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I recently attended a summer camp for teenage children suffering with various types of cancer and had a great time teaching some of them how to fish. Aside from the obvious, it was a great shock to me to hear that this was the first time most of the children had ever been fishing. We started out by asking that everyone give their name, hometown and their fishing experience. As each child introduced himself, nearly all ended their speech with, “I have never been fishing.”
Hmmmm... how can that be? You would think that somewhere along the line a parent, uncle, cousin or neighbor would have taken these kids to a stream or lake at least once in their short lives. It's true enough that the sport of fishing has turned into a tremendous industry, complicated by endless innovations in gear and tackle, but the basics of angling for fun have not changed. All that's needed is a rod, reel and line, a few hooks, bait and a place to fish.
On the simplest level (and probably the most fun for children), you can go to the nearest small pond or lake where there's a picnic table and some access to the water and set up shop for a morning or afternoon. The odds are that there will be enough bluegills, perch, horned pout or pickerel around to keep things interesting, and once in a while a big bass, trout or salmon may end up on the line.
For example, a great place to teach a kid to fish might be the bridge at Harlow Pond in Guilford. There is plenty of room here to cast, and the pond is full of perch and bluegills - perfect for a young angler's first trip. There is the possibility of catching bigger fish, but most kids will be happy with any kind of action, and catching small fish in great numbers is usually preferred.
You won't need to spend all day in the local tackle shop gearing up for a first-time trip. Any fishing rod and reel will suffice. I'd recommend putting new line on the reel (nothing's more disheartening to a new angler than constant tangles or a broken line at the moment of truth). Tie on a hook, maybe a split shot or sinker a few inches above that and a bobber a few feet higher and you're ready to go. Thread a worm, night crawler, grasshopper or cricket onto the hook and toss the rig as far out as you can reach, and then sit back and wait for a fish to find it.
I have fished Harlow Pond on very bad days and still caught perch after perch as fast as I could re-bait the hook - the place is loaded with such panfish. You can teach a young angler the nuances of casting along with the “wait till he takes the bait” routine, and let him learn on his own the best way to reel in his catch.
Most kids are intrigued and amused by the process, and most will want to do it all on their own once they get the hang of it. They may not catch many fish, and in fact may end up hopping along the lakeshore to catch frogs or crayfish, but that's all part of “fishing” at that age. The idea is to make it fun and educational - catching lots of fish, or focusing on big fish, can come later.
If I had to admit it, I'd say that catching fish is about 20 percent of the draw for me. I get just as much satisfaction out of being on the water, observing the various wild creatures around me and admiring the natural beauty of a summer day near the water.
I think the No. 1 attraction for me is the chance to encounter a stalk of cardinal flowers. I don't know why but I like anything red, and if you've ever seen a stalk of cardinal flowers along a road or waterway, you know that there's nothing else in the world quite as red as that! A member of the bluebell family, cardinal flowers are most apparent in the latter part of summer (meaning right now!) and they are extremely popular with one of our favorite wild creatures - the hummingbird. You can't miss these bright vermillion blossoms - the plant grows to four feet tall and is a bright, glowing red. You'll normally see them growing in small groups of from one to four stalks, but once in a while you'll encounter a larger clump of them - very attractive and appealing! The best part is that you'll see more of them if you are near water, and that's just another good rationale for spending the day “fishing.”
If you find yourself with nothing to do as we turn the corner into the end of summer, and you know a couple of kids who, for some reason or another have never been fishing, do yourself a favor and take them down to the water. My week with the Sunshine Camp kids was heart-rending in many ways, but I was surprised to find that, for the few hours we spent chasing bluegills in the shallows, all they had on their minds was how to get that fly out to that hungry little fish. Every kid who signed up for the class stayed with it all week (no dropouts) and that says something about them and the appeal of fishing to the younger set.
If you don't know anything about fishing but have a child or relative who wants to go, log onto the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Web site ( and see where the links lead you. There are fishing clubs, educational programs and how-to sites that will get you started. If nothing else, head for the local tackle shop and ask a knowledgeable clerk to help you outfit your youngster for a day on the water. It's easy, cheap and probably one of the few things your child will learn that he'll continue doing far into the future (one of our camp volunteers just turned 80 last week!).
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