Welcome to Panfish

Part Six


Gillie

Kids and Fly Fishing

by Randy Fratzke


I don't know of a better way to intorduce youngsters to the joys of fly fishing than to take them over to a local farm pond or a small lake that's overloaded with those critters known as "gillies". Blue Gills, Sunfish, Red Ears, Stump Thumpers. Essentially a family of fish known as "Bream".

They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, are usually plentiful throughtout the continent, and bite on almost anything that hits the water, just about any time of the day or night. Perfect fish for teaching kids with limited attention spans and frequent "nature" calls, basic fly fishing.

I'd like to review a few basic "tips" I highly recommend when you decide to take a youngster fishing. These are my rules. You may have a different set, disagree with mine, or ignore them all together, your choice. (Just don't expect me to feel sorry for you if the child winds up hurt, or hating you and fishing altogether.)

My Basic Rules For Taking Kids Fishing

1. Never make a promise to take a kid fishing and then back out. If the weather changes, adjust the clothing (within reason). If you're not in the mood when the promised time comes around, change your attitude. You made the promise. If the kid changes their mind when the time comes, try to work it out, but don't force the issue. (Yes, this is a double standard . . . get over it.)

2. Don't give a 4 ft. tall child a 9 ft. rod and expect them to be able to handle it. And don't give them a $500 rod and then complain when it gets stepped on, hung up in a tree and the tip broken, or laid down in the sand and rocks and scratched up. We're talking about children, and children get excited and do things a little differently than most (I said MOST) of us. A child doesn't know (and in most cases, appreciate) the difference between a $35.00 rod and a $500 one. Consider using an inexpensive "safety line" on the rod in case it gets dropped into the water.

3. Practice casting techniques with the child in a "back yard environment" before heading for the water. Have them wear the same clothing they plan on wearing when going fishing (including a life vest) so they get used to what it will be like to cast with everything on.

4. Always use barbless hooks when fishing with kids. It's a big enough trauma to get hooked for the first time, you don't need to add to that trauma by having to have the hook cut out at the local hospital Be sure to take along the basic first aid "kit in a can" . . . bandaids, bug spray, antiseptic, ect.

5. Always make the child wear their life preserver when they are anywhere near the water, whether it's shore fishing, dock fishing, or from a boat. Accidents happen and kids panic so fast. The last thing you need is a "lost child". I make it an absolute rule, regardless of how well they - or their parents - claim they can swim.

6. After they catch their first fish, I show them how to hold it, handle it, and take a photograph of them and their catch, and then release the fish. We will usually keep a few for eating, but I think starting them off with the C & R ideals is important. Make sure the child understands why it's done, and have them do the release.

7. Always maintain the positive aspects of what the child is doing. If he or she is not doing something right, then talk with them about what they are doing CORRECTLY, then where they are making their mistake, and show them again. This puts a positive spin on the situation rather than making the child feel inadequate. Make a game out of it, set targets up on the lawn for the child to try to land the practice fly on. After they master basic casting, set them up with more difficult situations, like casting from under a tree or casting to a target under a tree. Use your house, garage, car, flower beds, trees and shrubs as obstacles for them. Kids have great imaginations. Tell them about the big rainbow lurking just on the back side of the geranium pot or the small mouth living under that tree limb. Make it fun and join in . . . who knows, you may improve your skills at the same time.

8. The last rule is patience. It's probably the hardest rule to define and the hardest rule to follow. If you take a child fishing and there aren't any accidents, snags, back lashes, fouled knots, muttered works, lost tackle, falls, scrapes, tears, and you actually catch fish, mark it in your fishing diary as a most unusual day! It will probably never happen twice!

Keep one thing in the front of your mind: You're taking a child fishing . . . that doesn't necessarily mean YOU'RE going to fish. The important thing is for the child to have a good experience and learn so that, at some point, the child is proficient enough to go fishing WITH you.

If it gets to a point of total frustration (for either of you) then it's time for a break. Both of you sit down in the shade, have a couple of cookies or a soda, and talk about something not related to fishing for a few minutes. Like the birds, or the insects buzzing around, just to ease the tension. If the child says he's had enough for the day then don't try to force them into more (remember that coach in the 7th grade you still hate?)

One quick story, then go find a kid and teach them how to fish!

It happened last November, down in south Texas and involved my younger brother, Rory, and his son. My brother has a twenty-eight foot boat and does most of his fishing in the Gulf, out of Galveston harbor. He had been taking his son Cole fishing since he was about two, (yes two years old!) but would only fish with him in the boat on the inland waterways, never out in the open sea because he felt it was too dangerious. Cole would always stand on the door with Gramma and cry whenever Rory was going out into the Gulf because he was too young to go along. One day, when he was about four, Cole asked how old he had to be to go out fishing in the Gulf with his dad and the men. My brother thought for a minute and said, "Cole, after you are six years old you ought to be big enough to go with us."

On his fifth birthday, my brother bought him his first real rod and reel set up. Cole sat down on the couch and carefully checked it all out, then started crying . . . "but dad, I can't even use it for another year 'cause I'm only five and I can't go out with you until I'm six!"

My brother smoothed it all out by sayig they had a whole year to practice with the new outfit so when he was six he'd be a better angler than some of the men that went out! That seemed to satisfy Cole for the time being. They fished a lot that year along the breakwaters, shorelines, and inland waterways. Cole got good with the rod and reel.

The night before his sixth birthday, he asked my brother if they were going to go fishing the next day. My brother told him yes, that he'd taken the day off off work, and they were going out onto the Gulf for some big fish.

At 3:30a.m. the next morning my brother heard a faint knocking at his bedroom door, and a faint, "Daddy, is it time yet?" Cole was up, dressed and had all of his gear lined up by the door. He'd already fed the dog (his daily 'job'), had a bowl of cereal and some toast. It was his birthday and he was six years old and ready for some "big fishing!"

The time of day wasn't important, but the date sure was! My brothers wife said he might as well get up and get going because there was no way Cole was going back to bed.

They loaded up and left port at 6:30a.m., Cole standing on the bow, hands on the rails, getting soaked from the spray, with a smile so big it out shined the rising sun. They headed for one of the nearer oil rigs and anchored the boat. By the time my brother had the boat set, Cole had his rod rigged and ready. So my brother told him "Go for it Cole!"

They had been fishing for about fifteen minutes when Cole hooked a Cobia, a big one! My brother went over to help. Cole informed him he didn't need any help! So Rory just stood by. After about twenty minutes Cole had the fish at the side of the boat and asked Rory to gaff it and bring it in. Rory looked at him, smiled and said, "well, you told me a little while ago you didn't want any of my help . . ."

"Please, daddy, it's bigger than me! Please help me!"

So Rory gaffed it, brought it into the boat. Then Cole said, "Ok, we can go home now and show mom my fish!" Rory said all he could do was laugh. They turned the boat around and headed back in. Cole helped haul the big 38-inch fish out of the boat and hang it on the rack next to the cleaning station. He moved a chair over next to it, climbed up on the chair and asked Rory to take his picture.

Rory said it was one of his proudest moments, and he never regretted taking the year to teach, show, and coach Cole, before hitting the big water. Cole knew what to do, when to do it, how and why he was doing it. Rory was really amazed. Cole goes out with him nearly every time now that he's older than six and Rory is proud to take him.

~Randy Fratzke


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