortage of yarns that come from this four-year-old font without filter – what he sees, what he thinks and what he experiences are all wrapped up and mixed together in tales of wonder that only a kid could observe and retell. So needless to say, when he said “fishing is my favorite thing in the whole world,” while making our way to a small farm pond stocked with panfish, I couldn’t help but laugh and agree.
That is, of course, because there was nothing to disagree with. It was a warm sunny Sunday; the fish were on the bite and between him, his dad Tory Schreurs of Russell, Minn. and me, we shared a number of stories and helped Gavin make sense of the sport as we hooked into crappies, perch and bluegills from the old wooden dock on the farm pond. It was another solid brick in the foundation of a future angler, and I was once again happy to be a part of it. But there are some tricks – especially with young kids – to make the experience memorable.
Keep It Simple
Kids under age 10 don’t need to catch muskies, walleyes or bass to get hooked on angling. For me it began with bullheads on the Sheyenne River in southeastern North Dakota and bluegills from the dock in Detroit Lakes, Minn., with the occasional northern pike thrown in. These fish bit readily, were close by, made for a fast-sinking bobber and a solid tug at the end of my Zebco 202. A plain hook and splitshot were all that were required for a fun diversion that blew away my short attention span.
The same goes for today’s kids. They can watch hours of shows anytime on Netflix, have 23 different children’s channels on Dish TV and own more electronics and gadgets than I had when I was in college a decade ago. Shorter attention spans are the norm – so give them a target that keeps their interest. Bluegills and perch, really any panfish, are the best way to lengthen that timeframe. As long as there’s something going on, and fish coming up, a young person’s interest is piqued. Know where to go for fast-biting fish and know the warning signs (rock throwing, disinterest, etc.) when things aren’t going well and maybe it’s time to pack the gear up early.
Keep It Accommodating
The first time I took Gavin fishing it was at the same pond earlier this spring. It was cool, misty and a bit windy. But with a heavier jacket and a stocking cap (along with 75 willing panfish) he lasted two hours in spite of the weather. This weekend’s outing was much more pleasant, even though the fish weren’t as fast. We had snacks, juice boxes and plenty to talk about as I explained how a slipfloat worked and why exactly fish eat worms.
When he wanted to try something new – like a minnow instead of a crawler – or just wanted to see how far he could cast, I let him make the switch and chuck his rig out as far as possible. Sure, he whipped it around the tip of his rod a couple times and we found that the fish weren’t holding too far out from the dock, but in the process he learned a lot and I was there to help. Whether it was untwisting the line, unhooking fish or rebaiting the hook, I was there to make things go smoothly while explaining what went wrong in a good-humored way.
Keep it Hands-On
While it’s good to help out, there comes a time where anglers learn to do it on their own. By the end of this weekend’s outing, Gavin was grabbing fish and tossing them back. He was “just checking” his bobber when it sat still, thinking that he could outthink the fish waiting below by reeling up before he saw the float move.
We caught a toad, discussed the damselflies flitting around his bobber stop and watched doves, geese and ducks fly around the pond. All of these things added up to a fun time, with a lot of humor and learning. From our previous trip he remembered all the fish we were catching – the black-striped perch, the speckled crappies and the colorful bluegills – and he called them out by name as they came to the surface. After one monster “mama” crappie and a bunch of baby fish, and a little bit of a sunburn for all of us, Gavin had his fill for the day and we packed it up.
As he jumped from the dock and back onto the shore of the earthen pond, he turned and told his dad and me, “I still think fishing is my favorite thing in the whole world;” I couldn’t have summed it up better as we closed out another great trip…in our outdoors.
Simonson is the President of Lyon County Pheasants Forever an an outdoors writer from Marshall, Minn.