Get The Kids Out Fishing


By Jake Bussolini

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is hardly a time when old codgers like me get together, that we don’t start complaining about the kids of today who are addicted to their computers, iPads, or smart phones. Perhaps we are just jealous that these technology wonders were not available during our younger years, or maybe we are just getting old and find it hard to adjust to the rapid movement of modern society. I recently ran a fishing program for youngsters and when asked to sign in, one thirteen year old said that he didn’t know how to sign his name because they were not teaching that in school any more. When I reacted with shock, he indicated that he never has any need to sign his name, everything that he does in on the computer or iPad.

This is not an article meant to criticize today’s education system, or to find fault with the behavior of kids, but this small example illustrates how important it is to get our youngsters outdoors, away from that technology, and let them witness the wonders of nature for at least a very short period in their life.

I have been concerned for many years about the drop off of interest in outdoors sports like hunting and fishing. Until very recently, the numbers of people entering these two sports have decreased each year that records have been kept. Only in 2012, did this trend finally reverse to the point where there are more people entering the fishing community than there are leaving it. This did not happen by accident. There are hundreds of people like myself that dedicate a lot of time teaching kids about fishing, and providing them opportunities to get out on the water with their parents to fish. So rapid has this effort succeeded, that there are now many fishing clubs established in elementary, middle and high schools. Dozens of colleges have competitive fishing teams and college fishing tournaments are popping up all over the country. It won’t be long before we will be finding kids receiving college scholarships because of their fishing expertise. Maybe it’s already happening.

One of my friends recently asked me how old her child had to be to start fishing. My response sort of shocked the lady. I said a child’s personality starts to develop at around 18 months to 2 years old. That’s also about the time they start talking and understanding what’s going around them. Most important, I said that is about the age when you can find a life jacket that fits them and they are willing to keep it on. When that happens, they are ready to learn about fishing.

Anglers have a responsibility to help youngsters learn how to fish. Several years ago, I asked my local fishing club to help me organize a fishing day for the local kids. We have run one or more of these programs each year for the past five years. Each year the attendance grows and each year more parents get involved. One surprising aspect of our programs is that each year there have been more young girls registering than there are young boys. I find this interesting and encouraging.

I gave a lecture a couple of years ago to a fourth grade class. I talked about fishing and about the books that I write. At the end of the 45 minute talk, I asked for questions and every hand in the class went up. What a pleasant surprise? I said to myself, these kids with their young minds, actually listened to what I said and are interested enough to actually ask questions. Young people have minds that are empty of all the nonsense that we adults carry around in our heads. They have minds that are eager to learn and minds that are not cluttered with years of life’s frustrations. That is when I realized that the younger we start the kids fishing, the easier it will be to teach them to do it right.

When we first started the fishing program, we limited the lower age to seven years. Then we lowered it to six and this year we allowed a four year old to participate. At any age a parent must accompany the child. I have found that if I can get a child, one on one, and explain the basics of fishing, they will remember nearly all that I tell them. An adult on the other hand might retain 30% to 40%. A young child’s mind is like a sponge, absorbing everything we have about 15 minutes to hold their attention before they start losing interest. That’s why we have to make sure that the first introduction to actual fishing is in a place that there is a good chance of catching a fish within 10 to 15 minutes. It doesn’t matter how big the fish is but once that first fish is caught, the child is hooked.

We always try to emphasize in our programs that fishing is about more than just catching fish. It is also about conservation. They learn how to take care of the fish that they catch, especially when they return them to the water. We always emphasize the importance of taking care of the waters that we fish in and the respect that is needed for other anglers and those who live near the water.