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Feeding Fish? Take the Nightcrawlers. Leave the Fake Bait.

I cheapened fishing for my daughters. New Dads, learn from my mistake. Don't use artificial bait on your first fishing trip with your kids. I don't know what I was thinking. In my attempt to curb drama and avoid the Sanders Beauties seeing a nightcrawler and jumping headfirst into the lake, my girls’ interest in fishing may be forever scarred.

bgfisin resized 600From now on, when I take the girls fishing, they will get the full fishing experience. They will use real worms. This way, even if no fish are caught, they will still remember something interesting about the experience.

This was the first fishing trip with my two young daughters. We picked our spot on the dock and started readying ourselves to fish. Then came the ducks. Except to call these ducks “ducks” isn’t descriptive enough. Let’s call them “starving ducks.” So the starving ducks, no sooner than we sat down with our fishing gear, headed our way from the center of the lake.

Not only were these ducks starving. They were large. When I say “large” I mean the size of my second-born. These large, starving ducks decided we weren’t feeding them at the correct pace and jumped on the dock to eat our breadcrumbs faster, or eat my youngest daughter. Either way, after all the duck commotion, my five-year-old had readied herself to make her first cast.

To be sure Bella knew how to cast, I did a practice cast to show her how a professional does it. On that cast, something broke inside the fishing pole and the hook landed on the side of the dock. Five minutes in and we have starving, large ducks on the attack and a broken fishing pole…nice.

After spending a good 10 minutes (reminder: 10 minutes is 100 minutes in toddler time) dissembling and dissecting the Shakespeare Barbie Fishing Pole, we have working fishing poles and the ducks are starting to scatter. I didn’t get video, but Bella’s first cast was video worthy. Her cast was absolutely breath-taking; just like she had practiced in our house (yeah, that’s a separate blog post).

No sooner than the floater-thingy landed on the water, the starving, large ducks decided to try and eat my second-born. Now, no ducks were harmed on this fishing trip, but I may have cast in their direction a few times, to keep them safe. My youngest called it “hitting the ducks on the head” but I promise the number of duck heads hit on my watch was zero.

Maybe 10 minutes goes by, we get zero bites. The ducks were starving but the fish weren't. The duck-drama has mellowed out and boredom begins to seep in.

Dads of older kids, perhaps you’ve forgotten, but a five-year-old and a two-year-old at a lake with fishing poles doesn’t mathematically work unless something interesting is happening. If nothing interesting -- like catching fish -- is happening, the kids get bored really quickly and start thinking of things to toss in the body of water appearing in front of them. 

In an effort to keep the intensity and interest up about actually fishing in the lake instead of wanting to swim or toss objects in the lake, we decide to locate a second port of call on the lake. We find this great wooden dock. It’s perfect. Gabby learns to cast like her sister. Well, sort of; she caught the wooden dock and nearly submerged her fishing pole. She's the only one who can say she caught something on this trip.

The story doens't end there. On the return walk home, I’m carrying fishing poles and my wife wants to exchange fishing poles so I can carry our youngest. In our exchange, my wife gets pierced in the hand with both hooks from the fishing poles. Thus making our perfect fishing trip even better.

Once home and settled, the conversation with my five-year-old went like this:

Me: “Bella, did you have fun fishing?!”

Bella: “It wasn’t so great. It was boring.”

Me: “Did you like anything about fishing?!”

Bella: “No.”

That was the entire conversation. Maybe the evening would have been better spent watching Ice Age for the fifty-eleventh time. Bella was “bored” and we didn’t catch anything but bug bites, a wooden deck and mommy’s hand. But as the wise man Trace Adkins sings about spending time fishing with his young daughter, “...she thinks we're just fishing.”

I’m glad my wife and I managed to keep a five- and two-year-old dry and alive on our first fishing trip. Aside from Bella having a “not so great” time (as evidenced by the smiling picture above) and my lovely wife suffering minor injuries. We spent time connecting and creating a memory that will last for years. I agree with Mr. Adkins on fishing, “I better do this every chance I get...'cause time is ticking.”

But next time I'll remember -- take the nightcrawlers, leave the fake bait.

What did you do this week to connect with your kids?

This fishing trip was part of week one’s challenge to Gold Medal Dads to "Spend Time With Their Kids" from The Dad Games 2012.

dad games 12

This ain't about fishing

If you listen to your local country music radio station, you may have heard Trace Adkin’s new song “Just Fishin’.” If you haven’t heard it, you should… it’ll pull at your heart strings, even if you’re not a fan of country music.



This song resonates in a personal way with NFI’s Senior Director of Events and Logistics, Elaine Barber, because fishing with her dad is one of her favorite memories of childhood. Looking back now as an adult, she appreciates the significance of those moments together – as Trace Adkins says, it’s not just about fishing.

When I was 5 or 6, my Nana and Poppi had a motor home and we always used to go camping with them. I had a Snoopy fishing pole that my Poppi had gotten me and I always loved to fish with my dad when we were camping (which is funny because I don't even eat fish!) One time when we were camping, we forgot my Snoopy pole. I was so disappointed, but my dad made me a homemade fishing pole out of a stick, fishing wire, and hook -- with no reel! We used dough balls for bait and I caught more fish with that pole than ever before. We called it my Robinson-Crusoe fishing pole and my mom has it in her basement still 30 years later!

Flash forward 20+ years and in 2002, NFI awarded The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) a Fatherhood Award for a public awareness campaign they did titled "Take Me Fishing." One poster showed a picture of a little girl and her dad in a red fishing boat with the line, "Take me fishing because my wedding will be sooner than you think." I asked RBFF to provide me a copy of the poster which proudly hangs in my parent's house -- a reminder of all those wonderful times spent fishing -- just me and my dad.

Catch and Release: Like fishing, we have to let the kids go

This is a post by Evelyn Hines, NFI's Executive Assistant for Training and Technical Support. She and her husband have been married for 26 years and have three kids. She shares her memories of fishing with her daughter as part of NFI's campaign to "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Before I came on board with NFI in 2001, my husband and I had taught our three kids to be expert fishermen and a fisherwoman. As our kids grow older, we know that one day we will have to let them go, like "catch and release" fishing, and let them explore other waters.

My oldest son caught a wonderful wife and got married last year. My 15-year-old son, Jacob, is obsessed with the Marines so we expect him to cast his net into the military in a couple of years. My daughter, Jesse (Jacob’s twin), proudly exclaims “spell my name like Jesse James – no ‘ie’ at the end.” Such a tough teen! She does not wear jewelry or makeup, and her favorite shoes are a pair of grey Converse high tops with blue laces. She still loves to fish with maggots, tie on weights, and can cast with a 20lb test monofilament line as good as the old timers. While she is concerned about reeling in a walleye, dad’s eyes are downcast because a young man may soon catch her heart.

We looked at her intently this Memorial Day on our annual fishing trip. She is such a free spirit. While the noon-day sun burnt us like a toaster gone awry, we noticed the tinge of glow to her skin and highlights that the sun added to her hair that comes to the middle of her back. She is blossoming into a level-headed, beautiful young woman. No one caught a fish on our trip this year. As her mom, I know it was an omen and not just a bad day without a good fish story.

Inevitably, a handsome man will catch her heart and take her away from her first love – her daddy. As her father, he may ask for fishing trips together with her and her family, but he will always be "second string."

She may one day catch a husband, but the hobby of fishing is something she can pass on from her dad as a legacy to her own children. I hope we catch fish with her on every occasion, especially when her daughter one day turns 15.

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