There is no greater joy than to take a child fishing. They say the bond you create can last a lifetime. If that’s the case, then I can’t wait.
I started taking my son Clay when he was three years old. And that’s just on a kayak. He started off on boats at an earlier age when all he was able to do was to crawl around and marvel at the unknown creature flopping on the deck.
For our first kayak outing, I chose the calm waters of Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, not far from our home. He sat in front of me on the Ocean Kayak Drifter wearing his Stearns life vest. The goal was to take it slowly, in an ideal setting to acclimate to the joys and thrills of kayaking.
Before long Clay was comfortable—and a little fidgety. To pass the time, I started tossing a small plastic lure tied onto a light spinning rig. I hoped to hook something, anything, so I could hand the pole off to him and let him feel the tug of a fish, and maybe catch his interest.
It didn’t take long. Something heavy latched onto the bait. Our kayak picked up speed, and Clay’s eyes opened wide as the unseen creature towed us around the lagoon. The entire time my future fishing partner kept asking about the unseen fish. Where and what was it? His curiosity wasn’t satisfied until 30 minutes later when we finally got the mystery fish to shore. It was a large bat ray, a fish that flies underwater by flapping its streamlined wings. I could see the excitement in Clay’s face as he looked over the source of his very first sleigh ride.
That positive experience stuck with him, fueling his interest in more outings. We launched the kayak every week. Before long, wearing a PFD was second nature, and he grew accustomed to the light spring wetsuit and the full suit we use in the colder months—not just to stay warm, but for the extra buoyancy.
Before venturing on a trip, I’d brief my young partner on the fish we were targeting and how we planned to go about it. One day, Clay approached me with an unrigged plastic lure in hand, and asked me how it worked. I told him that it looked like a baitfish. Like a sponge, he absorbed the information, sometimes surprising me with how much he learned by watching and listening.
Soon, he was handing me the plastic already on the jig head. After that he was pinning bait on a hook and casting out, calling out to the fish to come and take his bait, “Here, fishy, fishy.”
That was when I realized it was time to involve him in the entire process. Not to hand the rod over to him once the hook was set, but to teach him to do it all for himself. It was his turn to impress me.
While he practiced casting, I practiced patience. Praising him on the good ones, I knew he would eventually hook up. He did, with halibut, sand bass, calico bass and even hard-charging yellowtail. Now Clay has the confidence to launch and land through any surf, is ready to go at o-dark-30, and I am now his gaffer… lucky me. Any time that 11-year-old out-fishes me is a proud day, one that forges a bond made of memories.
MARTIN HARDING, devoted dad, believes in learning by doing. He and his son live a stone’s throw from the ocean in Encinitas, California.
This article originally appeared on page 54 of the Summer/Fall 2011 edition of Kayak Angler magazine. To read the full article click here.