It doesn’t come with a four-digit price tag, it doesn’t come with a shiny finish, and it doesn’t come wrapped in a box with a bow. You can’t bank it, drive it, wear it, build it, eat it, frame it, trade it or sell it.
It’s something you can share with friends and family. It’s something you can pass on to the next generation. It’s something that defines individuals and builds character. And it’s something that can make a difference in a modern world that moves too fast and offers too many temptations.
Fishing is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
I’m one of the lucky ones. My dad is a fisherman, and it became a focal point of my life at an early age.
When I look back on my childhood, I don’t think about hitting home runs, fights with my brother, childhood crushes or video games. I think about fishing.
I think about the family vacations we took in northern Wisconsin each summer. I remember how much I used to look forward to those adventures.
I think about catching bluegills off the docks. I think about the lessons I learned in aquatic biology and river dynamics. I remember things like turtles trying to steal fish off a stringer, seagulls swooping close to the boat to snatch a discarded minnow and the steamy snort of a surprised deer. I will never forget the first time I was allowed to take the boat down the channel to a small grocery store on the water. I don’t remember if I was sent for milk or bait, but I remember the sense of responsibility and independence I felt with my hand on the throttle of that 3-hp engine that powered our 12-foot boat.
Nor will I forget the first time I set out across the lake on my own. It seemed so enormous then, but in reality I was never out of sight of our cottage.
Sometimes, I think about the day a big northern took possession of a battle-scarred, one-of-a-kind, frog-patterned Heddon plug I only pulled out for special occasions. I never found another like it.
I think about the giant fish we did catch and a handful of days when we felt like the world’s greatest anglers. I think about my first walleye tournament, and I think about the satisfaction of my first victory.
More and more, however, I find myself thinking about what so many people are missing, and especially today’s youth. The number of young anglers today is declining, and it’s up to those of us with a passion for the sport to help reverse that trend.
There are many reasons for the declining number of anglers. Today’s kids are more wrapped up in television and video than ever. Many are into year-round sports programs. Far too many are into less desireable and even dangerous activities, as well.
Adult lives are busier than ever, too. A growing number of families don’t make the time for family activities. Today’s fuel prices may be a factor, too, when considering fishing vacations.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Opportunities to fish are everywhere. It’s simply a matter of taking advantage of them. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. In fact, June is a month when many states offer free fishing weekends when license requirements are waived, the weather is beautiful and most species of fish are accessible and cooperative.
If you are new to the sport, take a basic approach. Complicated and expensive tackle isn’t required. The idea is to get out and enjoy the outdoors and the tug of a fish on your line or that of a child, parent or grandparent.
For a few bucks, you can purchase a Zebco Quantum rod and reel combination that will put a smile on the face of almost any youngster. Add a few hooks, bobbers, split shot and bait, and you are set up to catch everything from panfish to bass, catfish and perhaps even walleye.
Pick a destination that is easily accessible from shore, and one that is loaded with fish. When the kids choose to stop fishing, it’s important that it’s because they’re tired of catch fish, not because they’re bored. Teach them how to cast, how to tie knots, how to identify fish and how different species prefer different habitat and food.
It doesn’t matter how big the fish are during those first experiences. Put the foundation in place, then build on it. Next time out, try casting for bass or northerns or jigging for walleyes. Try new bodies of water. Wade a stream for smallmouth. Rent a canoe or a boat.
Turn those days into family outings. Grill some burgers and brats. Play catch with the kids. Toss a frisbee for the dog. Sunbathe or swim. For a real taste of the outdoors, consider a shore lunch.
If you’re completely uncomfortable serving as host for a fishing outing, consider taking your guests on a guided trip where all the expertise, tackle and bait is provided.
For $200 or $300, you can enlist the services of a professional who knows exactly where to go and what to do. Charter fishing trips for trout and salmon on the Great Lakes are an ideal option for larger groups, and nothing can compare to the thrill of doing battle with a 20-pound salmon.
Maybe it’s time to pay back those who introduced you to fishing, whether that’s parents, grandparents or neighbors who are no longer comfortable venturing out by themselves.
Maybe there’s a brother or sister who has always wanted to try muskie fishing. Maybe it’s a parent who has never caught an 8-pound walleye. Maybe there’s a friend or relative with children of their own who want to learn the art of angling so they can pass it on to their kids.
If you are fortunate enough to own a well-equipped boat, take new anglers with you. Kids, in particular, are fascinated by today’s technology and will be glued to the Lowrance sonar unit or the underwater camera. I’ve also thrilled a few with a 60 mph ride in my Mercury-powered Triton 215X.
These days, few families share the fishing tradition. It’s not too late to get started, and June is the perfect month. While they may not agree at present, someday your kids will thank you.
And chances are, they’ll turn out to be good kids, too. I can’t think of many anglers who aren’t also good citizens and good people.
So get going. Few things in life are forever. Fishing is one of them.