National Fishing Week (July 7 to 13 this year) always takes place when, in most parts of Canada, give or take the annual Alberta monsoon, the fishing, finally should be looking up, and catching fish is important to the stated aim of the week: “to promote the enjoyment and tradition of sportfishing.”
Alberta sweetens the pot further: “to encourage folks to give fishing a try, any person may fish without an Alberta Sportfishing Licence” on the weekend of July 12 and 13.
Years ago, the late Lloyd Graff and I presented an all-winter fly fishing course for Ken Lunn’s Cub pack. Graduation ceremonies involved a campout mid-July fishing trip to Pincher Creek, arguably Alberta’s best stream for teaching beginning fly fishers.
But the monsoon hit and raged all weekend, collapsing, tumbling and tangling tents.
Pincher, usually a small foothills creek, became a raging brown river, and few trout were caught, most of them over on the Crowsnest River, which, miraculously, the monsoon had missed.
Yet I still hear from many of those Cubs, now in their 40s, about how they’ll never forget that great trip.
People think and often ask about the best ways to get children started fishing.
With very rare kids, it is easy; they were born to fish and, at about three or four, start nagging to go each and every time you do, and never complain, no matter how tough things get on some trips.
I have known half a dozen such prodigies — was one myself — and remain puzzled that the perfect recreation did not last into early adulthood with more than half of them. Perhaps they got too good too fast and just burnt out.
How to get kids started fishing so it lasts has been studied to death, and some of the conclusions mesh with what 45 years of introducing beginners to fishing have taught me.
Best age to start is suggested to be 10, but I have found six down even to three to be good, depending on the spontaneous interest shown by the child.
The studies say kids prefer fishing from shore to being confined in a boat and I agree.
My only exception was once when I had to take too many kids and needed to corral them somewhere I could keep my eye on them.
An obvious choice was my boat, 10 feet from shore on a lake full of perch ravenous for worms, leeches and maggots, “ickies” that most of the kids would handle themselves, so eager were they to get their bobbers and baited hooks back into the water.
With a kid who shows interest, plan a special trip; don’t just let him or her tag along on one of your own trips.
Above all, never drag a kid on your fishing trip just because it is your turn to babysit. Several adults have told me how such agonizing, tedious, sit-in-the-car scenarios turned them off fishing forever.
Take the beginner to the tackle shop, maybe to buy a quality, simple spin-casting outfit, some hooks, bobbers, maybe even some bait, and let the kid participate in your questioning of the dealer about what’s hot and not, including places to go. Back home, do some basic knot-tying and lawn-casting away from the excitement of the river, lake or stream.
The bobber is important for beginners, because it provides ample weight for a good cast and suspends the bait (where allowed) at the right depths. It also provides anticipation and excitement of the first tentative bobbles to the sudden plunge when the nibbler has made up its mind.
Perch in lakes are great for beginners, but recent reader reports that the goldeye are back, right on time, in my favourite Red Deer River hole remind me of what a superb beginners’ fish the goldeye is.
Where “bait” is not allowed, just tie on an artificial grasshopper pattern on a meter behind the bobber, or actually fly cast the hopper.
The more the hopper swings around, even leaving a wake, the better goldeyes like it.
The added bonus at this time of year is that the goldeye will “bite” in muddier water than any other Alberta fish.
Leave your own rod at home. I have one superb kid-size fly outfit I have shared with dozens of kids while teaching them to fly fish.
Take lots of good snacks and cold drinks.
Talk with the child, about all manner of interesting and important things, including whether or not anything caught may legally be kept, and why.
Take a camera, in hopes of preserving the priceless memory of a first fish.
If the kid goes off on a tangent, participate.
Son John once showed me how you dismantle a whole beaver dam just to get sticks for our then Brittany, Quince, to retrieve.
Above all, when the child has had enough and wants to go home, go, in the interest of him or her wanting to come again, and again, maybe even of fishing becoming a rewarding life sentence.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.