I don’t remember the very first fish I ever reeled in. My dad, I’m sure, hooked something and handed me the rod. My guess would be that it was probably a snapper blue hooked off of our dock in Clinton, Connecticut, using a small silvery Kastmaster. I do, however, remember the very first fish I hooked on my own. It was a yellow perch. The fish itself was no big prize. About the size of my six- or seven-year-old hand, its dark vertical stripes, yellow flanks and the reddish finlets on its belly giving it a goldfish appearance like this catch was meant for a fish bowl and not the cold-water stream I had caught it in. But it was by far the most memorable thing that had happened to me at that point in my life. Keep in mind I was six. I hadn’t done much living.
My father liked to make his own fishing rods in the winter months and he made me a spinning rod. I got to pick out the color of the thread he would use to wrap the guides and make the diamonds near the reel seat. I chose red and blue. We still have the rod. Dad fishes with it to this day. Armed with that rod and a Penn spinning reel, I walked down a trail until I found a clear opening to cast into the stream. I want to say we were on a family trip to upstate New York, checking out some wineries or something like that. I don’t remember the exact location, but I can picture the stream in my mind. I had a styrofoam cup with some dirt and worms. As a kid I loved to mess around with worms. I even had a worm farm and my first foray into mass enterprise was an upstart bait-selling company that never got off the ground.
I made a cast into the narrow creek when I noticed a loop in the spool on my reel. My father had taught me that you should always remove a loop in the spool so I opened the bail and began to pull off monofilament until the loop came out. After I got the loop out, there was a lot of slack line on the ground. I closed the bail and held the line between my two fingers as I reeled the slack back onto the spinning reel so it would feed onto the reel tightly. When the slack was all reeled in I quickly realized that the line was tight. My first thought was that I had probably hooked a rock in the creek, but then the tip of the rod bounced, and it bounced again. I was hooked up to a fish! For a six-year-old kid, this was a monumental big deal.
“Dad!” I hollered. “I got a fish! I got a fish!”
I reeled my small catch up to the shore and slid it onto the bank. I couldn’t have been more proud. I had encountered a problem with my tackle. Fixed it, and was rewarded with my very first fish. Dad was proud, too. And that made it even better.
Now that I have kids of my own, I am relishing in the joy that a parent feels when they introduce them to the outdoors and fishing. I don’t know if there has ever been a period in history where our young people spend so much time indoors as they do today. So, when Max, my older son, turned three, we got him his very first fishing rod. We took him to Bass Pro and he picked it out himself. It’s a push-button Captain America rod made by Shakespeare. It lights up, and he loves it. It’s impractical as all hell. The drag sticks. The mono that came on the reel has enough memory in it that it can probably recite the entire pledge of allegiance. But Max loves it. It’s his fishing rod, and he’s getting pretty dang good at casting it.
Cooper turned three this past July and just got his first fishing rod for Christmas. We picked this one out on Amazon (please don’t tell him, he thinks Santa brought it to him), but it’s just like his big brothers’ though it’s a different super hero. Although Cooper has Down Syndrome and his hands are not quite as strong as a typical kid, you’d never know it. Standing out on the dock with me and his brother, holding his own rod and slinging the little practice fish it comes with into the water gives him so much joy that he actually dances. I don’t think he has any clue that it brings even more joy to me, but he will someday.
Fishing with your kids can be frustrating if you let it. You need to drop the expectation level, take joy in the journey and bring lots of snacks.