For me, fishing has been a lifelong passion. From the time I could walk, my parents had me aboard party boats and our own boats. I grew up in a fishing family. They took me to lakes, reservoirs, bays, the ocean, rivers, ponds, anywhere we could find fish. When my wife, Jennifer, and I were married, she joined the fishing family.
Some people go fishing to escape their partners. My friends are always begging for a kitchen pass. When I got married, I took a different approach. I figured bringing my wife into the sport would allow me even more time on the water.
How to Get a New Angler to Love Kayak Fishing
When I was a kid, my family planned vacations around fishing. Now that I am grown and married, we still plan fishing into family vacations. We recently visited St. Petersburg, Florida, and rented kayaks from a local outfitter. With beautiful weather and incredible opportunities, we spent three days fishing for speckled trout and sheepshead.
Over time, Jennifer has grown to be an independent and enthusiastic angler. At first, she needed me to bait her hook, tell her where to cast, describe how to work a lure and land her fish. Now, she works hard for her own fish.
I first noticed the change last summer on a trip to Kennebunkport, Maine. We fished the sheltered harbor and caught a number of striped bass from 12 to 20 inches. Jennifer still needed my help landing the larger stripers, but she independently rigged her lures and looked for places to fish.
When we encountered schools of striped bass feeding on sand eels, Jennifer took over chasing down blitzing fish and casting into the fray, then working and landing striped bass without complaint. This was the tipping point, after this trip Jen’s fishing skills kicked into high gear.
The big difference was off the water. After a few successful trips, Jen and I often talked about the fish and the techniques we used.
Spreading Wings at Sunset Beach
In the fall, we traveled to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, to spend several days fishing for redfish, black drum and speckled trout. The sheltered, tidal creeks along the Intracoastal Waterway were a controlled environment for Jen to explore her newly acquired skills.
As we searched unfamiliar waters, Jennifer fished sections of the river on her own. She drifted runs and holes, choosing lures and handling fish like second nature.
The real test came when Jennifer hooked a big fish and I was too far away to lend support. I held my breath and watched her as she fought the fish and landed it like a pro. By the time I arrived, she was measuring a 24-inch speckled trout; a trophy in anyone’s books. Jennifer was beaming.
As we were driving home from North Carolina, Jen told me with a smile, “I can’t stop thinking about fishing. I want to catch bigger and bigger fish.” She was hooked.
When we returned home, I wanted to take Jennifer’s game to the next level. Each fall, we get a great run of big striped bass along the New Jersey coast. Landing a big linesider is one of the ultimate thrills in kayak fishing.
I hoped pushing Jennifer’s skills would further stoke her interest in fishing. If she was beaming after a four-pound speckled trout, how would she smile with a 20-pound striped bass in her lap?
I wanted to get Jennifer out on one of those epic nights where the conditions are perfect and the fish are feeding hard. All through fall, I watched the weather and prayed for the perfect night, but the timing never came together.
New Year, New Angler?
On New Year’s Eve, the last day of striper season, I saw a short weather window in the forecast. I knew the fish were still around, so we gave it a shot.
When we arrived at the launch, the conditions were far from ideal. The water was cold, so we had to squeeze into our dry suits. Dry suits are necessary for cold water safety, but they are not the most comfortable way to fish. Strike one.
Second strike: Raritan Bay in northern New Jersey is not the most beautiful place to fish. Huge factories and old ships line the banks with the constant roar of highway and railroad traffic filling the air. Even worse, we launched at low tide so we had the gut-wrenching stink of muddy saltmarsh to accompany the noise and clutter.
But my friends were fishing in the same area and catching stripers. I figured the excitement of a big fish would trump the negatives.
Once we arrived at the fishing grounds, conditions were challenging. The tide was rising and the fish had moved deep. We were required to use heavy lures to fish the channel where the current was ripping. To keep our lures in the strike zone, we had to constantly pedal into the current and repeatedly drop and retrieve our lures.
Jennifer managed to keep up her spirits, but I wasn’t having much fun either. Strike three: we were out.
Focus on Fun to Hook Beginners
In the experience, I learned the most valuable lesson in bringing a new angler into the sport: fishing is supposed to be fun. While fighting the current and the cold for a chance at catching a big striped bass is fun for me, it’s not much fun for new anglers.
From now on, we may leave a little later, cut the trip a little short or fish in a prettier place, even if it means sacrificing a few bites. Sharing what I love about fishing means sharing what Jennifer loves about the sport.
We have a year to get ready before next striper season. I plan to further fuel my partner’s passion for fishing and slowly build her skill and interest level until she is ready for the next step.
Getting the hang of it. Jennifer Suler casts, hooks and lands a nice sized striped bass. | Feature photo: Dennis Suler