Keeping it simple and fun makes teaching kids to fish a success, whether they are sitting on a sea wall or playing in the yard.
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published December 16, 2005
[Times photos: Cherie Diez]
Hanlin Majewski, Lordan Charest and Gray Maloney of the Canterbury School of Florida's preschool class learn to fish behind the home of Jon and Jennifer Gilby on Snell Isle.
Bill Majewski helps his daughter, Hanlin, 5, reel in a catfish.
ST. PETERSBURG - I've done some pretty frightening things in my day, including bungee-jumping off a bridge that was taller than the Sunshine Skyway and swimming from Alcatraz through the cold, shark-infested waters of San Francisco Bay.
Nothing could prepare me for the anxiety and terror I experienced recently when I agreed to take a dozen 4-year-olds fishing on the shores of Tampa Bay.
"I'm scared," I told my friend Craig Lahr, "really scared."
I had met the charter boat captain a decade ago. He had called to tell me about a 42-pound kingfish his 6-year-old son had caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Impressive," I remember thinking to myself. "When I was 6 the only thing I ever hooked by myself was the seat of my pants."
Because I am the outdoors editor for a major metropolitan newspaper, people assume I am expert when it comes to anything involving this nation's great piscatorial pastime.
And although I have angled from the mountains of New Zealand to the jungles of Brazil, I am the first to admit I know very little about fishing compared to men such as Lahr, who make a living on the water day after day.
But when Lisa Perry, my son's teacher, asked me to help organize the annual Canterbury School Pre-K Fishing Day, I felt I had no choice but to stand up, be a man and confront my demons.
"There is nothing to it," Lahr said. "Just hang some chum bags the night before and let them catch pinfish."
Bobby Aylesworth, whose family has been in the bait business for decades, offered additional advice.
"Chum only works if you keep it going," he said. "You can start chumming the night before, but make sure you put out some new bags in the morning."
Aylesworth suggested using squid for bait.
"It is very durable," he said. "You want bait that will stay on the hook."
Some of the youngsters had their own fishing poles, the typical cartoon character variety that freeze up the minute they come in contact with salt water.
"Start them off with proper tackle," said "Dogfish" Bob Martin, who like Lahr and Aylesworth volunteered his services. "Nothing will turn a kid off to fishing quicker than having a rod and reel that don't work."
Safety was another big concern. It seems that every time I get my boy near a puddle, pond, lake, ocean or mud pit, he "accidentally" falls in.
"Even if the kids are fishing off a dock, they should be wearing life jackets," said Dwayne Somers, who runs the Operation Kid Float program for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "Unless you have eyes in the back of your head, you won't be able to watch them all at once."
When the big day came, a couple of other dads stepped forward to share the burden. Dean Pickel, whose son Cley landed his first snook (a 27-incher) at age 2, cautioned me to not expect too much.
"They are having fun just being out here," he said. "I don't think it matters what they catch as long as it pulls back."
Ladyfish, sail cat - it didn't matter. Each child had a rod and little pile of bait.
"Patience," Lahr reminded me. "When you take a kid fishing, you have to get down on their level. Pretend you are a kid too. You'll be surprised how well you will be able to communicate."
My son distracts easily. So I let him make a big pile out of the cut-up squid. "Look dad," he said. "It looks just like an elephant."
When it came time to rebait his hook, I cut a fresh piece instead of disturbing his pachyderm. "Thank you dad, he's sleeping," he explained.
The highlight of the morning came when a family of manatees swam by the dock. A short time later, a dolphin swam by.
Soon it was time for lunch. The kids ran off and started a game of hide and seek.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this "expert" couldn't help the youngsters catch a single redfish, trout or snook. But Lahr helped put it in perspective.
"They won't remember what they did or they didn't catch," Lahr said. "What they will remember is that they had fun and that they would want to do it again."
"After all" he said. "Isn't that all that really matters?"