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Teachable Moments


Illustration by Scott Pollack

Bad weather’s no match for the young at heart.

It wasn’t ideal boating weather, with a steady ENE breeze and summer rain. But enthusiastic six-year-olds don’t notice such things. When they want to go fishing, nothing can get in the way—not wind, rain, TV, or even the computer.

I am sure my father experienced the same thing when he taught me to fish. But now it was my turn, and the student was my nephew. If you want to be successful teaching children to fish, remember two things: Keep it simple and make it fun. Keep it simple by going after fish that are easy to catch; make it fun by fishing where you get a lot of bites. Out on my Manasquan River, the incoming tide and onshore wind would offer some excellent drifting—perfect for targeting fluke.

I was more concerned if there would be enough action to keep my nephew distracted if the weather turned really sour. By the time we made our first drift, the rain was over for the day. It was still cloudy and a little breezy, but we were fishing and that’s what mattered most.

Drifting in the breeze and with a steady current, we covered ground smartly. No sooner did I have a second line in the water than my nephew suddenly found his fishing rod warped over. Sure enough, the river had sent up a small fluke.

Flatfish like fluke are oddballs and children look upon them with wonder. Of course, what they give up in the good-looks department they make up as table fare. But this one was undersized and had to be released. The camera was handy, and I snapped away as my nephew proudly held his prize. More important, he understood the reason behind setting the fish free so it could grow larger. I was proud, too.

After rebaiting his hook, I soaked my line for a few minutes. But we had drifted far and decided to pull in the baits and return to the spot where we’d started. Drifting works well with children because a barren patch of bottom lets you pick up the lines and move the boat, giving the crew a chance to munch on marshmallow pies and sip fruit drinks—gear that’s just as important as squid, hooks, and sinkers when fishing with youngsters.

Our second drift produced my first fluke, which my nephew helped net. But we weren’t setting the world on fire. We took a ride to the deep hole north of Treasure Island, and this time we struck pay dirt. I released another short flattie, but it was the sea robin I reeled in that fascinated my young partner. Between its green eyes and the croaking from its air bladder, my nephew wasn’t at all sure about this latest river bounty. Bravely, he touched the sea robin’s delicate fanning wings and the soft barbells under its jaw. That six-inch sea robin packed a load of awe, glee, and laughter for a small child.

The river continued to be good to us. Several more small fluke and sea robins came to the boat. All were released unharmed. But the highlight of the day came when my nephew captured a legal-sized fluke, our last catch of the afternoon. When the fish hit I watched him struggle and knew this one might count. He followed my instructions to keep the fish in the water while I grabbed the net. Just one inch over legal size, it was the largest fish we caught that day. And just like that we had another fisherman in the family.

When the Manasquan gets crowded, it’s not always easy to find a quiet place to fish from a small boat. The same can be said about any popular spot, even in a big boat. But there’s always room to take a child fishing. And if you play your cards right (cut the bait and bring the snacks) you’ll probably have a fishing partner for life. It worked for my father and I’m glad for the opportunity to make it work for me. We’ll be out again tomorrow.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.