I stood on the bank, eyes hidden behind my polarized lenses, holding a pink and purple “princess” fishing rod as long as my forearm. Birds chirped happily in the trees, and the sunlight capped the small wind chop. I was staring intently at a red and white bobber that floated above a tiny piece of chartreuse Powerbait. The sun was at my back and the breeze felt soft and gentle. Behind me, I could hear my 19 month old daughter asking for: “More Powerbait please”. It sounded like: “Ma Palabala plelelelele”. My wife happily obliged, and my daughter threw handfuls of the bright yellow balls into the water. I resisted the urge to mention how expensive Powerbait is. My fly rod and spinning rod lay untouched on a large rock to my left. I smiled and continued to watch the bobber. And then the beast struck.
I have caught my share of decent sized trout. I have caught enough bass in the 6-8 pound range that I was only slightly jealous watching my Dad pull an 11 pounder out of my fishing hole with my rod right after my girl was born. I recently went sturgeon fishing for the first time and caught a 70”monster. I have felt fish adrenaline my whole life, but nothing compared to what was about to happen.
The bobber dipped and I set the hook gently, less of a hook-set than a coaxing, an invitation. I turned quickly, shouting to my daughter that she had caught a fish. She looked absolutely wide-eyed panic stricken, so I had to reel in the 3” bluegill all by myself. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but reeling in a miniature gill on a two foot rod involves just about as much finesse and skill as falling off a log (a feet I accomplish regularly while fishing).
When we had the fish in hand my daughter looked at it with some confusion. I asked her if she wanted to touch the fish. She declined, pointed at the lake and said, “Wawa”. So we returned our trophy to the depths. Then we caught the same fish (or its kin) three more times. Each time she got a little braver, but the most important thing was still to get the fish back where it belonged. As a catch and release fisherman, I was more than a little touched. And I was more excited, and certainly less tired, than when I caught the Sturgeon.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What kind of jackass takes a girl who is less than two years old fishing and expects any kind of awareness or enthusiasm?” It’s a good question. I’ll answer it. That jackass is me. And you know what, it wasn’t the first time. And you know what else, every time I say the word lake my daughter makes casting motions and fish mouths. And with a stuffed fish tied on, she will cast and reel in our apartment for hours (or at least minutes, which are like toddler hours).
I don’t know if this is a unique phenomena. Maybe it is just another way that I am weird, but I remember as a kid, learning how to fish thinking, “Man, it will be fun to teach my kids how to fish”. And now it is happening. I don’t want to push it too hard. But she really does seem to like it. And she likes being out at the lake. She likes the hike in and the lizards/snakes/herons/ospreys/hawks/cormorants/otters, etc.
I’m new to this whole parenting thing, and I am still learning a lot. I work with kids, so that helps some. I know you can’t force your kid to like the same things you like. Unless you want them to want to do the exact opposite, that is. What I truly hope is that, whether she ever likes the actual act of fishing or not, she will like it for the same reason I always liked it when I was a kid: it was something I did with my Dad. Something filled with weird rituals and camping trips, and rites of passage. Something to be respected, because, when we fished, we always got along. The fact that I actually liked the fishing part was just icing on the cake.
I fished with the princess rod quite a bit that day. I did a little work with my rods too, no luck. I even broke my good spinning rod putting it back into the car. And I didn’t care. All I could think about was that sweet little face demanding that I put the fish back in the water. That, and that I needed to buy some more powerbait. It may have been the best day of fishing I ever had. My daughter “caught” four gills by the time we left. I got skunked.