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Standing on the shore of the lake the other day, the sun beat down on the motorboats and the tepid water lapped up at our toes in the mud, I didn’t really know that I was about to be taught a serious lesson in fishing instruction by the very two kids I had been intending to teach myself.
Henry, 2-years-old, looked up at me with is eager puppy dog eyes as his sister chomped on a pretzel rod and glanced around us looking for something, for anything, exciting to focus on. Her disinterest only lit my teaching fires.
“Now listen up, kids,” I announced, as I threaded the 6 lb. test line through the eye of a small golden spinner. “Let’s try and listen to Daddy and do what he tells you to do so we can catch a fish or two, okay?!”
Violet, age 4, crunched into her snack, averting my eyes.
Henry was more direct. Ever the frank child, he took a slight step in my direction and spit out exactly what was on his mind.
“I wanna do it! I wanna hold it, Daddeeee!” He reached for the small spinning rod in my hand, not caring at all if the thing was baited or whatever.
“No Henry!” I told him, yanking it away. “This is what I am talking about! You have to let me show you how to fish, buddy!”
This was our second fishing trip of the summer so far, and therefore the second fishing trip of my young son’s life. Violet had been on maybe two other ones as well, but they weren’t exactly clinics in catching anything to be perfectly honest. This time out, unlike the first messy trip a month ago, I was bound and determined to spend a short, but productive, time on the water with my kids. I would show them the ropes of casting a fishing pole, and hopefully, reel in a bluegill that they had hooked themselves.
In other words, what a fool I was.
Three minutes later, as I attempted to cast the spinner out into the lake, Henry was more or less clinging to my knee and bawling his face off.
“I WANNA DO IT! LET ME HOLD DA FISH POLE PWEEEEEZE DADDY!!!”
I could feel the warmth of his sad boy snot dripping on my knee.
It was a full-on debacle, a tantrum of lunker proportions from a tiny minnow with the heart of a muskie. I knew what was coming. Just a few short weeks ago, I had attempted to introduce my toddler boy and my little girl to a bit of fishing on my own terms and I had been sorely rebuked. I was met with two kids who were much more interested in just playing with worms and slapping the rod on the water surface than they were with catching anything.
I sighed, stopped my retrieve, and handed the rod to Henry—knowing he was capable of damage, but uncertain of its extent.
He took the rod and cranked the reel backwards and just like that, a bird’s nest of line poofed up out of the reel like a puff of smoke. Oh man, I thought. Spinning rods and reels have always been my favorite, and I really do believe that spinning gear and spin-casting gear are by far the best options when introducing little ones to the sport. But keep in mind the fact that an energetic toddler can create a tangle where you never could have imagined one before, too.
Anyhow, I saw that mess and I knew it was time to let him do his thing. I reeled in my lure and snipped it off and handed Henry the hook-less spinning outfit. Then, some of the wind slipping out of my hardcore fisherman sails, I called Violet over and asked her for a bite of pretzel.
She handed me a broken piece. I smiled back and told her that we ought to chuck a couple of stones in the water because, you know, sometimes you can call in really big fish that way.
Her eyes grew big, a cue that she was finally listening.
I let go of my vision for the second time this season. I took a deep drag of July afternoon and watched my dumb notion of teaching my super young kids about catching fish float away like carnival balloons.
It hurt for a second, I guess… in a selfish sort of way.
And then, as soon as I remembered that I was there for them, for Violet and Henry and not for me, well… we had a blast! It was a short, but sweet blast of a time; the three of us tucked in between other anglers who were actually angling, but not really catching, much more than our little threesome of heck-raisers and pretzel snappers. We popped some rocks into the water and we admired the end of Henry’s pole every time he announced to the world at large,” I GOT ONE! I GOT ANOTHER FISH!”
There were no fish, of course.
There was only the occasional wad of algae or leaves stuck to the end of his pole, but it didn’t matter. Once I began to cheer him on for catching some “salad,” that sudden notion stuck, and so my daughter got excited about that too. Before long we were praising the kid as if he were boating bass after bass at a big tournament instead of yanking in gobs of gooey slime.
To be honest, it was a pretty awesome little afternoon too. No one caught a darn thing that much is true, but at the end of the day who even cares? I hadn’t really gone out of my way to make certain that we were going to be in a hotspot that day, but next time I might. A little scouting never hurt anybody’s chances when it comes to catching fish (especially when impatient kiddos are involved); just knowing you casting a line into are in a familiar fishy hole, or even standing on the bank of a well-stocked pond or stream can make all the difference in the world when it comes down to actually getting some real bites.
Still, fish or no fish, we had a good time, I think. We ended up laughing a little when there had been only desperate tears. And we ended up enjoying ourselves in the great outdoors simply by just being out there. We didn’t need to take any fish home. We didn’t need to succeed at anything. We were a family on a fishing trip, a family out for action, and we found it, ironically, in the act of not fishing at all.
That might sound strange, I suppose. Still if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
See, sooner or later, if you let the kids tag along with you on trips to the lake or the stream or the bay, they are in fact going to probably get pretty interested in just how you catch a trout or a pumpkin seed or a snapper blue. But you cannot rush it, no matter how badly you might want to see them take up the same love for fishing that you have.
Fishing, at its absolute best, is a time for any of us, young or old, to let out a long sigh and just soak in the fresh air of a pretty place. It’s a time to let go of our troubles, if only for a short while.
And it is a time we can spend with people who we really love and care about, doing something that we all like to do. Even if that something turns out to be worlds away from what we thought it was going to be. Even if we end up just chucking stones and giggling and drinking juice boxes under the hot summer sun as we cheer on a kid with a big fat hunk of grass hanging from the end of his hookless pole.
In a way, that is still fishing, huh?
And that, my friend, is what counts the most.