Vol 37 | Num 3 | May 16, 2012
Article by Capt. Mark Sampson
Most sportsmen will agree that time spent in the woods or on the water is as necessary to their own health (and perhaps sanity) as anything else in life. Getting out and about in the natural world tends to put many of life's problems into perspective; it calms the spirit, and relieves our daily stress. Of course, those with a home and family know that time-off from work doesn't necessarily translate to time spent with rod or gun in hand. Far too many responsibilities follow the family-man or woman around to allow them to go directly from work to play.
Happily, enjoying outdoor recreation and spending time with our children need not be mutually exclusive passions. Combining the two can lead to rewards far beyond anything anyone can achieve by going it solo. Adults who have helped children catch their first fish, or take their first game, know the immense satisfaction derived from introducing a youngster to a part of life that will never be experienced from an X-Box game or a computer monitor.
But sportsmen who take youngsters out hunting or fishing must also keep in mind that their own priorities will probably have to be altered to accommodate their apprentice tag-a-longs. Rather than worrying so much about the outcome (what is caught or killed), the focus of the day must fall more on the total experience and lessons learned by going through the motions. Sure, a child would like to shoot a bunch of ducks or catch a stringer of flounder, but even if they don't, you can bet that they're going to have a ball trying. They'll also be ready to go again the first chance they're given, unless perhaps some adult paints the outing as unsuccessful and a lousy time just because they didn't "get anything."
Taking a child along on a hunting or fishing trip requires adults to slow down and be ready to exhibit extra measures of patience and tolerance. Try as they might, young children simply cannot keep up with, or endure, so much of what adults can - simply because they're small. Children get cold easier, get tired quicker and hungry more often.
In order to keep up with an adult's normal walking pace, a small child must walk twice as fast. Their little feet will constantly get stuck in muddy holes and every time you pull them out their boots will come off. Kids can have trouble keeping quiet, still and focused for long periods of time as they wait for game to come or fish to bite. They will learn to overcome these setbacks, but in the meantime adults must be patient, take it all in stride, and do their best to make a child's time outdoors as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Sportsmen must also be prepared for odd reactions by children who don't always know what to do as events unfold. A friend told me about taking his son along with him while bow hunting one morning. The little guy sat very quietly in the tree stand with his father until a huge buck deer stepped into view.
Suddenly he jumped up and shouted, "There's one dad!" Needless to say "dad" could only sit and watch as one of the biggest deer he'd ever seen turned tail and ran off. Fortunately my friend had the good sense not to get mad at his son, using the experience instead as a way to explain how easily a deer will react to a yelling, screaming and jumping six year old.
A while back I had a group book my charter boat for a day of bluefishing. Among them were a couple of young children. Their father was hoping that the sight of a big bluefish would not frighten either of his children. As we waited for the chum to attract something to our hooks, the kids passed their time playing with the small baitfish we had laying in a bucket of ice at the back of the boat. After a while they started periodically dropping a bait overboard and staring into the water as it sank out of sight - or so we thought.
"Better not throw all our bait overboard or we won't have any left to fish with." I said, as another piece hit the water.
“We're feeding the sharks” one replied.
“But that's our bluefish bait.” I reminded them.
“Sharks like it too," another one said.
“What makes you so sure?"
It wasn't until I heard "we see them eating it" that I got off my butt, walked to the back of the boat to see what was going on. I was amazed to find two 4-foot dusky sharks happily snapping up every bait the kids were dropping overboard. I walked into the cabin and told their father that he needn't worry about his kids being frightened by big bluefish.
Adults should look for the chance and welcome every opportunity to take a youngster along their outdoor adventures and remember that, unlike so many of us "old folks," a fun time outside for kids doesn't require that there be a hard and fast goal like catching a cooler full of fish or shooting a bunch of game. Children will certainly get a kick out of that too, but they can also have very memorable times poking around local marshes, exploring woodlots, going for a boat ride or hiking down the beach. In other words - just getting outside.
Remember too the inescapable fact that someday we’ll all be “too old” to go fishing or hunting by ourselves, and when we reach that stage of our lives we’ll be hoping that our children or grandchildren will remember how many times we took them along on such trips and reciprocate by taking the time and making the effort to do the same for us.
Finally, there’s no need for anglers to leave their kids at the dock just because they enjoy the fun and competition of tournament fishing. This summer there’s at least four tournaments in Ocean City that either have youth divisions or are directed at kids altogether:
June 14-16, Ocean City Shark Tournament, Ocean
City Fishing Center, www.ocsharktournament.com
July 21 & 22, 8th Annual Kids Classic, Ocean City Marlin Club, www.ocmarlinclub.com
September 9, Bahia Marina Flounder Pounder, www.bahiamarina.com
September 11, 11th Annual Memorial Spot Tournament, Ocean City Fishing Center, www.ocfishing.com
Captain Mark Sampson is an outdoor writer and captain of the charter boat “Fish Finder”, docked at the Ocean City Fishing Center.