“Take me fishing!”

“Take me fishing!”
Youngster having fun with nearshore redfish.
Offshore is not where the average angler makes their debut to the sport of fishing.  More likely would be years along riverbanks or on a lake or bay.  Jetty trips are an in-between of sorts, often igniting a passion for greater adventure that will lead to their first offshore experience.
“Take Me Fishing” is the slogan used by Texas Parks and Wildlife for their program or basic guideline on introducing new anglers to our sport. In this day and time the number of young and not-so-young novice anglers entering our sport seems to be dwindling. Television, shopping malls, computers and even virtual hunting and fishing games seem to be captivating our younger crowd more so than actual involvement in the sport itself. There are many publications with excellent advice on introducing newcomers to the sport of fishing, but they seem to always omit the boating experience and how it can affect the overall enjoyment (or fear) during that first day offshore.

I am often asked by customers just what age is too young to be taken along on a fishing trip. I never seem to have a definitive answer for them and often lay that decision back at their feet with a little to think about.  I remind them that they obviously know their child better than I and also emphasize that taking a youngster offshore is not something to be entered into lightly.

The first thing I ask them is just what do they hope to accomplish on the trip. I stress that it should be about the young angler, not about watching the adults fish. Secondly, we must consider the water conditions. All of us can remember fishing in seas too rough for kids and adult novices. But do we consider that average conditions can still be intimidating?

I am reminded of a lesson from my mother. For the longest time she was intimidated by boats and water. She just didn’t like them unless the conditions were extremely calm.  After years of watching my father and I come and go, and listening to our stories of snapper, kingfish and the like, she decided she was ready to try her hand at offshore fishing. It was a beautiful morning and nice enough that I didn’t even back off the throttles as we made our way through the jetties. The water was rolling gently in long swells and as usual my mind was occupied with where we were headed, what was rigged and ready, and how many fish we might be able to catch. She was seated ahead with my father and I couldn’t see her face as the boat ran over the swells toward the expanse of the Gulf.

To me it was an all or nothing endeavor. I was willing to go as far as I needed to put her on a great day. To her it was a whole new world and I was entering it the way a bull would enter a china closet. It never occurred that she might not be enjoying it nearly as much as I was.   
As we broke the end of the jetties I noticed my father looking back at me and eventually putting his index finger in the air with the universal “turn this rig around” sign. Thus ended our day offshore, but to everyone’s enjoyment, began one of the best redfish days I ever experienced with my family aboard.

This one experience alone taught me that although we can be mindful of the usual details and concerns of introducing the young and novice to the sport of offshore fishing; the offshore boating experience on the way to the fishing grounds can be the most intimidating and important aspect. We not only have the responsibility of everyone’s safety but we need to consider their enjoyment as well. Achieving this will likely have the greatest impact on whether they will embark on a lifelong passion for the sport we are introducing.  

With new anglers, young and not-so-young, I have to remind myself constantly (as we all should) that their expectations are nothing like ours. Making their first trip offshore as safe and enjoyable as possible should be our first priority. Make their first trips short and keep them on fish, even if the species may not be the most glamorous. Take the time to show them that the real thing beats anything Microsoft or Apple can build into the latest gaming software. To borrow another slogan from our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Life’s Better Outside.”