When we were kids, it seemed like summer break was somehow both very long and very short. You and your friends would make your plans for it like it was the next year of your life. Then it would start, and next thing you knew it was over. There was lots of time during those several weeks, but somehow there was never enough time.
These days, some kids are in year-round school and don’t get summers off (those poor little pikers). But even they get breaks. And for a fishing-crazy kid, there’s nothing better than spending some of that time on the water.
When you’re young, what you catch doesn’t matter too much. One of my treasured fishing memories is when my Mom and I went to a gravel pit. I caught a bluegill all on my own on my little Snoopy pole, and we found a bucket so I could take it home and show my father. That’s it — just a simple little thing. But I hold it close to my heart, and I will as long as I live.
We get quite a few folks coming in the shop who want some help planning a fishing trip for their kids (or, more often, grandkids). Too often, they’re looking to impress the kids with redfish, snook, tarpon and other “high-value” gamefish. While the youngsters would have fun catching those, they can have a much better time with jacks or ladyfish.
Kids don’t have our prejudices. Most of us reel in a catfish and think, “Well, that was a waste of bait.” But your average 10-year-old reels in that same catfish and says, “Wow, that was awesome. Look how big it is!” It’s all in how you look at it.
If you have a trip coming up with young anglers, here are a few tips that will help everyone get the most out of it:
• Don’t focus on a particular species. Take the pressure off. Even if the kid says they want to catch a snook or other target fish, try bending the rod on whatever will bite first.
• Every fish is a good fish. Don’t say, “Oh, it’s only a jack.” Let them catch what they catch and have a good time doing it, and then praise the fish and the job they did bringing it in.
• Keep it short. You or I may think nothing of spending eight hours on the water, but for most young’uns, a couple hours is enough. Watch them for signs of boredom, and be ready to wrap it up when they’re done.
• There are many interesting things out there that are not fish. Dolphins, manatees, pelicans, clouds — it’s all good stuff. Point it out and let them enjoy it.
Most importantly, remember that fishing is only part of the reason you’re out there. This is bonding time. You’re building memories they’ll keep forever, one way or the other. If that memory is about the awesome fish they caught and how happy everyone was, that’s a good thing. It’s a little less good if they remember Grandpa being mad about the slimy catfish or wanting to see the dolphin but Dad wouldn’t drive the boat over because he only going to the fishing spot.
Of course, as the kids get older, they may want to spend longer on the water and get pickier about what they catch. We all do. It’s part of the natural progression of becoming an angler and an adult. But if you do it right when they’re little, they’ll still want to go with you — even if it’s just for a little while over summer break. And there are few things more rewarding than raising your own fishing buddies.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.