I have been fishing nearly 30 years. In this time, I have had countless experiences which were all very memorable. From every new “personal best”, to days where my arms were tired from reeling in countless fish, doing well in a fishing tournament, and some that were memorable for less stellar reasons. Some of my best and proudest memories are the ones of watching my kids catch their first fish, bait their first hook and most recently, watching my oldest son paddle and fish from a kayak solo. My kids have been exposed to paddle sports from the time they could sit up on their own. They started out riding along in my family’s canoe, learning the basics of water safety and then when they were big enough to help paddle, they learned the main paddle strokes too. Now that they are a bit older and have shown their mama and I that they can be safe on the water, a new adventure has begun. They are starting to kayak fish on their own.
This past summer, I sat my oldest down one afternoon in July and asked him if he felt he was ready to try fishing from a kayak by himself. I’m not sure if I have ever seen the kid so excited! I have several kayaks which he could use, but I decided to put him in my Commander 140 for a few reasons which I feel are important to consider when introducing a youngster to kayak fishing. It is very stable, doesn’t have scupper holes to drop things through, has a very open design so arranging his gear was easy and it paddles a little easier than my Ride or Radar. He couldn’t have cared less which kayak he used, he was going kayak fishing!
That night, we loaded up the kayaks and fishing gear so everything was ready to go. The next morning, I woke him up at O’dark thirty to hit the road. I don’t think I got the words “buddy, its time to ge…” and he was up and running out his door. We hopped in the van, and a few minutes later, he learned the first thing about early morning fishing trips. They don’t start until we stop for coffee and breakfast! After leaving the local coffee shop with a hot chocolate, coffee, a couple bagels and donuts, we were on our way to a local canal system that is usually full of largemouth bass, panfish and pike. It was shaping up to be a great day.
We rolled up to the parking area about half an hour before sunrise and were joined by his Uncle and cousin who were going to spend the morning fishing with us. Within minutes, we were unloading and rigging the kayaks preparing them to launch. I briefed him one last time about what to do if he fell out, caught a big toothy pike or found himself tangled in the low hanging branches of the trees decorating the shorelines and we were off.
Leading into this trip, I had already decided that the amount of time my line was going to be in the water was going to be limited. Between giving him some on the water tips, helping him retie snapped lines tangles etc, I figured my hands would be pretty full. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Aside from a few issues with steering at the beginning, he was paddling like a seasoned champ. After a couple minutes paddling around, getting the feel for the kayak, he reached for his fishing rod and decided to start fishing.
We spent the next couple hours paddling and pedaling around, casting our bait in spots that looked likely to hold fish. One of the first rules I had for him was to stay within sight of me just in case something happened. That was a rule which only thirty minutes or so. After seeing how well he was handling the kayak, I relaxed a bit and didn’t say anything when I saw him disappear around a corner of the canal. I continued fishing for the next little while, catching a few small bass, large bluegill and I was starting to wonder how he was making out. The next thing I knew, he was coming around the corner standing up and paddling without a care in the world. I asked him how he was doing and was slightly disappointed to learn that he hadn’t even had a bite. I decided to put my rod away and focus on getting him his first kayak fish.
I showed him how to rig a slip bobber on his line, had him rig up a lively night crawler and showed him a couple spots which held some very aggressive panfish hoping one would be willing to take his bait. After many more casts to that spot, and several spots like that one, I could see he was getting frustrated (I can’t lie, I was getting a little frustrated too) and wanting to end on a positive note, I suggested we pack up our rods and paddle over to another area to take a look. This leg of the trip wasn’t meant to catch fish, it was simply to put one last “splash” of fun in the trip.
On the way to the destination, the four of us had a game of bumper kayaks, performing “pit” maneuvers on each other, pushing each other into the shoreline and low hanging branches. One thing led to another, and seeing as how we were all still hot and dry, I paddled up to my son and quietly suggested he use his bilge pump and try to spray his uncle just to cool him off a bit. He seemed to be a little kinder than I am and just fired a warning shot off his bow which quickly turned into an all-out water fight using paddles and bilge pumps.
A while later we arrived back at the ramp exhausted from the paddling, splashing and laughing. This is where he learned the next most important thing about kayak fishing. Letting his mom know when he was safely off the water. A quick phone call is all it takes to ensure we are allowed to go back out another day. While unrigging the kayaks and reloading everything into the van, I apologized to him. I felt bad that he hadn’t been able to catch his first kayak fish. This is where, after twenty some odd years of fishing, the teacher became the student and he reminded me of the most important thing about fishing. After I apologized, he looked at me, grinning ear to ear and said don’t be sorry! He had so much fun. He spent the 40 minute drive home telling me about all the cool things he saw: a blue, brown and white bird (a belted kingfisher), diving into the water coming and coming back out with a minnow, a big snake swimming across the surface of the water, a muskrat eating grasses on the shoreline and a family of ducklings following mom around in the water. I couldn’t have been more proud.
All too often, I find myself putting too much importance on whether or not I catch a new personal best, a new species of fish or a fish using a new technique. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy when those goals pan out, but it acted as a bold reminder that sometimes, you just have to put that fishing rod down, kick back with a nice cold beverage or snack and appreciate everything that is around you. I mean, if an 11 year old can do it, I know I can at least give it a shot.
P.S. He is still telling anyone who will listen about that day.