Use care, fun to lure kids into fishing

On The Outdoors

March 12, 2000|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Teach a kid to fish. It's a romantic notion, combining Norman Rockwell's "Catching the Big One" and Norman Thayer's "On Golden Pond."

The reality is, you'd be better off with a copy of Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking."

Start a kid too early, and you might turn him or her off forever. Overwhelm them with equipment and "helpful" advice, ditto.

Yet, somebody must be doing something right. I mean, how else do you explain the propagation of the angler species?

Some kids are born to fish, and before too long they've had enough of you holding them back. Give other kids the option of take it or leave it, and they'll choose the latter. Others have no desire to fish.

"They have to have the desire to do it," says Wally Vait, owner of the shop "On the Fly" in Monkton. "It has to go beyond wanting to be with dad."

Vait, who taught his two daughters to fish, and others who instruct children say lessons have to be adapted to the age, attention span and patience of each young angler. But there are some basic rules of thumb to help ensure success:

No. 1: Keep initial instruction to a minimum.

"You may want a lesson in the beginning and a lesson after they learn they have a deficiency they want to correct. In between, there's so much that can be learned just by being out there," Vait says.

Don't insist a youngster watch a fishing video, go to a fishing show, or hang out with your fishing buddies, say the experts.

Keep your tips brief.

"The first five minutes is all they're going to get from it," Vait says.

No. 2: Raise the odds for reward.

"It's important for kids to be successful to keep their interest," says John Byrd, youth activities coordinator for the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association (MSSA).

That means making it easy for youngsters to catch fish, as MSSA does with its annual "Pathways to Fishing" program. More than 400 youngsters, ages 5-16, are expected at Patapsco Valley State Park on April 8 for a day of casting instruction and other fishing programs.

The Department of Natural Resources stocks the Avalon area with trout on Thursday, and the area remains closed until the program begins.

"By Saturday morning, those fish are very hungry, so almost all the kids catch fish," says Byrd, laughing.

If you can't get to the Patapsco for trout on Saturday, Vait suggests bypassing trout for a pond full of bluegills.

"Kids need to be able to catch fish by accident," Vait says. "They may catch fish that are only 3 or 4 inches, but they need to catch something."

No. 3: Let the youngster be part of the decision making.

"You have to keep it informal," says Dusty Wissmath, a guide for 25 years who operates a fly fishing school at the Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pa. "Let the child dictate the flow of the day. If somebody wants to stop and have a sandwich or skip rocks, that's part of the day."

Wissmath has been known to keep a Frisbee in his pack to break up the day and will stop fishing to tell a fish tale or two.

Vait suggests taking kids fishing at Centennial Lake in Howard County, where you can rent a paddle boat.

No. 4: Make the young angler your focus.

"If you take a kid fishing, you shouldn't," says Vait. "You've got to put yourself aside and concentrate on them. Once you start fishing, it's over for them."

Joe Swam, a Harford County police officer who oversees a one-day youth fly-fishing camp for the regional chapter of the Federation of Fly Fishers, counsels from experience.

"Kids get discouraged when things seem too hard," he says. "When I was teaching my oldest son, I tried too hard. I thought he would have the same degree of enthusiasm I did. You have to remember, fly fishing is as complex as you want to make it."

If you have trouble with your Type A personality, Vait suggests enlisting a friend or family member to do the teaching.

No. 5: Don't break the bank to outfit a kid, but don't be Scrooge McDuck, either.

Cabela's and L.L. Bean offer some real bargains for beginners. For example, Bean's Easy-Cast Outfit consisting of a 7-foot, 5 weight or 8-foot, 6 weight rod, a reel, line and leader goes for $79. A selection of 12 flies in a plastic box is $19. The vest is $35 and the hip boots, $69.

But if you want to have the excitement of picking out the equipment and getting the feel for it, Vait and Wissmath have a few suggestions.

"Expect to spend $200 to $250 for everything," Wissmath says. "If you buy something cheap, it will make it harder for the kid. If the kid enjoys fishing, you'll just have to buy a better [outfit] pretty quickly."

Vait says a Cortland or St. Croix rod will run $85 to $100. A Scientific Anglers or Cortland reel, about $50. Fly line, $35 to $50.

Even though he'd love to sell the accessories to you, Vait says hold off. "They'll want a vest, and they'll want a hat. But if you buy it all right away, they'll have nothing to look forward to."

No. 6: Keep expectations low.

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