The town of Suwanee, Fla. has a gas station, two restaurants, two marinas, one grocery store and one stoplight.
You won’t find a Wal-Mart or a condo anywhere in sight, which is unusual on either coast of Florida. There’s one road in, one road out, a winding route that cuts through forests of pine and hardwood. You don’t stumble upon Suwannee. You’re there for a reason.
It’s a fishing hamlet off the Nature Coast of Florida, nothing more. It’s where I first learned to fish more than 40 years ago. There were bass in the river and reds and seatrout on the flats.
Although the muddy water doesn’t jell with my passion for sight fishing, I returned to Suwanee a few times this past summer, not to fish, but to reflect on my boyhood.
There was the time that a huge catfish, the highlight of the year for a first-grader, stuck its dorsal fin through my palm; or the time that I battled what I thought was a giant bass only to learn it was a gar.
The older I get, the more I treasure those memories. If I don’t have any children, but if I did, I would certainly introduce them to fishing, not because I love it, but because there are so many lessons to be learned from time on the water.
Below are a couple tidbits should make the experience more enjoyable for the child and adult.
Keep it simple
The rod and reel need not be complicated. I started with a little closed-faced Zebco and a tiny fiberglass rod that my grandfather had cut down to size for my small hands. I didn’t get an open-faced reel until I was much older, so the tangles from backlash were kept to a minimum.
Kids want action; they don’t have enough of an attention span to sort through a bird’s nest of mono. A simple combo rod and reel will do. TFO’s Trout/Panfish rod, due out later this fall, is a good option for youngsters. It comes in four different sizes as well as one and two-piece setups.
“These rods are light, easier for people to handle,” Jim Shulin, TFO’s Director of Sales/Conventional, said. “It allows the little fish to show off, too. It’s not just for kids, by the way. There are no inserts to break, so it’s very durable. They’re very responsive, really nice rods.”
Make It Fun
No trips at the crack of dawn. Keep things short and manageable. I may want to fish hard all day after a long week at the office, but a kid may want to go home after an hour or two. So, go to a public park with a stocked pond. If the fishing slows to crawl, hit the swings or the monkey bars. You’re there for your child, not the other way around.
I, for instance, love fly fishing. However, I would not force that on a first-time youngster. I would grab a bobber, hook, small split shot and a carton of earthworms. You can look for the worms in the yard before you go. Incorporate basic science to complement the search. Let them root around the mulch, so they feel as if they’re a part of the process. Teamwork is important.
Kids are a work in progress. What they may be interested in one day may not be what they’re interested in the next. Fishing interested me until I got to high school. Sports, girls and the need for a social life then took priority. That trend continued through college. A few years after graduation, a fly fisherman from work took me to a Virginia spring creek. From that point, I was addicted. Truth is, my love for fishing never waned, but personal growth does not follow a linear path. Parents need to understand that there will be peaks and valleys.
With fishing, you read the water and conditions. You plan and you plot, but even after all that strategy, we really never can control the outcome. It’s the perfect exercise for problem solving. That, for me, was an invaluable skill to acquire.
Others learn to appreciate different attributes. A love for nature, the thrill of the chase and the sheer solitude come to mind. Fishing is a great teacher. The earlier you become a student, the better. Play it forward. Another generation awaits.