Fishing: It’s either really fun or really boring. At least, that’s the case for most kids. For seasoned anglers, there’s a whole lot of in between while waiting and trying for that big one. But for youngsters, action rules — and expectation sucks. I wrote in this space years ago that young anglers, particularly those without much experience, just want something — anything (alive) — to make the rod bend that they can pull into the boat to hold (or edge away from). At the same time, probably the quickest way to turn off kids to fishing (for that day and very possibly the long term), is to ask them to wait patiently (or impatiently) for a game fish that you feel is worthy of catching. As experienced anglers, our standards are completely different from those of a young newbie. As adults, we have a different perspective of time; putting in some fishless hours is worthwhile in the hopes of bringing back bragging rights for an impressive game fish, whether in the fish box or photographed and released. But for most kids, the hope of even a really big payoff loses much meaning after a couple of hours without action. If we want young kids to be excited to go out fishing again (and again), we should look for the sure thing. That might mean dropping little baited hooks for small bottomfish of various types — what matters is simply that it’s a fish. Or looking for birds feeding over bait being terrorized by ladyfish or blue runners or small mackerel. Cast out a spoon or small jig, hook up, hand off the rod, and watch the smiles. The key concept when trying to excite kids about the sport is simple enough: There’s no such thing as a trash fish. That — “trash fish” — is a learned concept. Denigrating the fish a youngster reels in as “trash” can instantly turn triumph into tragedy. On the other hand, if we’re excited about that fish, whatever the hell it is, you can be sure they’ll be excited. All this came to mind again with Steve Waters’ feature on kids and sharks in the March issue of Sport Fishing. That’s because for most young anglers, nothing, and I mean nothing, is as exciting as the idea of catching a shark. Read Next: Fishing Mississippi’s Inshore Artificial Reefs Again, keep in mind those different standards. That is, interest in catching a shark might for you or me mean hooking a mako, jigging for threshers or casting streamers to big lemons on the flats. But it seems that for kids, the mystique of sharks carries over to just about any size and any type. If a kid reels in any species of small coastal sharks that tend to be abundant — blacktips, bonnetheads, sharpnose, leopards and even the lowly dogfish — his or her day is made, and friends are sure to hear the story of how the angler caught a shark!
Getting kids outside, away from their digital devices, has become a challenge. Entice them out onto the water, put a rod in their hands, give them plenty of action, and you might have taken the first steps to creating lifelong anglers.
Doug Olander is editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine.