For many of you, you are reading this article because you, like me, have an internal, unquenchable longing to be in the outdoors. Others of you are reading this because you are looking for information on how to participate in outdoors activities for the first time or you want to learn how to be more successful in your outdoor adventures. This “Raising an Angler” article is going to be a little different than the past articles, because this article is about what adults need to learn from the kids we take fishing. We need to learn how to have fun again. 

I was the kid who loved to fish. I was kicked out of swimming lessons at the Y because I refused to float on my back. I mean, really, the fish are under the water; why should I float on the surface? We lived on the river in my home town and I could go and explore the banks and catch bullheads all day day long. It’s like the old proverb says, “give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and all of his money will go to fishing for the rest of his life”.  Yes I love to fish and I don’t apologize for it. I did however have some experiences growing up that really made me wonder, and quite frankly are the reasons why I am writing these articles and teaching the “Raising an Angler” seminars. 

I will never forget the first time someone other than my dad took me fishing. It took two to three hours to get everything put together, get to the lake and try to fish. These two guys could barely run the boat, had no plan and argued about everything. During this exercise in futility one of them stepped on the others guy’s new rod and the swearing went into overdrive. The broken rod tip turned into a rod getting destructively broken over the owner’s knee and promptly thrown into the lake. Needless to say, I did not have fun that day. I am telling you this story for one reason, it isn’t that hard to make a trip fun. These two guys are just a worse-case scenario of what not to do: lose perspective.  

This is where kids have a leg-up on adults. They look to have fun in almost everything they do. Fun involves a few things: risk, adventure, companionship and learning your limits, just to name a few. For many adults these are things that we were taught are bad for kids to experience and concepts we need to avoid. As a result, we have generations of kids that can only experience these things on a video game console. For over 30 years I have been actively involved with kids in the outdoors and when you let them have fun and show you how to have fun, they will be hooked for life. 

Jay was the guy in my life who took the time to teach me how to fish and hunt. My dad taught me how to live in the outdoors. We camped twelve months a year in North Dakota, cooking better over an open fire than most people eat at home. Jay was the guy that took me out and taught me how to not only hunt and fish, but how to have fun doing it. I never knew it at the time, but Jay and my dad instilled principles in my life that made it possible to raise my kids in the outdoors. For example, Jay never took the same road twice. I had so much fun exploring new areas of our state. As we drove, we talked about the areas’ history and how we would hunt it if we ever had the chance. I hope the statute of limitations is up on Jay teaching a minor how to gamble, but, anyway, we had an ongoing bet of a dime for the first fish and a quarter for the biggest fish every trip. We fished in the cold, the rain, the wind and the heat. We talked and told stories in the boat and on shore; having fun through it all. I never saw him get mad even when the front wheel fell off the truck on one trip in the middle of nowhere, long before cell phones. To this day, I never fish without a dime and quarter in my tackle box in honor of what I learned about fishing and life from Jay.

I remember when I took my own kids to a little fishing pond for the first time. I was doing my best to teach them how to fish. Showing them how to cast, how to hold the rod, how to set the hook and all the fundamentals I thought they needed to know. At four and two years old they weren’t getting it and I started to get stressed. What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing different? What if they don’t get it. What if they don’t catch fish? All they wanted to to is dangle a hook in front of the dock with these little gills that were only 2”- 3” long. It was than that the right question hit me. Do I want to be like the first two guys that took me fishing or like Jay? Yeah, it was a no-brainer question, but the answer changes your perspective greatly. I needed to let the kids have fun, which meant discovering and exploring. So we pulled out smaller hooks and played on our bellies with tiny bluegills for hours. 

Some of my best memories with my kids is shore fishing for cats and carp or drum and gold eye fishing in the boat. I will never pass up the opportunity when the kids ask to learn something new. This year we are working on deadliest catch-North Dakota-crawfishing, tournament bass fishing 101 and dad riding in the front of the boat with a cup of coffee.

Lots of things will go wrong this year but they always do. It’s our job to learn with the kids we have in the outdoors, stretch them and have fun doing it. If your out fishing and your targeted fish isn’t biting and all you’re catching is white bass, go white bass fishing. Each year we get to go to Gull lake for the Minnesota Fishing Challenge. The kids have more fun releasing fish at the tournament then I think the anglers do catching the fish. It’s also 3 days of untethered, laugh-till-you-hurt, rock bass fishing. That’s right rock bass fishing, it’s not about the fish it’s about fun.

The reality is pretty simple. As adults we need to give kids the opportunity to have fun in the outdoors. This means learning how to explore with other people, teach them what we know and learn how to take calculated risks together. While doing so, we need to learn how to put life into perspective and enjoy the company of who we are with and what it means to be content with what nature gives you that day. Expectations only ruin the learning process in the outdoors; you need to have fun with the hand mother nature dealt us that day. Taking kids fishing is really hard to screw up if you remember the goal. It is about having a positive outdoor experience. If you let yourself and the kids you’re with have fun, you are over half way there. 

In next month’s addition of “Raising an Angler”, I am going to cover bobbers and kids, a tool that will make teaching kids to fish way easier. 

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors July 2018

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