Fishing with kids

By: John 'Bear' Willis, Photography by: John 'Bear' Willis & Alison Kuiter


What's a family camping trip without a fishing rod? Bear shares his worldly wisdom on fishing with kids.

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My old man, bless his soul, had me fishing before I could walk. Was he a good fisherman? Nah, not really. Was he a great teacher? You bet! But success certainly helped keep my interest. My very first fish was a trout in the Yarra River at Yarra Glen. I still remember the thrill of the float going under as the worm was engulfed. Yarra Glen is now almost a suburb of Melbourne but it was "a cut lunch and a water bottle" drive back then with my family, all our picnic and fishing gear stuffed into the old Vauxhall.

"We didn’t have iPads and iPods, Instagram, Twitter, Twotter and Twatter, and all the other iStuff that renders much of today’s kids partially unconscious, though spotting the difference between unconscious and scanning Facebook is difficult. So cut ’em some slack," said Grandpa Baz. Instead, we had BP Spotto and Eye Spy to break up the miles and anticipation. Mum dished out Kool Mints from a round cardboard tin and maybe some Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate if we were really good. Our vision was slightly blurred from the runny eyes, dripping nose and haze from Dad’s cigarette smoke but we did still look out of the car windows with real world awareness dreaming of the aquatic action that lay ahead.

Water held real fascination, and still does. Puddles demanded inspection for tadpoles, dams for yabbies, cow pads for worms and long grass for crickets and grasshoppers. (We were taught to hum to scare the snakes!) We even had a special brew for cooking "mutton flap" to make it more appealing bait for yabbies! In salt water, we scoured the shallows for prawn and shrimp, a bait trap for mullet and crabs, or maybe a bait pump for sand worm and nippers (Bass yabbies).

Bait collection was just as exciting as the fishing – often more so. It also taught us plenty about the wonders of the natural world around us which is a terrific grounding for understanding feeding patterns that make up the great "circle of life". All of these life experiences teach you to understand your quarry for greater angling success.

ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS

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They tell me that things are different nowadays but are they really? Maybe it’s about opportunity. From my experience toddlers are more likely to pick up a bucket and spade than an iPad, given the opportunity. Give them a fishing rod and watch their eyes light up. (Make sure it’s an oldie or a cheapie as it’s likely to be stuck in some unusual places and come back in pieces!) It’s best to introduce kids to fishing slowly with as much fun and freedom as possible. Yep, they’re going to eat mud, get dirty, trip over a rock, eat the bait, get stuck in barbed wire, fall in and learn plenty of life lessons if you give them a little freedom all under the banner of just "going fishing"!

PACK A LUNCH

Hungry and cold kids will always get grumpy so plan ahead. A fishing trip was never complete without hot dogs in fresh crusty rolls cooked on the Primus, or maybe even an open fire. How was it that the tea never fell out of the billy while dad twirled it in 360° arcs right over his head to help it brew? Yep, real tea, no tea bags! I’ll never forget putting a piece of hot dog on for bait soon after I got my first real fishing rod, (a solid glass Jarvis Walker San Remo) and getting saved as I was being pulled into the river by a massive eel on the end of the line.

MAKE IT INTERESTING

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Ease the kids into fishing by keeping them occupied and interested. We always had sixpence (5 cents) reward for the first fish and if mum and dad were flush there was another silver coin for the biggest of the day. Life may be different today but some principles remain the same: kids are kids.

GET OUT WHEN YOU CAN

It seems that most people only get out of town for the holidays or a long weekend. Pack up early next Saturday or Sunday and just take the family for a drive. An extended break is ideal but even a day’s trip to a great location can create your children’s fond memories for a lifetime. Sure, there’s always lots happening in a kid’s life but some time away from normal confines is always time well spent.

START OFF SIMPLE

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Starting on a pier or the edge of a lake or river is ideal. There’s always something going on around you. Progressing to a boat is sensational but should be eased into. Comfortable life jackets are essential and a legal requirement, but don’t go planning extended trips to start with. Sure, it may be snapper season but if the kids aren’t capable of pulling them in it’s almost pointless. Bread and butter species like whiting, flathead, mullet and garfish are ideal and the saviour of many outings. Kids will play with a poor captured fish in a bucket of water for hours if you let them, but better still it’s a terrific time to teach the pleasure of catch and release.

UNDERSTAND THEIR LIMITS

If the kids get bored and just want to go hooning around in a fast boat then take them, and if they want to bring their friends – even better. It is more important that they want to come back next time than a couple of dead fish in the kill tank. As they grow older skis, wakeboards and inflatable donuts may take prime interest but most will undoubtedly come back to fishing with the right grounding.

A FINAL WORD

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My good mate Grandpa Baz says: "Taking the kids usually involves endless bad music and alien clothing. And sometimes weird hairstyles. And maybe a boyfriend who isn’t smart enough to be stupid. But hey, were you a brainex at 14? I don’t think so.

"Bum crack used to be popular but isn’t so much anymore. My granddaughter likes DJ music, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, One Direction, or any boy band with a knack for making music sound like a frantic ATM emptying money into a wheelbarrow. She also listens to music from ‘the old days’. You know, from the ’90s. Kids have to look the part, though not always the part you’d hoped others would see.

"Kids are under a lot of stress these days, and not just because of the music and ignitable hair treatments. My parents had no high hopes for me, they were realistic, but these days every parent considers his kid a genius. Destress your kid and take him or her fishing. Enjoy the music, tap your foot, be a groovy old guy."

You may think you’re cool Baz, but you will always be a dag in their eyes, until the time that they grow up and remember the good times when they were just fishing.

Check out the full feature in issue #115 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.