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Start ’em young
  |  First Published: August 2013



The esky was looking pretty healthy with a mixed bag of snapper, pearl perch and tuskfish giving the customers on board a healthy feed for their efforts.

The charter was about to get a bit more exciting as we idled up to one of my kingfish marks on the wider grounds off the Tweed Coast. The fish were marking up clearly on the big Humminbird and deckhand Deon had two live-bait rods and a jig ready to go.

A few drifts later we saw just about everyone on the boat happily complaining about sore arms – all but one of the customers had had a go. I came down from the flybridge and asked if we could give the young fellow a crack at them too and the answer was a big thumbs up from everyone on board.

The young bloke was 11 years old and it was his first time out on the ocean. Deon got him ready with a live bait and I pulled up for one more drift over the pinnacle.

The livie hit the bottom and the rod buckled over. The fish must have known something we didn’t, as it never even tried to brick the young fellow, instead coming straight up off the bottom.

Dad was keenly helping his son to slowly bring in the kingie when I suggested he grab his camera instead and try to film the event. Deon was handed the job of looking after the young fellow with Dad now happily filming.

After a good tussle the kingie was up and lifted into the boat. It was a reasonable fish around 10kg but for the young bloke and the proud Dad, it could have been a grander marlin.

It was simply overshadowed by the proud moment that they had shared together and captured on film.

Situations like this can make being a charter boat skipper the best job in the world. All the way back to the Tweed bar, the talk never revolved around the good-sized snapper or pearl perch or, for that matter, how many kingies we caught. It was about how well the young bloke had done to get his first one.

THE FAMILY VIEW

It is interesting how our fishing goals and ideals change once we have a family and our children get to that age when they want to go with us and are able to participate actively.

Tournament fishing and catching a heap of fish become secondary to our kids enjoying themselves. I still enjoy a good tournament or a day with a few mates but now much of my social fishing time is dedicated to my two sons, aged 5 and 3.

I started when I was 3 and loved every minute of it so I have tried to do the same with my boys, without forcing the issue. The problem is that one of them gets up at around 4.30am and the first thing he usually says is, “Daddy, let’s go fishing!”

It then becomes a case of explaining to him that it is a day-care day and Daddy has to work. The plus is that they are embracing the outdoors at a young age and are enjoying it, instead of sitting in front of the TV or playing computer games all the time.

My techniques have to change a bit and the venues I fish cater more for their needs. So let’s take a look at how I have changed my fishing habits to cater for the younger crew.

BOAT, TACKLE

My go-fast bass boat was replaced by a more sedate 4.2m Tabs Bull Shark with gunwales of a safer height for the boys. It has ample room for them to walk around in when they get bored.

It is versatile enough to access the dams and sheltered waterways and the Yamaha four-stroke is quiet and economical.

I really enjoy my bream and bass on the local creeks so most of my lighter spin gear is great for the boys and they can handle it reasonably comfortably.

They can enjoy the fight that a small to medium fish puts up and they can have a go at casting. Just remember to duck when they give this a go because it can be a bit interesting at times!

The one good thing is that they pick it up really quickly at a young age and are soon casting and reeling by themselves.

Similarly on our charter boat we always keep a few light spin rods on board just in case we get a few young anglers.

The heavier bottom-fishing rods can be quite cumbersome for a kid and they don’t generally enjoy the experience. If you give them stick a light spin rod spooled with braid, even a just-legal snapper will have them squealing with enjoyment.

On a recent charter to the continental shelf we had a 13-year-old boy whose dad let him have a chance on strike if we hooked a blue marlin. You can guess what happened.

The five adults were on strike without a touch and as soon as the young fellow climbed into the chair, a 100kg blue marlin jumped on the short rigger. We run only 50 wide reels on our chair rods because the majority of our clients are inexperienced and often struggle with the bigger, more bulky reels.

The kid handled it great and really quickly picked up the technique fighting a big fish from the chair.

We didn’t drive too hard on the fish, allowing the lad a bit of a break between reeling stints. About 25 minutes later we released the fish for him without anyone helping him at all. The young fellow and his dad were over the moon and I am sure will remember the capture for a long time.

KEEP INTEREST

Children have short attention spans. They will watch television all day if it is interesting and exciting but if it isn’t, they walk off to find something else to do. I suppose that we have all met a few adults that are the same.

The key is to keep things interesting.

If you are on the river, let them catch a few little bream or similar fish at the ramp on bait before heading off. It will give them something to talk about as you are driving around looking for the larger fish.

It also gives them something to look forward to at the end of the session if you haven’t had a very productive day.

Get them involved in gathering bait. Pumping yabbies can be a chore for adults but kids absolute love it – mud everywhere and little creepy crawly things that you can put in a bucket and play with!

A change of clothes is a definite when doing these types of things, especially if you like keeping your boat and car clean.

If you are heading offshore, let the kids catch a few yakkas or slimies for live bait. A few live fish swimming around in the bait tank will keep them entertained for a time and give you a chance to catch a few fish.

SAFETY

I probably don’t need to stress safety because most of the kids you will be taking fishing are your own and nothing could be more precious.

But there are a few precautions that must be considered. Children on boats must wear lifejackets all the time and this can be a bit of a pain if they are not used to it.

Try to find a lifejacket that fits well and is comfortable. The kids will enjoy their time on the water more and look forward to going again.

Keep sunscreen and hats on at all times and don’t forget to look after your own sun protection. Try to avoid peak mosquito and sandfly times or be prepared to use some repellent.

Keep up the fluids and for younger ones take along snacks, toilet paper and tissues.

SHORT AND SWEET

If you can, keep the time on the water as short and sweet as possible. If you drag it out, it becomes less enjoyable and the excitement part of the trip can dull very quickly.

If you have had a good time, it is up to you get off the water and let the kids help with the clean-up.

Unfortunately this normally means that it takes longer but hey, at least they are having fun. If you are really lucky the youngsters will fall asleep in the car on the way home and you can have a relaxing unwind yourself.

Watching the enjoyment on my kids’ faces, or for that matter on someone else’s child’s face, is gold. I get just as much pleasure from it as if I had hooked that fish of a lifetime.

Many of us have caught our fair share of fish over the years and it is definitely time to start educating the younger generations and introducing them to the pastime that we have come to love.

I can definitely say one thing after a few trips with my boys: I have come to the conclusion that my Dad must have had a lot of patience to put up with me – and I am forever grateful to him for that!

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