Great fishing buddies aren’t just born that way, but with enough time, undivided attention and coaching, the young ones can be nurtured into life-long crew.
If the most precious thing is time, then the greatest gift you can give to your kids is some of yours. Uninterrupted one-on-one time that is, teaching them the art of catching their own food, which I reckon is worth much more than any material object.
Of course, finding that time can be easier said than done in today’s fast-paced, digitally-distracted world. A boat, beach or wharf however can provide the perfect backdrop to escape the distractions and spend some high-quality time-out together.
As a young bloke my family spent every summer holiday on board the family launch – at least two weeks solid - rain, hail, blustery wind or glorious sunshine. There was nothing to do on board apart from fish, explore, learn, play games, spend time together and relax.
Those holidays still provide some of my fondest memories and I’m eternally grateful to have been so lucky. Fishing’s also brought many good mates, surreal experiences and unreal opportunities in later life so it’s without doubt one of the greatest gifts you can pass on to the next generation.
Just like learning any new skill, acquiring the art of fishing shouldn’t be rushed. If you take your kids out trolling for eight hours for their first outing with the sun beating down, a stiff breeze and a two metre swell running, chances are they’ll get scared, sea-sick and not put their hand up to come out again anytime soon. But if you ease them into building their sea-legs, skills, and confidence along the way, catching a marlin with your kids one day is a very real possibility.
My oldest son was only six months old when he made his maiden voyage. It was a beautiful summer’s day topped off with a spot of fishing, a play in the sand and a swim at Auckland’s picturesque Motuihe Island, and ending with a glassy trip home into the sunset.
On later trips we barely ventured outside the marina breakwater before anchoring up, deploying the berley and spending the next hour or so catching throw-backs and sprats. The clean-up took longer than the trip itself, but it didn’t matter as each voyage got a little longer and more adventurous.
Unfortunately for my youngest son, Braith (now five), although his first trip out started out the same as his older brother's, it featured a bumpy ride home into a much-stronger-than-forecast sou’wester with an opposing incoming tide. Both Braith and my wife are still getting over that one. My oldest son, however, loved it.
The moral of the story is that once they’ve had a fright it’s very hard to build that confidence back up. Plan any prospective outings around good weather windows and resist any “she’ll be right” urges when it comes to making the call to head out. If in doubt stay close to shore or go land based; at least until they’ve learned to enjoy the bumps as part of the fun.
Take the time
As tempting as it is to load up the boat or car and head off in search of a trophy fish in some spectacularly remote location with an arsenal of equipment, save this for a later date. Fishing with kids requires your undivided attention and, when starting out, close to home is better. Less is more when it comes to gear too, as you’re likely to spend most of your time baiting and helping them hold their rod.
Boat ramps or busy wharves are stressful enough without being in a mad rush or forgetting something important, so take the time to have everything prepared the night before. As nerdy as it sounds, making a list helps immensely, and that way the following day’s experience can be a laid back and enjoyable adventure.
As they get older, take the time to teach them to tie their own knots, bait up, and cast on their own. Don’t forget to explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing, too. The day they rig their own gear, bait their own hooks and reel in a keeper on their own will indeed be one to remember, so don’t forget the camera.
Keep it interesting
I’ve yet to meet a young one who’s happy to sit around on a boat, beach or wharf for hours on end without any action. So keep their interest by keeping it interesting. If the fishing’s quiet, teach them to catch the bait. A sabiki or a bait catcher and some bread are sure-fire boredom busters.
If there are birds around, trolling for kahawai should provide plenty of entertainment and I always keep a couple of white kahawai lures in my tackle box for this purpose. If bottom fishing, Black Magic Snapper Snatchers or Tarakihi Terrors are ideal as they’ll catch a broad range of species and have only two hooks to deal with. The recurve hooks will also hook the fish for them.
While most kids despise any sort of cleaning duties, cleaning the catch will often spark their interest. It’s a great life-lesson for them to experience the fulfilment of seeing their catch turned into a meal for the whole family to enjoy.
But whatever you do, resist the urge to take the iPad fishing ‘just in case they get bored’. Learning to enjoy the sweet serenity of waiting for a bite is a skill all good fishermen and women possess. A bit of enforced boredom also teaches resilience and is a great motivator for trying new things… or fishing spots… or techniques.
Reaching a milestone
After watching many a fishing show on the couch (in between fetching beers for his old man) my oldest son Cale decided he’d like to catch a marlin. At only eight years old I applauded his enthusiasm but suggested that perhaps he should start out on something a bit smaller. Besides, I hadn’t caught a marlin myself at that stage after many, many hours trying.
Fast forward a few weeks later to our annual summer holiday to Doubtless Bay. After enduring a few land-based days brought on by strong nor’ easterlies the isobars finally parted and it was game on. With 23.5 degree blue water right inside Berghan’s Point, Cale and I loaded up the Osprey 565HT for his first game fishing adventure.
Once the lures were in the water the young fella diligently kept watch for a good twenty minutes or so before the slow pace and swell got the better of him. But despite the fact he had just nodded off in the cabin when the reel went off, Cale soon had the gimbal belt buckled up and was enjoying being hooked up to his first game fish.
It didn’t matter that it was a humble skipjack tuna. The scream of the drag and the exhilarating line-peeling runs was something he’d never experienced. It had taken the lure on my trusty Shimano TLD15, however, and having to lay the line back on and the heat of the moment proved too much for the lad, so dad had to step in.
Children who fish enjoy a better understanding of food's journey from the source to the table.
Nevertheless the sight and thrill of the brilliant blue coloured bullet had him wanting another crack. To give him a better chance I switched the successful white skirted lure to my Fin Nor Offshore 9500 OS spin set-up and this time only trolled the one lure. After retracing our track the sweet sound of peeling line soon signalled round two.
This time it was a bigger fish, but there was no way Cale was going to give up. Instead, with a bit of calm coaching and assistance from dad, a tired but thoroughly ecstatic eight year old was soon proudly holding his first game fish up for the camera. An equally proud father-son moment ensued.
With a few hours’ trolling under his belt I felt he was ready to take the next step. As luck would have it the neighbour was looking for a crew on his 8.5 metre White Pointer, so the very next day we went out and in four hours actually caught an est. 110kg striped marlin – but that’s another story. I have to admit, the feeling of being hooked up to a hard-earned marlin with my son by my side brought a tear to the eye. Luckily I was wearing sunnies at the time.
For the love of it
As the father of two budding young anglers I can safely say that there are fewer more rewarding gifts than a fishing rod and taking the time to teach them how to enjoy it. Of course, once your kids love fishing as much as you do there’ll never be any shortage of leave passes to wet a line either.
These days I’m lucky to have a reliable fishing buddy whose enthusiasm for fishing is infectious. He’s also much better than most of my mates when it comes to netting the catch as well. Now that my youngest son is growing in confidence (and recently enjoyed his first overnight adventure) I’m looking forward to the many more epic father-son moments on the horizon.
Some essential items for an enjoyable time with the kids on the water:
- Plenty of food and drink (I take twice as much as they normally eat on dry land to be safe, and rarely come home with anything left)
- Properly fitting lifejackets
- Travel bands
- Good quality, high SPF sunblock
- A couple of hats and changes of clothes in a dry bag
- A towel (in case they fancy a swim)
- Kids need sunnies near the water too
- Plenty of patience and your undivided attention
- And lastly, don’t forget the camera so you can relive the magic moments for years to come