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Pre-fishing

This article from two years ago about fishing with youngsters is eternal in its elegance. From JD Mader.

Recently, I had the pleasure of fishing with a very special group of people. Let me preface this by saying that I am generally a loner when it comes to fishing. I fish with my family. My Dad. My friend Pat. That's about it. I fish by myself a lot. But when you get invited to go fishing with a group of sweet little preschoolers (one of whom looks an awful lot like you), you say: "Where do I show up and when?" Then they tell you and you forget until the day before when your wife reminds you. At least that's how things work at our house.

The idea was that all the kids from my daughter's preschool would meet up at the local lake and we'd go fishing. My initial thought was: "Cool, I can rig up some cane poles...if the parents help we might get a fish or two..." Then, I saw the rod my daughter had made at school in preparation for the trip. It was a stick with string on it. There was a paper clip on the end of the string. Back to the drawing board.

I figured I'd talk about fish and fishing until the kids wandered away. Then, my plan was to get a fish on my rod, put it in a bucket so we could look at it, and then let any kids who wanted to reel in a fish take over the bluegill-hauling duties.

Now, my daughter had a fishing rod before she could walk. She can cast a lure twenty feet (in the direction she AIMS!). She has an adult rod with an open-face reel. None of the other kids had ever been fishing. Uh oh. A new plan was clearly in order. That plan involved my wife telling me in no uncertain terms that, if I did not catch a fish, it would be a disaster...but, no pressure.

Pre-fishing-kids fishing

We got to the lake around noon. I started talking to a handful of kids and parents and everything was going well. One little boy had "the look"...you could tell he was a fisherman at heart. He was ready. But everyone listened to my little talk. I explained some basic fishing tactics, fishing manners, how to behave at a lake, the cool animals you can see when you're not catching fish, etc. Then, we headed for the water, the words of my wife ringing in my ears: "If you can get a fish in that bucket, it will be a success."

So, I had my assignment. I had to catch a bluegill in an hour. It didn't need to be a big bluegill, but I needed to catch a fish. I put a worm on a hook and missed a few tiny gills before I hooked into a three incher...and this is the coolest thing about fishing with little kids: I don't think they would have been more impressed if I'd dropped a five pound bass into the bucket.

The kids put powerbait on their paperclips, and I set out to catch another bluegill. I caught three. We got three in the bucket. Beautiful little fish with very purple/green stripes. The kids were stoked. No one wanted to reel one in but my daughter. But all the kids touched a worm. Even one reluctant Mom was brave enough to know she couldn't fear the nightcrawler in front of her son. We saw a pair of bald eagles. It was a pretty awesome day of fishing. The kids even listened to me, which seemed to surprise everyone except me. I was a teacher for ten years. Not my first rodeo and all that.

Pre-fishing-kids looking at fish

I like to fish, but I really, really like watching new anglers touch their first fish and see that it is smooth and pretty. I love watching a kid smile with pride because they were scared to touch a worm, but did it anyway. I like standing and fishing when a little boy I just met wants to help me catch fish more than anything in the world. All told, we caught significantly less than a pound of fish. And it didn't matter a bit.

I don't hear well, especially at a windy lake, but I heard some things that day that made me very glad to be where I was: His Grandfather goes fishing all the time, they should go together. Maybe we'll come back to the lake with your Dadda. We should do this again. It was all music to my ears.

A lot of the parents asked me questions. A few of the kids asked me questions. How do fish breathe? Why can't we throw rocks in the water? What does the split-shot do again? Every question was thoughtful, and I was happy to answer them.

The kids, obviously, did not catch anything with their "fishing poles", but it wasn't about that. Collectively, we caught three fish and learned a lot. And one of the things we learned was that it doesn't matter who catches the fish. It doesn't matter if anyone catches fish. It was the first thing I told them, of course: fishing is not the same as catching.

The bream Gods cooperated and we got a few fish, but we got much more than that. We saw eagles and herons and lizards. We told stories and laughed. I got soaked from the ankles down rescuing a rubber ball. I don't know if those kids will go fishing again until the next time I take them, but I will take them again. My greatest hope is that one of these days I'll be grumbling about lack of parking at the lake and look down to see a bunch of four year olds with red and white bobbers and a smiling adult or two beside them.

www.jdmader.com
@jd_mader



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