Starting Young

Starting Young
Brothers competing but bonding at the same time as dad watches.

I have many dads as well as moms ask me how old should a child be when you start teaching them to fish. My answer is, "as soon as they can hold a fishing pole, even if they need your help to hold it." I have family photos of myself and my children with fish and fishing gear at ages that neither they nor I can truly remember.

Activities we do with our children at very young ages are very important in molding and shaping their adult lives. My father was a high school football coach. He spent his life dedicated to shaping lives. Winning was important but it took a back seat to morality and self-disciple. I have had three men in my life that have helped me in my adult years and one woman. These have been God, my father, my grandfather on my mother's side, my true grit mother and Pat Smith my junior high principal and family friend. All of the above loved fisherman or were and still are fishermen except mom.

All of these men and women set forth ground rules that were simple to follow. Do as you were asked and all went well. Stray from that path and face the consequences. None of the above enforced the consequences with anger. Punishment was set down with the BEST INTEREST of the child at its core. Not until I was a parent myself did I feel the pain of enforcing rules. IT DOES HURT US MORE THAN IT HURTS THEM.

I have had many difficulties in my life but NEVER ONCE have I thought for one moment that someone else was to blame for my problems. At this point your probably wondering what this all has to do with fishing and starting them out young. Fishing was the one of the tools my grandfather and father used to help give me the desire to do the right things in life.

My mother tells a story of the hard times my family faced financially and emotionally after losing my sister, Sandra Kay at age 15. My father wanted to buy a bay boat so we could get to some better fishing grounds. We fished from piers and the banks for years and did quite well I thought, but a boat, wow that would really put us in the fish. My mom was more financial minded I think and when she told my dad she did not think we could afford a boat my dad said he did not think we could afford not to have one. He believed that he needed to occupy as much of my time with good stuff instead of all the other stuff, some not so good that young men and women can get involved in when in their early teens.

In the 70's it was pretty bad I guess but today it appears to be so much worse. The boat would be the classroom on weekends where I would learn far more about life than fishing. It was while fishing that my father and grandfather had my full attention. I would have done anything to ensure a fishing trip on Saturday after football films or after work in the summer months. Mom always went, I do not think my mom likes to fish that much but she knew we did so she joined us.

The family structure was stronger then it seems, families ate together at night and talked at the dinner table about the day's events. I rode to school with my dad and sat with my parents in church on Sunday. Many of my friends thought that I was not too cool, and at times I must admit I felt the same way myself. Today I feel lucky to have been loved so much. I realize now that I was not cool, I was blessed.

What is it that our children can learn from spending time fishing or hunting? Everett (GCC editor) does not give me enough space in the magazine to write about all the pluses so I will hit what I think were the high points for me.

When planning a fishing trip, my grandfather would have everything ready the night before. We fished for crappie on Taylor's Bayou around Port Arthur or on Lake of the Pines in East Texas where my grandparents retired. I can still close my eyes and see that thin quill cork lying flat on the slick surface of the water. Suddenly it tilts upward and then disappears. With the lift of the cane pole, the hook is set and a nice white perch is lifted to the side of the boat. My grandfather loved to fish and I think he especially loved to fish with me.

I learned to make ready for the fishing trip; check the poles, collect the bait, freeze water for ice and get up as soon as the alarm went off. I helped clean the fish and the boat at the end of the day. I learned that even work can be fun and if you are going to do something do it right.
My dad thought fishing was like life; some days it was nothing but catching and others it was just fishing. In life we do not always obtain the outcome we wish or even strive for, but we do not stop trying. Fishing teaches us to be patient and persistent; good things come to those who wait. There are no guarantees that come with fishing, nor do they come in life. With fishing, we get out of each experience only what we put into it, and I believe our lives are the same way.

As a teen, my dad would let me take the boat out by myself on some occasions. Look at the responsibility you have to all of those going with you he would instruct before every outing. Fishing taught me responsibility to others, what an important life lesson that is.

Fishing also instilled a strong work ethic in me as a pre-teen and teenager. If I wanted a new lure or new rod and reel, I worked for it. Mowing lawns and cleaning flower beds around the neighbor hood was good work for a youngster back them and I was pretty good at it. I still love to mow the yard and weed flowerbeds. I believe I have carried this learned work ethic into my adult life.

Fishing is not an instant gratification type of thing. I learned to wait patently for opportunities and I learned to never become discouraged when the fishing was less than I had expected. Life is this way many times; our daily experiences with our jobs and friends are often way less than we expected but we keep going.

Fishing taught me to keep trying and to do it with a good attitude and greater expectations towards the next outcome. Fishing also taught me that no matter how hard you work, you sometimes fail. Failing does not make us losers; not trying again is when you become a loser.

Tournament fishing has taught me many things. I have won some but fell short many times. Losing still stinks, leaves me feeling sick in the pit of my stomach, but I smile and I am truly happy for those that bested me for I know the price they have paid. Life again is this way, not always fair, good does not always prevail, but we continue. Fishing has taught some of these qualities.

Most all who know me know that I have spent most of my adult life on the water. My boys started fishing before they could stand on their own and have developed a true love for the sport. Jay Ray is guiding in Rockport and Ryan has taken his fishing with him to Stephen F. Austin, where he is attending college. Ryan is on the Stephen F. Austin Bass Fishing Team and has already collected his first check as a tournament angler. My sons and I are known as the Watkins Boys on the tournament trail. I never go anywhere when someone does not have something positive to say about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to fish together. I have my most fond memories of the boys while fishing. I find myself looking back and thinking how much I appreciate them wanting to spend time with dad. Thanks guys, you are my number one fishing partners.

You see fishing is still aiding me in life. It has allowed me to laugh and cry both behind the scenes and in public with my children. This shows our children true emotion and I believe emotion is something our children need to see in us. I have been blessed to have spent many emotional moments while fishing with my boys.

I became so emotional when Ryan won his first Junior Troutmasters that I could not speak. When Jay Ray and I won a Troutmasters team event in our hometown his senior year, I cried for all to see. When Jay Ray and I did not catch a fish on day three after making the top five in the Port Aransas F.L.W. Redfish Tournament this year we both got a little teary eyed when we walked off the stage. The first to greet us with tears in his eyes was Ryan. Where was it that he learned not to be afraid to show his emotions?

Fishing has had a tremendous impact on my life and it has been my greatest tool in raising my boys. And in fact as I think back over all those great experiences I'm getting a bit teary right now so I will close.

Take your children fishing as much as possible. Make them responsible for duties that go with getting ready for the trip. Talk to them about who they are and what they want to be during the day. Instruct them to always find life's cup of coffee half full and never half empty. Show and tell them you love them and see what happens.

May your fishing always be catching, Guide Jay Watkins