Little Johnny needs bait; or does he?

Little Johnny needs bait; or does he?
Whoever said, “Johnny needs bait,” never fished with the Duncans.

I hear this often during summer. Hey Mike, I'd sure like to pull little Johnny down to fish with us, but he's only eleven so he will need some live bait to keep him interested. Can ya take care of it?

Well, certainly I can take care of it, and nothing against using bait, but uh... Can we talk?

A fishing trip can mean many things to a youngster, and a lot depends upon the host at the helm. If we just want a little quality time on the water with some fillets thrown in for justification, sure, let's get to chunkin' some organic material and get Johnny bit before he misses his favorite video gaming session. However, for the more progressive in us, there is so much more on that fishing table than simply some family bonding with family-sized baggies.

We should never discount a kid's desire and ability to both learn and do things well. Young brains are basically dry sponges ready to soak up anything that inspires them, and aside from common assumptions, fishing with lures can inspire quite a lot if we do it right. That's the whole key though, doing it right. It is summer, they're out of school and it's their turn, so let's use the Duncan clan as a great example of what else might tug on a kid while he's in the water.

Robert Duncan is a hero dad in that he usually totes six boys around with him on various and assorted outdoor adventures. That's big in my book. Most dads can probably admit to leaving the kids at home far too often because they might interfere with the man thing or perhaps just wouldn't enjoy themselves. Robert, though, routinely brings his, and they've done a lot of things with a lot of guides. Interestingly, the Duncan boys echoed similar experiences whether hunting or fishing They always think we are just a bunch of kids and can't do anything, so the guide does everything for us.

While they have always loved tackling the next great adventure together, their passion for the trip often wasn't always far above that. Also interesting was that as far as fishing went, most knew little more besides reeling despite many sessions. They usually boxed fish, but they really didn't catch anything, their bait did. So it really should be no surprise that fishing gets boring when there is nothing to reel in. We can do better; especially if positive, long-term results are part of the original plan.

I had this same bunch two years ago when James, the youngest, was seven. This time though, the emphasis and enthusiasm was all about the how and why, not the pre-packaged what at the dock. We didn't catch anything big, but size is not always important. It was not the matter of the meat, but rather the meat of the matter, which was learning how to catch fish plus a whole lot more.

They were all fired-up and ready with some basic working gear, i.e., wading booties, belts, stringers and such. We spent the first hour learning how to evaluate water, rigging our rods, and building some exciting goals for the day. When we throttled into an area literally teaming with mullet we bailed out shin deep, just hoping for the best and excited to try ours. It worked, and for two hours they all cheered each other into getting hit repeatedly by willing and playful trout. It was interactively awesome. They enjoyed many personal successes by applying what they were learning as they went. Like most everything else in this world, we all enjoy what we are good at, and they were getting good quick. Instead of being bored, they were eagerly earning ownership in their own efforts and achievements, which can lend positive impact down the road.

There are many transferable skills between interactive fishing like this and the real world that they will soon face as adults. First is simply encouraging the love of learning. A child with a quest for knowledge has a better chance to go far. And earning even simple rewards, as in another bite and another thrashing trout, can encourage the process. There were many lessons this day, (like figuring how to screw a plastic lure onto a jig so it will work correctly), and then enjoying the results. Experimenting with retrieves to make a fish bite can build confidence as well, encouraging creativity in other pursuits. Things of this sort lend ownership and desire for more because they did the work; not the guide, not a circle hook, and more importantly, not a frisky bait fish.

Teamwork also plays into this and these Duncan boys championed each other into things like catching, fighting, and stringing fish while in the water, each excited for the others smallest step toward learning to become a fisherman. Several lessons in self-reliance were also learned; as in the disappointment of dropping a hard-earned fish, and how to handle a little pain from a jellyfish. As far as that lost fish goes, it's another great opportunity to encourage confidence. Rather than adults getting angry or lending unnecessary sympathy, something like - Well, now that you know you can catch them, get in there and do it again! will usually accomplish a lot more.

And let's not overlook opportunity to encourage responsibility and work ethic - helping with the anchor, gathering and stowing trash, loading and unloading the boat, scrubbing the deck, all sorts of stuff. Healthy competition and sibling rivalry can be woven into this with great result. And then there's respect; like respecting others accomplishments and respecting the wonders of nature being experienced.

Sure, taking young ones can be frustrating, but there are little things we can do to encourage a positive atmosphere. The trip should be all about building excitement levels expectations, setting reasonable goals in ways they can understand, and then leading them to achieve. Indeed, wading a long way between bites can become boring but these guys are also hunters so something like, Let's go find another covey boys, worked well on them. Instead of simply taking a stroll in the water they became bird dogs on point. There are many ways to keep it interesting; we just have to creative.

Proper gear is always essential for success, but it's really pretty simple. A decent, properly-sized spinning reel spooled with braided line tied to a paddle tail can't help but catch fish, but don't ever think Little Johnny can't fling a baitcaster. A youngster's eye-hand coordination is usually better than most adults and they can get it down pretty fast. (Another accomplishment!) A Manns Baby One-Minus swimming plug is also a no-brainer, and having their own box with lures builds ownership, as in their own stringers, belts and pliers. They can also learn to take care of their gear, and they will because they want to.

August is a great time to get those kids bit. If we teach them to be good at this they will probably be good at other stuff too. Not saying that Johnny can't accomplish similar goals by using bait, but whatever, just let them enjoy experiencing success by their own effort. Each has their own, but these particular guys compared it all to the difference between sitting in a feeder-facing blind and stalking with a bow. Yes, Johnny may need some bait alright - baited right into success through his own good efforts. We just need to encourage him to do it.