First-time fishing: some hints for a child's first angling experience

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

I'd planned a few times to take my 9-year-old friend, Pyke, out fishing this season, but I kept putting it off for just the right day. Finally, on a recent Thursday, the weather, tides and even the coho were cooperating.

A child's first fishing experiences can be great fun or a terrible bore. If you want that child to be your fishing partner in the years ahead, it's important to plan that trip to include a fair share of success. Here are a few pointers.

First, be sure there's a good chance to see some quick action. Patience, I think, is not well developed in most us until well past our first decade. That's why I chose this day to take Pyke fishing: There were enough cohos and pinks around by then, and I was sure it wouldn't be long between bites. The weather promised to be beautiful, and there was a tide change at 10 in the morning so we wouldn't have to get too early a start.

Even in the best of times catching fish is never a certainty, but a trip can be fun without fish if there are whales to watch and enough junk food along to feed an army - or a 9-year-old. But in all this, I had to keep in mind that I was taking a 9-year-old fishing, not going fishing myself. Any fish we got would be Pyke's fish; I'd bait the hooks, set out the lines and coach him as much as possible, but it was up to him to reel them in.

With all this in mind, Pyke and his mom, Barbara, met me at Tee Harbor at 8 in the morning, about three hours later than I usually leave. We ran out to Handtrollers Cove and dropped a crab pot before we started fishing. I set out the lines, one with a green hoochie and one with a small whole herring. I began explaining to Pyke how to hold the rod when, of course, we got a double. I set the hook on the flat line and gave it to Pyke while Barbara grabbed the other rod. I told her to keep the fish away from the downrigger cable, then hung back and watched.

Pyke was truly glowing when he landed his fish a few minutes later and wasn't bothered at all when I said we'd release him because we didn't keep pinks. His mom's fish, a coho of about 12 pounds, turned out to be the only coho we caught that day.

For about the next hour, amidst a sideshow of feeding humpbacks, we were catching one pink after another. Normally that many pinks would cause me to pick up and try another spot, but Pyke was starting to figure out that fishing was pretty neat. About then the downrigger popped and the reel starting screaming. I set the hook and gave the rod to Pyke. It felt like a nice fish, certainly nicer than the pinks we'd been catching. It was, but it wasn't quite nice enough: It was a feeder king of about 25 inches. If I ever wanted to keep an undersize king, this was the one. But when I explained to Pyke that kings had to be 28 inches long to keep, it was apparent he understood both the law and the ethics of catch and release. I couldn't have been happier.

Shortly after we caught the king, Pyke seemed hot and tired, so we headed back. On the way in, we stopped to check the crab pot. It had an undersize male, a female and a huge male. I showed Pyke the difference between males and females and explained that dungies had to be male and 612 inches long to keep. After returning the others to the sea, I asked Pyke if he wanted to take the big one home for dinner. He said no, we should release that one too. Sure, I said. Keeping a single dungie is almost more work than it's worth. And it's never too early to start teaching catch and release, but Pyke was ahead of me on that lesson.

Back at the harbor I promised Pyke that we'd catch the big one next time.

His reply: "I caught seven today."

Bill Brown is an avid fisherman who runs a reel repair shop in Juneau. He can be reached at 789-2448 or

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