Kids and Fishing – Yesterday and Today

I was a certified water rat if ever there was one. I still remember my first official “deep sea” fishing trip with my father. I was five. He actually pulled me out of kindergarten that April morning to go Mackerel fishing on the Shamrock, out of Point Pleasant, NJ. We filled up a garbage can full of fish. My guess is we kept about 10% of that, and fed the family and neighborhood with the rest. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the way it tasted, but I told him it was good. So he gave me more.

It was more than just fishing – the anticipation, the smell of the salt, the waves, the old crusty characters on some of these boats, all the weird things we hooked on these trips.  I couldn’t get enough. One of the very first times I got into “serious” trouble at home was a year or two after, when I, along with another kid from the neighborhood, hatched a plan to ride our bikes a couple miles from home to a lake, to try some of our own fishing. I still remember my mother pulling up and tooting the horn. She had her hair up in rollers and she was still in her nightgown. I got a verbal assault, but for reasons I never understood, she let me continue fishing.

I think about that today, as we talk about kids and fishing.

These days, I live in a very nice town on the south shore if Long Island. We are a very short walk to the bay. We are no more than 15 minutes by car to the ocean beach, and no more than 15 minutes by bike to a lake holding a variety of fish. In the 1960s and 1970s, I am sure I would have been shuttling back and forth between these potential honey holes. But that was then.

These days, it’s rare to see kids fishing for crabs or snappers in the bay, nor trying for carp, bass or trout in the lake.

For reasons I cannot fully explain, my own son simply did not have the same freedoms as I did.

People of my age often joke that our parents opened the door in the morning and told us to “go out and find some kids in the neighborhood.” And we did. Most times we played nicely, but in rare instances we got into fights or were bullied. We generally only came home when we needed a band aid (or worse), or when we wanted to get fed. I honestly cannot say it was all for better, but that’s how it was.

When we went fishing as kids we took “risks.” We had to ride our bikes at least several miles. We were unsupervised for six hours at a time. We had to interact with adults at the deli, at the stream or lake, or somewhere else along the way. We had no cell phones, and never thought of how to contact anyone in an emergency. We walked through areas with ticks, we trudged through cold streams or bays, we climbed over dilapidated docks, and very often we came home soaking wet.

When my own kids were born, I discovered the concept of a “play date” – a planned and well supervised appointment with fixed duration.   This carefully orchestrated upbringing remains in place, even today. There is travel soccer and field hockey, instrument lessons, voice lessons, tutors and piles of homework and projects. The calendar is jammed.

Fishing, if we want this to be a priority, often must be scheduled as well. But even if the fishing trip was a hit (and it usually is), this is not an activity that can be repeated by most kids – not at their own pace and on their own terms.

Facebook and video games are a big part of many kid’s lives today, but we are all partly to blame here. These are but a few of the “pre-approved” activities for thm when there is some down time. Justified or not, it doesn’t take many Jerry Sanduskys or Amber Alerts to evoke a parent’s worst fears.

I wish I could close this essay out with some silver bullet answer for how we can get our kids to take more of an active interest in the natural wonders around them.

Perhaps it’s a little at a time. Maybe it’s a winter walk along the beach, instead of a trip to the mall. Maybe it’s a snorkel and mask at a birthday, instead of a Mario Card. Fishing is just part of it.

Always open to ideas.

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16 comments on “Kids and Fishing – Yesterday and Today

  1. Dave Whitney

    How times have changed.
    Things were much more simple back then. Too many electronic and other distractions today.

  2. tommy

    I would tie a string around my toe then put the other end out the window. My friends would come on their bikes at 4am tug on the string and wake me up. We would ride from Lindenhurst to Belmont Lake following the horse trails from Southards pond in babylon. We caught trout and sunnies and life was good.

  3. CTMatt

    I made a few choices when my wife and I started a family a few years ago and as much as i loved online gaming I sold my system because I looked at myself and realized i didn’t want my kids turning into zombies. I don’t want my kids to sit mindlessly idle instead of using their brains and getting outside regardless of the temps.

    I make it a point every day weather it is a religion/swim class type of day to make a conscious effort to get to a playground, ride a bike, walk by the beach or do a museum/indoor activity. even just walking around in the mall on a very cold day I can’t sit in my house in good judgement and let my kids sit idle.

    There are times when i let my kids watch a favorite show for an hour tops when i am cooking or fixing or doing daddy things since my wife works longer hours far from home and i feel better knowing that making time for snappers with my daughter or bikiing or whatever is going to make them better aware kids. I am ont perfect by any stretch of the imagination but as a dad I do think it is strange that playgrounds in general are ghost towns just because the temps get in the 30’s or 40’s. Bundle up! Just play for 15-20 minutes! It does the kids so much to benefot from getting out and enjoying nature even casually.

  4. CTMatt

    Side note I have to say I put blame on parents to a degree. In a world of instant gratification kids tend to want information, want excitement in rapid fashion so it sucks that they get bored easily if the stimulation or intrinsic motivation ins’t there. However I hate going to a playground and seeing nannies or parents blabbing on the phone, sitting in their cars or having some sort of disconnected relationship with their kids. Just irks me when i see that. Or parents smoking at a playground i mean c’mon idiots! parents could step up in general and not expect the schools/nanny to raise their kids.

  5. bunufish

    We as adults need to also find the time to invest in youth. not just our own but within the community. Coaching volleyball to teens in NYC has taught me that a few hours a week goes a long way to helping them build confidence, teaching them that theirs more to what media bombards them with and just simply getting them out of the normal routine. FB, text, media, etc are a part of the world now… we just need to help them balance all of that with outdoors.

    If SJ were to have a surf casting day for youth, I’d definitely try and bring some of the teens I work with out. I already do it now, but limited to just 1 or 2 at a time, I could ask more to come if their were more teachers around.

  6. Dennis

    If it wasn’t Southards pond it was the Babylon docks by the old derelict paddleboat getting eels and snappers. One of the old timers used to buy eels from us and we loved to watch him skin them. He had a buck knife and I thought it was the greatest thing a man could own. A uncle that wasn’t a family favorite and my mom didn’t like so much gave me a bowie. It was almost as big as my forearm and I kept it hidden in a rag on the bottom of the tackle box.He was my favorite uncle after that lol. I lost it at Southards pond about a year later. I bring my wife and son there till this day and whenever I’m near that waterfall I still look around for my knife.

  7. Irish

    My mom was a nurse at J Mather hospital in Port Jeff when i was a kid. At 10 years old she would drop me at the docks in the harbor with a sandwich a soda and a dollar or 2 for bait and I’d fish her entire day shift until she got me( and I’d want to stay longer) My oldest is 10 and is not allowed to walk to the store five blocks away. I never tell him I cant take him fishing if I’m home. Dont know which is right but I can not bring myself to let my kids out with no supervision at all.

    By the way my mom would be quick to remind me that she put me in the back of a station wagon to roam around at 60 mph. And carried us in her arms puffing away on a Kent 100.

  8. chuckg

    Growing up (I’m dating myself now) in an urban environment close to the Charles River in Boston, we were out every day exploring and hiking to the deep stretches of some of the tributaries of that famous river. Some days took us on a 8 to10 hour hike as we saw herring and giant snapping turtles and the inevitable “Goldies” (goldfish that had been dumped in the river and grown to large sizes). Alsp saw many an animal that escaped from the brighton abbatoir and drown in the river (those were the days). I don’t get how these overnight “play dates” ever got started, although we had the freedom to roam all over the place, our parents would never think of imposing on friends or neighbors to have us stay overnight, it was just unheard of but: such is life…

  9. RA

    That was the best article I read in a long time. I remember being a kid and riding my bike several miles in the summer heat only to get a flat tire three quarters of the way there. Tired and dehydrated I had to make a couple of hour walk balk home, only to get yelled at for being late for dinner. Its times like those that produce the good memories.

    As for my oldest son, who just turned 4, he jumps from the Wii to the Dsi to the PC and it drives us crazy, but I have been taking him fishing at the local pond for Sunnys since he’s three years old. He loves it and there are some days he will ask me repeatedly that he wants to go fishing. And as busy as I may be, I know how important it is to stop what I’m doing and take him.

  10. mark m @ ""

    My second home was Scotty’s in Point Lookout during my childhood. Years ago, there were no video games, cablevision or cell phones (except star trek) so fishing is what kept us busy. These days, most kids begin fishing for snappers and continue onto other species until September when school starts. When snappers/ cocktail blues disappear the kids stop fishing. Netting bait fish in tidal pools is also a big introduction to kids. Discovery leads to interest, which in turn begins the process of learning and understanding the sport. It first takes the parent to become involved because letting kids leave home on a bike all day is gone.

  11. Don Brown

    Times have changed.When i was a kid nobody had AC in there homes so my mom used to leave the front front and back door of our house wide open with only the screen doors closed and latched.Plus all the windows of the house were open all night as well to let the night cool air in to cool off the house.Never was there a thought of being burglarized.At the very worst Maybe by some outside chance there might be a peeping tom around.Now if you do that here in NJ your asking for trouble.Gone are the days when we could let our kids outside and run and explore the world around them.I hate to be all doom and gloom but it is what it is.When i was 12 years i had rod holders on the fork of my bike and was able to go fishing safely go pretty much any where.not so today.With all the child abductions going on today and the amount of rapes, kidnappings and murders among other things.Its down right scary dangerous out there.So we have to protect our loved ones more so now than when we were kids.When my oldest daughter was about 7 or 8 years old there was an attempted abduction on her at a locale mall the numskull didn’t realized that i was standing right there next to her.Today she is 30 years old today with a career and a family of her own.She knows that she has to be even more protective than her mother and i were.I’m 61 years old now it just ant the same any more.Yes electronic games are a big thing now and consume much of our children’s day.But it goes deeper than that the world around us now has changed so much now that America is no longer so innocent as we once were.sorry for being so long winded but your right times have changed.

  12. firstlight

    A perceptice piece . . . you use the expression “carefully orchestrated upbringing,” which seems to capture child rearing today whether it’s due to suburbia, societal fears, or new technology. Things have changed and kids are reared differently. No longer is it “Go out and play”. Certainly, a contrast to my childhood which was spent outdoors, playing sports in the neighborhood or local park, riding my fat tire, one speed bike for miles to spend a day fishing, or exploring the woods nearby. Ironically, I remember walking through mny urban neighborhood at the age of 15 enroute to the woods carrying a shotgun and never arousing suspicion. Mentioning this to someone I met last spring while fishing, I was one-upped when he told me he was permitted to bring his shotgun to school to place in his locker, so that he could hunt immediately after school.

  13. Don Brown

    I remember when i was in high school.I did a lot of duck hunting with my friends after school .i would bring my shot gun in a case to school on the bus along with a box of shells.I would walk down the hallways of school to my locker and put it in. And never so much as turn a head from either students or teachers.Then at the end of the day i would hop on another bus and go home with my buddy and go hunting him.If you did that today the kids would probably be taken to the police station.

  14. Matt

    Don’t blame the video games i have them, my son has them, my daughter at 3 hops on the computer and opens up her screen and plays Dora the Explorer.

    But all i have to do is utter the words, park or fishing, and my sons at the door with his rod in hand telling me to hurry up as my daughter runs around the house with her fishing net on her head, while I’m in hot pursuit with socks and shoes in hand.

    Not all kids like out side but too often parents blame the technology … I read this article and asked my some what he wanted to do when it got warm out .. he his immediate reply was Go To The Beach, second reply the water park.

    Get them outdoors young and when ever you can. Before my father passed he didn’t have to say lets go fishing more than once and i was getting the gear together, so i look at my son as he stands a t the door telling me to hurry up and smile because at 6 he’s already a fisherman.

    I think the biggest problem today is the BS that parents need there alone time to the degree that if there is only one day to for free time, they take it for themselves, then wonder why their kids want nothing to do with them in there teen years.

    You get what you give!

  15. Bill Dickinson

    Grat Stuff. I remember my mother coming to the lake I fished almost every day ( one year I fished there 181 days in a row) 2 miles from our house and leaning on the horn to get me to come to the car.It was pouring rain and I was fishing in the back of the lake where she couldn’t see me so I just ignored her and kept cathing fish and stuffing bluegills (we fed them to the cat) into my jacket until almost dark. I rode my bike home and she was really pissed. I told her I didn’t hear the horn. All this time my father was laughing his ass off witch just made her madder.
    BTW me and my fishing buddie stayed out of trouble. Life was good.

    Crazy Bill


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