Creating Outdoor Kids (in These Strange Times)

This probably should be about “nurturing” outdoor kids more than creating, but the work is the same, I think. Anyhow, given the slow start to our outdoor play these last months, and the festering need of several sets of homey parents to get kids properly involved, conversations have been ongoing.

At various times, discussions about getting kids hooked outdoors have morphed into seminars led by one or another parent, grandparent or excited bystander. Looking back on some of those moments, it occurs to me that the recurring theme was about letting horses, dogs and kids make a few mistakes and learn from them, rather than actively trying to keep them from doing “wrong” stuff in the first place. The focus was almost always about nurturing a natural enthusiasm for learning and exploring in whatever critter was at hand.

When one couple recently mentioned wanting to get their three little ones started properly on fishing – a sizable concern given the late starts and limited opportunities of 2020 so far – I remembered the copy of  William G. Tapply’s “Pocket Water – Confessions of a Restless Angler” some guy handed me a decade or so back.  “Here,” he said, “I know you love this ‘kids outdoors’ stuff…” The chapter he pointed out was titled “Raising Fly Fishermen for Fun and Profit.”

Tapply would have fit right into those “nurturing kids” seminars. His ideas about teaching kids to fish are just as much about helping them master life itself. Thus, I’ve been passing along Tapply’s thoughts. I’m thinking you will find this as interesting as I have.

“Kids – boys or girls, it doesn’t matter – are born with an innate love of fishing. The tug and throb at the end of the line triggers in every kid something atavistic that causes her to laugh and squeal ‘I got one! I got one!’ Unless some adult comes along to spoil it, that kid is hooked. If the adult nurtures it, the hook sinks in over the barb, and she’s hooked for life. [I]f you resist the urge to tell her what she’s doing wrong, she will gradually get better at it.

“Kids are democratic. To them, a fish is a fish. Sunfish, horned pout, bass, trout:  the main difference to a kid is that sunfish are the prettiest. All shapes, sizes, and colors of fish merit equal fascination, and the more different species kids encounter, the better they like it. Catching many small fish is better than a few large ones, although they do like the scary hard pull of an occasional big one, and they should have that experience, too.

“Kids like to catch fish. Adults learn the aesthetic pleasures of fishing without catching anything, but it’s an acquired taste, and it takes a while… Take your kid to a warmwater pond, slough, or lazy creek, where life fairly bubbles in abundance and variety, and where you’re never sure what might be tugging at the end of the line, but it’s a sure bet that something will be.” [An aside: one of the Hucklings’ most treasured memories is a July afternoon at Helen McCabe, catching tiny pumpkinseeds, small bass, perch, trout and a 5-pound catfish.] “Choose a warm, soft, sunny summer afternoon, even if you think the fish will bite better in the rain or toward dusk, when the mosquitos come out. In warm waters, they bite well enough all the time. Adults can fool themselves into enjoying discomfort, but kids are too smart for that.

“Even if you want to raise a trout-fishing partner, start her out on panfish. Kids are big on instant gratification. They want results and they want them now… They have short attention spans. Their minds wander… Their entire world is a wonder. Frogs, dragonflies, painted turtles, ducks, muskrats – all those denizens of warmwater places fascinate kids as much as fish do…

“Give them short, frequent doses of fishing. Anticipate when they’ll get bored and quit five minutes earlier. If they’re not catching anything, do something else. Try frog hunting or crayfish catching. Throw stones…capture rusty beer cans and bring them home with you…don’t make a lesson out of it.

“Kids are, in fact, suspicious of lessons. Kids are pragmatists… Fancy methodology does not impress them. Results impress them… They can catch bluegills, pumpkinseeds, crappies and perch almost guaranteed, and they don’t need much skill… Stay out of their way. Let them learn by observing, trying and erring… They will become skilled and will ask when they’re ready.

“Kids love riding in boats… At some point every kid will want to try rowing so you can fish. For kids, rowing or paddling is fun… Don’t tell her how…she’s been observing you, and she’ll catch on. Meanwhile, it’s your turn to fish, and you should do it. Your kid will be watching and hoping you’re having fun.

“Kids want to know the names of things. Kids like it when you can tell them what things are, but they also like it when you tell them you don’t know. This assures them that they can trust you.

“Kids notice things adults take for granted or have stopped noticing – the ‘chirrup’ of red-winged blackbirds…a swallow’s wingtip on the surface of a glassy pond…the garish neon shades that dress damselflies and dragonflies…the purple of a bluegill’s throat… When they point it out to you, you’ll marvel at it, too, the way you once did…

“Adults can learn a lot from kids…”

Try it. This is a perfect time to get youngsters on the ground and into nature. Get them out there, and they will find for themselves that heart-opening moment. This is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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