Aidan Mass caught his first fish at Family Fishing Day three years ago and he was hooked.
Any 4-year-old would be, the way Aidan describes it.
"I like to catch fish and eat them," said Aidan, now 7. "It's fun just seeing the fish wiggling and stuff."
Now Aidan has his own pole and tags along with any friend who's going fishing, said his mom, Rebecca Mass.
"In fact, I have six dead fish in my refrigerator right now," Mass said Friday
Mass said her son would never have had the chance to fish if it weren't for the free Family Fishing Day, which takes place again this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. As a single, non-fishing, mom, she wasn't about to teach him.
"I've never picked up a fishing pole," said Mass. "That's one of the things I thought was pretty cool about fishing day was I got to expose my son to something that if it was just me, Aidan would never do."
Not only does the Alaska Department of Fish and Game loan out poles to youngsters at the fishing day, they have experts on hand to show kids how to catch fish. The first year Aidan and Rebecca Mass went, a volunteer spent most of the time with Aidan, helping him cast and catch fish. Now Aidan can cast the line and reel it in on his own, and he knows when he has a fish on, Mass said. But she'll take him back to Twin Lakes again this Saturday to get more pointers from the volunteers.
"It's free. They give you everything," Mass said. "They give you instructions. They clean the fish."
Family Fishing Day is the ideal place for children to catch their first fish, partly because the chances of catching fish are very good, said fishery biologist Mark Schwan. About 11,000 fish were recently released into Twin Lakes. This year the fish are larger than usual too, because warm winter temperatures allowed them to grow faster, Schwan said.
Fish and Game has about 100 rods to loan out Saturday. Schwan even lined up a supply of herring for bait. Because of the bait herring shortage he is using herring taken by the Fish and Game department as samples before the sac roe fisheries.
"It may not be the highest quality, but it should work fine," said Schwan.
Volunteers will also be rowing kids out onto the lake in flat-bottomed boats and skiffs for 20 minutes at a time to try fishing. Schwan recommends anyone with their own skiff to bring it, since there's usually a line for the boat rides.
"There aren't that many boats and it's a high-demand activity," Schwan said.
But a boat isn't necessary.
"The shoreline fishing should be easy and there are a lot of fish out there," Schwan said.
About 1,000 people usually stop by Twin Lakes for Family Fishing Day, Schwan said. Many bring their own poles, so at a given moment 300 people will be fishing.
Anyone younger than 15 can catch up to 10 fish without a license, but adults and older teens who are working their own pole need a fishing license.
Fishing can become a strong family bond, giving parents, children and grandparents an excuse to spend long hours together talking, said aquatic education coordinator John Lyman.
"To me, fishing is the best family activity there is, especially in the Juneau area," Lyman said. "You have long moments of silence interrupted by brief delight and so you fill those silences up. ... With my kids we'd go fishing and just sit around and talk."
Juneau has many easy fishing opportunities, from hiking to Windfall Lake to casting for Dolly Varden from the beach or going out in a boat, Lyman said. Once kids are interested in fishing, they'll also start paying more attention to their surroundings, Lyman said. He uses fishing to teach students about aquatic ecology.
"It's exceptional, because when you get into fishing it involves so much more," Lyman said. "When you really want to learn to fish you end up studying the ecology of the area, looking at the feed."
Despite the benefits of fishing, Lyman says at least a third of the kids in town don't fish. Sometimes the parents go fishing and leave the kids at home, Lyman said. Often the kids just don't have access to fishing gear. Or, like Aidan, they're parents just don't fish.
For all of them, Family Fishing Day is a good place to start. If the kids get bored of fishing, there will be other activities including the End of School Youth Fun Run starting at 10 a.m.
"Between the fun run and the carnival and the boating, even if you don't like fish I think it's one of the best kid's activities they have around," Mass said. "Even if you don't like the smell of fish, there's things to do."
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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