Do you like herding a gaggle of wet cats and juggling running chainsaws while chewing on a big piece of tin foil? If you said yes, then you need to take a kid (or a group of kids) fishing. If you do it right, and you’re careful, and you’re patient, then everybody lives to tell the stories about the memories made.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy helping and teaching kids, but it can be tough. I’ve been involved in many kids’ programs through the years, many of such programs being the vehicle for teaching younger kids the bare basics about fishing. You know what I mean: “Ouch, I told you these hooks are sharp!” “Johnny, please don’t eat the salmon eggs.” “No, it’s not real. This type of fly is actually a very sharp hook with feathers tied on it. No, it won’t fly away.” Johnny, don’t hit your sister with the rod.” “Johnny, wait a minute come back here!!”
These programs, as tough and trite as they may seem, are so important in planting the seed in kids for the growth that may come later. My friend Capt. Pete Greenan was part of a school event at Lakeview Elementary in Sarasota this past weekend. He and a few volunteers from the Mangrove Coast Flyfishers were given 60 kids for an hour and fifteen minutes of talking, teaching and demonstrating the merits of fly fishing. They even tried to get rods in all of the kids’ hands so they could feel what it might be like to cast a fly rod.
I know Pete and most of these brave souls very well, and I had to laugh when I could hear the exasperation and exhaustion in their voices as they regaled me with the stories of the day’s events. I tried to make them look at things a little differently by reminding them of what may have happened in just a few of those little minds.
Sure, most of those kids will just remember that they got to go outside for an extra recess with some old guys, if they remember anything at all. But a couple of those little munchkins may now have the bug to go on and become a fisherman, a fly fisher, a marine biologist, or a Mote scientist — just because of those old guys at the school that day.
I have four grandkids. Their ages now range from eight to 16. They live just outside of Atlanta. They are “city kids” through and through (sad face emoji here). Smartphones and instant gratification are a big part of their lives, as with all kids now. When they come down here to visit (which is not often enough) there is a routine to follow: Going to the beach, hangin’ at the pool, late-night ice cream runs and fishing with Grandpa. The fishing part, is of course my favorite (besides the ice cream runs).
There are many secrets to taking your own kids or grandkids fishing. One of mine: I will take them only when they ask to go. I let them plan which day or days we head out on the boat when they are here. We pack our snacks and lunch together. I have them help me load the boat with rods and gear. I try to keep them involved in each step of the preparation so that they know a little of the work involved.
On the water, we usually fish only a couple of hours or until someone gets hungry. At that point, we are off to a sandbar or beach for a sandwich and shell hunting with Grandma. I have no high expectations of the grandkids ever becoming obsessed or passionate about fly fishing like me — but I do want them growing up with a respect for nature and their place in it.
A couple of weeks ago I had Zander, a rambunctious seven-year-old who knew it all, on the boat. His granddad John is raising the boy right and started him early with fishing. He was a pretty good little caster (with spinning gear) and he just loves to fish. Fishing was a little slow, so keeping him occupied and interested between bites was essential. Luckily he was full of questions and had his own fishing stories to tell.
He asked me what the big streaks in the grass were, then listened intently to me as I explained what the prop scars are, how they were made and how long they take to heal. We talked about the different shells and critters we could see in shallow water as we drifted or poled along. I told him what the red tide is and what it did to the area this past year. He loved seeing the dolphins and manatees that we found. He was great to have on board.
I introduced him to fly fishing by casting and hooking trout and ladyfish on a Clouser and then letting him land the fish by stripping them in. He loved it. We didn’t catch tons of fish in his two days, but we caught plenty, and we caught many different species including redfish, bonnetheads and blacktip sharks.
By the end of our two days together, he had accumulated more stories to tell the guide on his next adventure or his buddies at school. He will tell them that he knows everything about sharks and shark fishing, being able to run and drive a boat, fly rods and how to cast them, red tide, prop scars and on and on. He’s like a caffeinated marble in a pinball machine. You go, Zander! Tell everybody!
Introducing kids of any age, from one to 92, is a good thing and worth doing. You just never know what you may inspire in someone. What if Lefty Kreh had never been introduced to fly fishing? Flip Pallot? What if Chris Wittman or Daniel Andrews had never been introduced to fishing or the outdoors? Then, we would have no Captains for Clean Water, a grassroots movement formed with the idea and intent of cleaning up the water that comes out of Lake Okeechobee and sending it south through the Everglades as God originally created it to flow.
It’s crucial that we get kids interested and passionate about these issues and it will be crucial that those kids get their children and grandchildren interested and passionate about fishing and these issues. Something great might start with you showing a kid and their family a good time on the water. Juggle some chainsaws while chewing on tin foil.
You don’t take a kid or kids fishing just to catch a fish — but that’s where it starts.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.