A father's advice: put down your rod, teach the love of fishing

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010

For Baka (Grandpa)

I don't remember my first fishing trip with my father. With fondness I can recall the first king salmon I pulled in at the Kasilof River, my father pulling the line at the middle of the pole with his knotted commercial fisherman fingers as I struggled to reel in the big one. The fish was almost as big as me but not nearly as huge as the smile upon my face when I finally landed the thing. I remember people near me clapping. I'm not sure if that happens anymore. I must have been about 14 at the time -- I know I started fishing much earlier.

I also remember bits and pieces of earlier fishing trips, mostly in the fall, when I pulled in trout with my little sister at a small Sterling creek I know only as "Yonder Creek." We went to Yonder Lake as well -- it must have cracked a few smiles and annoyed a few others when we girls would earnestly explain how to get to these fish-filled sites: "You just drive over yonder a bit" we were told to say. I'll admit it, I still use the line today. Sometimes you can't give up fishing secrets.

There is one fishing secret my dad did share, however, with anyone and everyone who would listen. It still rings true today as it did when I was a kid. How was it, friends would ask, that he raised two kids who just loved going fishing with their family, even as teens and into adulthood? The secret, he would tell them, is that when a child is young you take them fishing with the idea that you are there to teach them to love fishing, not to catch fish yourself.

He learned this after a few failed attempts at family fishing trips when we were young. The thing is, if you, the parent, are trying to catch a fish at the same time your child needs their line un-snagged every five minutes, not to mention potty and hunger breaks, you will get frustrated at the constant interruptions. That frustration then seeps into the entire trip, and suddenly fishing isn't fun for anyone anymore. A wise friend pulled him aside and told him to quit fishing and start teaching. Dad put down his pole for a good 10 years -- aside from a few guy-only trips as needed -- and we have an entire family of fishers because of it.

My husband and I recently took our 2-year-old daughter on her first fishing trips, an afternoon for king salmon in Seward and dipnetting for hooligan at Yonder Point on the Kenai. I purchased my king tag, as a good citizen, knowing full well that there was no possible way that I was going to get a line far enough out in the water to have a chance at providing dinner that night. In the end, I didn't even bother putting a hook on her line. We just practiced throwing it in the water. I'm not sure if she even understood we were fishing. But we did it anyways, and both she and I had a great afternoon.

Dipnetting was more fruitful, both in terms of fish caught and lessons learned. My daughter can now tell you, and will tell you over and over again, that fish live in water and that you can catch them and eat them. While she didn't actually catch any of the fish -- her net didn't reach out very far -- she did help release a few back in the water and made quite a face when holding her first live fish. There was a lot of clapping. The entire trip lasted less than a half-hour, as it was cold and wet. Not much of an afternoon if the plan was to limit out. But we went out there not to net a bunch of hooligan, but to teach our daughter about fishing. It was a perfect Alaska fishing adventure as any I've been on. And while I doubt she'll remember it, it's a day I'll never forget.

A life-long Alaskan, Jen Ransom is an environmental and religious writer who resides in Soldotna with her family. Before setting aside her pole to teach her own children to fish, family outings rarely resulted in her catching the first fish but she somehow always managed to net the biggest one. You can read her gardening and gathering column, The Green Beet, at SewardCityNews.com.

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