by The Anonymous Deckhand
Working on boats we hear this question a lot. Now that school is almost out it gets asked more frequently too. The answer to this in most cases is "Yes, please do"! The best thing for a kid's first trip or two is to make it as easy on them as possible. Trying to plan for when there will be good weather is a no brainer. I'd also suggest perhaps taking an easier type of trip for a youngster's first couple, perhaps a trip for bottom species like rock fish or sandbass on the west coast, or fluke/flounder or maybe cod on the east coast. The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, the kid will likely catch something which holds their interest. Secondly, the wide open riot of a hot albacore bite can be intimidating for a new adult angler! How much more so for a child?
We like seeing kids coming out on the boats with their parents or grandparents. When they are a little older and a bit more experienced, some can even come out by themselves. (This is how we sometimes find our younger summer crew members!) Let's face it. If kids don't come out and find out just how much fun fishing is, we'll all be out of a job sooner or later. It's a known thing in the sport fishing community that the average age of our passengers is getting a little older every year. So having kids out with us is a very good thing. Not only does it insure the future of our sport, but it gets them outside and away from the computer, video games, and the TV. How could any video game ever compare with an albacore or a yellowtail ripping line off a youngster's reel in a rod bending run for freedom?
Still, there can be a few problems and most of these are not the fault of the young boy or girl. Oh sure, there are the occasional behavioral problems with those who are a bit on the spoiled side. But what I've seen to be the problem most often was when a dad brings junior along more as an excuse to go fishing, rather than to spend time with his son or daughter. Far too often I will see a man bring a child out fishing with him and basically ignore him or her the entire time, and fish as though they came by themselves! To leave a kid to their own devices in what to a beginner is a completely foreign environment with it's own set of rules is just plain wrong! It is a truly sad situation. Guys like this seem to think that the skipper and deckhands are a baby sitting service. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in a hot bite. Will most of us help a kid every chance we get? Sure we will! Not simply because it's our job, but because we still remember being young and appreciating the help we received on a boat. It's a real treat for a kid when the captain has a bit of time and comes down to teach a kid how to pick a hot bait, how to cast, and what to do when he or she gets hooked up to a fish! But how much more of a treat is it for that same kid to be shown these things by their dad or their granddad? Some of my best memories of growing up were fishing with my dad and my grandfathers. Let's not leave mom or grandma out of it either! I've seen some women fishing who on any given could out fish anyone on the boat!
The better examples are those who bring their young fishermen out and take the time to show them how and teach them. Over the years I came to know that most of these sort of parents did this because their folks had done the same thing for them. I've actual seen a couple of dads who only brought along enough gear for their child and none for themselves. Maybe just a couple of rods and a small tackle box with only the essentials in it. They stayed with their kid the whole time, not "hovering", but helping and encouraging as needed. How to tie a good knot or two, how to pin a bait on the hook and get it in the water, proper casting technique, how to fight a fish and bring it to gaff, and such like.
I've seen a few particular kids over the years that I really didn't want to have back out on any boat I was working on, and thankfully they were few and far between. But by and large most of the problems I've seen have been with the parent, (usually a dad.), who brings them out. If you want to completely turn a kid off to something, try hollering at them or criticizing them a bunch in front of a group of complete strangers. When the kid ends up looking down at the deck most of the time, there is a problem. As deckhands we will try and help get such a kid involved and having fun as much as time allows us. (If we are not doing that then we aren't doing our job!) But we can't be there every second when there is a full boat load of passengers.
One of the finest examples of wonderful "dad behavior" I have ever witnessed was a kid that had hooked a bluefin tuna on light gear. The dad followed the kid up and down the rail, coaching him quietly in a low even tone of voice the whole time, never raising his voice or hollering at the kid. One of our crew was also there to help keep the young angler out of trouble. The fight was going on for a while and we all knew that the kid's chances were slim, but he stuck with it until the line finally parted. The look on the youngster's face showed how crestfallen he was at losing the fish. It was his first big fish and he badly wanted it in the boat. But when he looked up his dad was smiling broadly and said "You did everything right, that just happens some times". The look on the boy's face eased as his dad told him that his outfit was too light for the beast he'd hooked since the kelp we'd been fishing was loaded with firecracker yellowtail and the tuna wasn't expected. He also told his son that he was proud of the way he'd fought that fish, doing everything right and giving it all he had. The dad said there would be other opportunities in the future and that he'd get the big fish next time. Then he asked his young son "Was it fun"? The boy looked up beaming and said "Heck yeah it was"!
The real capper was when the kid walked down the rail to go tie on another hook. Two of the regular old salts had watched most of the battle and as they boy walked by they patted him on the shoulder and said "You done good kid! Good job! You'll get 'em next time"! Judging by the look on his face, I think the young man could could have walked on water right then.