I stood on the mossy bank of a northern New England stream tinged green-tea and gold with fallen leaves and filtered light, a long, deep pool stretching out above me, fed by the measured flow from a beaver dam upstream. My father knelt at my side, a tall man who smelled of soap and aftershave, digging into a box of worms culled from our garden. We were there for brook trout, sleek, fat fish specked yellow and red, their vermillion fins outlined in the purest white. We caught exactly none.
I say we were there for trout, but that’s not really true. The fishing was an excuse, a pretextual hub around which a day of hiking, picnicking, finding newts, red efts, and salamanders, birdwatching, wildflower identification and simply spending time together revolved. We didn’t catch any fish, but I remember the day with startling clarity, like so many others spent in nature with my family. There’s more to fishing than drowning worms.
If you read our last post, you’ll know that what I intended as a brief introduction to why you should take your kids fishing turned into a rather long series of reminiscences. So without falling into the fishing-tale trap again, here are twelve excellent reasons to get a rod and reel into your kids’ hands.
- It provides a reason to get outside. In previous posts I’ve outlined the many, many benefits getting out in nature has for, well, everybody. A day of fishing is just another opportunity to get the family out in a natural setting which, among other things, relieves stress, promotes creativity, and reduces the symptoms of ADHD.
- It teaches kids about the natural world. Aquatic habitats are generally biologically rich, so along with all of the fish you’ll be catching you might learn about the life cycle of the dragonfly, watch kingfishers divebombing prey, see ospreys and eagles scanning the water’s surface, observe and discuss why turtles bask in the sun or where frogs go in the wintertime. Millions of questions will pop up, and if you don’t have the answer you can always do a bit of mutual research when you get home.
- It encourages environmental stewardship. The more kids learn about the natural world the more they want to protect it. Practicing catch-and-release, talking about the importance of clean water, or simply being in the presence of natural beauty will all further kids’ connection with the environment.
- It gets them to look at the world differently. When my wife and I look at a river, we see different rivers. She sees a pretty natural watercourse. So do I. But I also see banks undercut by currents, deep calm spots behind rocks, shaded overhangs, oxygen-rich riffles, tributaries feeding food and nutrients into the main channel – all of the places where fish might be lurking. Looking at water with the eyes of a fisherman enhances the powers of observation.
- It’s an opportunity to spend time together. Many parents find that the time they spend with their kids – driving them to school, running errands, picking up their toys – doesn’t feel like really ‘quality’ time. Working together toward a shared goal – catching fish – allows you to spend time with your kids that feels important and rewarding.
- It helps develop patience. I will never be noted as a particularly patient or tranquil man. Zen masters do not seek my counsel. But I find that I am much more so when I am on the water, spending time with people I love and trying to figure out the best way to get a fish on my line. Like gardening, fishing is about setting up the most favorable circumstances for success then waiting to be rewarded. In these days of more or less instant gratification, showing kids that sometimes you have to wait for what you want is important.
- It teaches kids to solve problems creatively. The problem – you want to catch fish, they don’t want to be caught. To be successful, you need to work out the best way around this little dilemma, be it choice of fly or lure, particular technique to employ, or time and place to visit.
- It imparts a set of skills. Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing how to tie a knot, or fix a reel, or read a map, or paddle a canoe. Fishing and everything it entails provides kids with a chance to learn – and master – skills they might find difficult to pick up watching Dora the Explorer.
- It develops a reservoir of shared memories. I don’t remember the day my parents and I went to the mall, or stayed home and watched television together. But I do remember pretty much each and every time we went fishing together. One of my childhood friends responded to my Facebook post about “Memoirs of a Fisherboy“: “Catching crayfish and going down to the Merrimack [River] to fish with you are some of my fondest childhood memories.” You know what? Me too.
- It gives you a common hobby to talk about. As your kids get older and spend less time with their parents and more with their peers, it’s always good to have a shared activity you both enjoy. When you’re not actually fishing, you can at least talk about it. Obsessively.
- It provides a connection with the food we eat. If you’re going to eat meat, animals have to die. That’s something that’s easy to forget in the humming florescent light of the megamart, but when a child has taken a fish from pond to table the chain is explicitly clear, and they realize that the food that they eat has a very real connection with a place and an environment.
- It’s fun. I feel that this one if fairly self-explanatory. Fishing is like sex – if you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right.
So now you may have a clearer idea of the ‘why,’ but perhaps you’re a little fuzzy on the ‘how.’ About.com has some pretty good general advice, and Take Me Fishing.org has more detailed nuts-and-bolts instructions and resources. There are generally websites with info on places to fish in your area, as well as local guidelines, rules and restrictions.
Pick up a child-sized fishing pole, organize your tacklebox, and get out there on the water with your kids. Maybe we’ll bump into you. If not, good luck, be safe, and have a good time. And remember what Scottish author John Buchan noted: “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.“