How to Teach Your Children to Love Fishing and the Outdoors
Fishing with my son and granddaughter
A Family Legacy
How to Teach Your Kids to Love Fishing and the Outdoors
As I watch my son John patiently bait my three-year-old granddaughter Lily’s pole for what seems like the hundredth time that day, and she is bouncing up and down impatiently waiting to get back to fishing, I think back to my own childhood and how much I loved to learn how to fish from my dad, as well as my introduction to nature.
I am the second daughter of four children. I have another sister and two brothers. We grew up in the 1960s and 70s in a very small town in upstate New York. You could throw a rock at one end of town and hit the other end. Our upbringing was pretty unusual for that day’s standard. At a time when conservation and being environmentally responsible was not really heard of yet, our father taught us exactly that. We always had a huge garden with an accompanying compost pile. We raised chickens and cows and pigs for meat, we recycled everything we could.
Yes, my father was a hippie before it was popular and taught us to live the same way, to always respect our environment. He never considered himself that, he just knew the damage being done to the environment through his work in the fishery department through the New York State Department of Conservation. He saw the damage done to the forests in the Adirondacks because of unchecked logging, he saw the lakes and streams polluted. From as early as I can remember, I have always been aware of the majesty of the outdoors, but also the fragile balance.
One of my earliest and better memories is the camping and fishing trips our father took us on. My father has always loved fishing (probably why he joined DEC!) and wanted to instill in us the same love. He would spend hours teaching us how to tie a fly, how to cast in all water conditions, even how to descale and clean a fish.
He also took us on camping trips where we learned how to tell what direction we were going by the moss on the tree (although I am still terrible in my sense of direction, to the chagrin of my father). He also taught us how to read tracks, what plants were safe to eat and what animals were present.
I’ll never forget my sense of wonder when walking quietly through the forest on a still summer morning while the fog was still lifting off the water. Or the first time I opened a milk weed pod to discover the milky substance within. Or the sight of a trout leaping out of the water on a warm summer evening to snatch an insect hovering too low over the water. Or the eerie call of a loon at night while snuggled in my sleeping bag.
These are all such good memories, but unfortunately life sometimes gets in the way. I grew up and although I have always respected the environment, I married a Navy man and spent the next 20 years travelling the world. I had two sons of my own, and although I passed on a lot of the things my father taught me to them, it wasn’t until my sons were teenagers and we were back in upstate New York, that we had a chance to put anything into practice.
Finally we had access to the incredible fishing streams and lakes. It turned out that both sons inherited their natural aptitude for fishing from my father and me. Now it was them roaming the back roads and abandoned train tracks in search of bass, trout and northern pikes. As they grew into adults, we made our final move here in Saratoga Springs, following my divorce.
Now they are adults and we are all rediscovering our love of the outdoors. As you know from my previous blogs, we live near Wilton Wildlife Preserve, which offers endless trails to hike and explore. The area is riddled with endless streams and lakes to fish, and there are also a multitude of camping opportunities.
So how do you teach your kids to love fishing and the outdoors? It’s very simple: expose them to it. Even before they can walk, you can take them for hikes, carrying them on your back in a carrier. I never owned a stroller when my boys were little. I carried them on my back everywhere we went. From their perch, they could observe everything around them. That’s not the case in a stroller.
When the kids are old enough to understand and are walking on their own, take them for short walks in the woods. Show them how to identify toad stools and trees. Show them how a pine cone feels, what a frog sounds like. Use a dip net in a pond and help them identify the different tadpoles and damsel fly larvae. The more enthusiasm you have and the more time you spend with them, the more they will want to learn.
But don’t stop there. Teach them how important it is to preserve the environment. Unfortunately, most people don’t respect the environment and throw their trash everywhere, even on pristine trails. Whenever you go out hiking, take along trash bags and teach your children to pick up trash. You can make a game out of it, with the kids competing on who can pick up the most trash. Teach them about how animals can be threatened by careless trash.
Take the children camping as much as you can. Teach them how to pitch a tent, start a campfire, chase fireflies and tell ghost stories while making S’mores. All of these memories will last a lifetime for them.
So today, the tradition is continuing for my family. My granddaughter Lily is the fourth generation of fishermen in my family. She is having the time of her life and will always remember the time her father (my son John) spent with her, how much he loves her and how much fun it is to fish. And I know without a doubt, she will pass on that love to her children and my father’s legacy will live on to the next generation.