When my kids were a lot younger, I really wanted them to learn how to fish. I had visions of them getting older and biking to a local pond with friends and spending the day lazily fishing. Isn’t that the idealistic, storybook activity that all kids should do in the summer? I knew as my kids grew up, the lure of screens and devices would win out most days, so I wanted to foster an activity that would get them outside and slow down time. Neither my husband nor I grew up fishing and we had zero knowledge of how to get started. But, this was really important to me, so I nominated myself to teach them. Surely I could just figure it out. How hard could this be?
I will never, ever forget our first attempt at fishing nearly 9 years ago. We didn’t have fancy equipment, in fact, we didn’t have any equipment. I thought it would be more fun, more rustic if we used long sticks and tied some string to the end with a hook…very Tom Sawyer, don’t you think? Because I couldn’t bring myself to skewer an innocent worm, we used little pieces of beef jerky as our bait (as suggested to us by a nice older gentleman in the fishing aisle at Walmart). I did, however, bring along an old winter glove (in case my kids actually caught a fish and I had to touch it), my husband’s Swiss army knife (because it sounded like something I should pack) and a lot of hope that we wouldn’t see a single fish. In my mind, it was more about the “experience”. As luck (or skill with a stick and dehydrated beef) would have it, within minutes, Zachary got a tug on his line. The man in Walmart was right, fish actually do like Slim Jims! While holding the little fish with my fleece glove, I tried to dislodge the hook with my free hand, but it appeared to be in the fish’s stomach. I figured this was a good opportunity to use the pliers on the Swiss army knife, but I couldn’t get it opened with only one free hand. I might have unleashed a string of profanities at this point and scared my kids, but the details are fuzzy. Josie was now sobbing as I tried (unsuccessfully) to get the hook out of what seemed like the fish’s bowels and Zachary was screaming, “Mommy, you’re killing him!” I kept putting the fish back in the water to spare it some agony while I figured out what to do. I swear, each time I took the fish out of the water to look at it, the hook was sliding farther down inside it’s body.
After a few minutes, a nice man (honestly, he was probably only 12 or 13 years old, but he seemed so mature to me in that moment) came over and asked if we needed help. Maybe the fact that my kids and I were now openly crying might have tipped him off that something was wrong. With ease and confidence, he took the fish from my soggy glove and used a set of his own pliers to unhook the fish and put it back in the water. I didn’t look to see if it swam away or floated belly up, I just wanted to get my hysterical kids back to the car while profusely thanking the man/boy. We returned home emotionally exhausted and frayed after only 10 minutes of actively fishing. How do people actually do this as a leisurely activity?
I am not one to give up after a bit of defeat, in fact, it makes me want to try even harder. So, a couple of weeks (and a handful of fishing YouTube videos) later, I gingerly asked my kids if they wanted to try fishing again. I thought I would be met with resistance and maybe even some PTSD behaviors, but my kids were game and so was I! This time, I had the Swiss army pliers ready and open, I bought a “real” fishing glove and we even brought along some worms we found in our compost bin. “I can and will do this”, I kept repeating to myself on our way to the pond. I am very happy to report that our second attempt at fishing was a resounding success. Josie caught 22 fish and Zachary caught 17, yet I am unsure whether or not it was the same, unlucky fish they caught each time. Did I struggle releasing any hooks that day? Sure I did, but this time I had the pliers ready and I released the hooks as best I could and placed the fish back in the water. No one cried that day and to my knowledge, no fish died. I’d say that was a success!
At present day, I wouldn’t say we’re savvy anglers, but we sure have progressed over the years. We went from sticks and string to real fishing rods and real tackleboxes full of supplies. We regularly visit our local bait store to buy worms, ask questions and listen to their advice. I am constantly watching other people fishing near us, learning from what they do or don’t do. Fishing with my kids has become an activity that means so much more to me than just catching and releasing fish, it has taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: it’s all about progress, not perfection. If we strive for perfection each time we go fishing (or each morning we wake up), we will inevitably be disappointed because no one is perfect, no one has all the answers. Some days we catch fish and no one gets a hook caught in their hair, other days, I’m screaming on the dock to “LOOK BEHIND YOU BEFORE YOU CAST, ZACHARY!”. Some days, I am proud of the mom I am and others…I question why I got out of bed. But, each day I wake up and each time I take my kids fishing, I try to be open to what the experience will bring, what will unfold in front of me and how I will react. I couldn’t be more honest when I say that in life and in fishing, I have no idea what I am doing most days and I don’t get it “right” most of the time. However, I try to learn from those around me who are smarter, have more experience and are willing to share their time. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better tomorrow than we were today.